The Path to Oaxaca
Local activist travels to Oaxaca to interview those embroiled in all sides of the movement
As the Mexican political climate continues to boil, Albuquerque's Rebeca Jasso-Aguilar will journey to Oaxaca on a fact-finding mission. She'll travel with the Oaxaca Solidarity Network from Dec. 16 through 22, interviewing the protesters whose May strike lasted months and gained international attention. She'll speak with human rights groups investigating claims of police abuse suffered by protesters.
Jasso-Aguilar will also seek families of the 140 or so detainees arrested after violence broke in Oaxaca on Saturday, Nov. 25. Those detainees, an estimated 107 men (three of whom are underaged) and 34 women, were transferred out of the state to a high-security men's penitentiary in the state of Nayarit, according to reports.
Jasso-Aguilar was born in Mexico City and lived there until a few years ago. She's fearful to return, not for safety reasons (though there is danger) but because of the terrible things she's sure she'll see.
"The economy of Oaxaca ... it's destroyed," she says. "Oaxaca was already one of the poorest states in Mexico. I cannot even imagine how people survive. All those artisans, people who make crafts, they haven't been able to sell anything. I know it's going to be heartbreaking."
The Oaxacan teachers began their yearly strike on May 22 and took over the zocalo, the heart of the tourist city [Re: News Feature, "Oaxaca's Reach," Nov. 9-15]. Gov. Ulises Ruiz sent state police to the encampment on June 14, and though the police were held at bay after a clash, the action spurred the birth of the People's Popular Assembly of Oaxaca (APPO) three days later. Federal police were dispatched at the end of October to restore order. Months of protests, marches and dustups shut down Oaxaca and stirred anger in other parts of Mexico, but Gov. Ruiz refused to adhere to the people's demand that he leave office.
President Felipe Calderon was inaugurated on Dec. 1 amid a brawl as the left-leaning Democratic Revolution Party (PRD) tried to prevent him from taking office. Flavio Sosa, the leader of the APPO, was arrested Monday, Dec. 4, in Mexico City, where he was trying to re-establish negotiations with the government and escape persecution at the hands of Ruiz' men, Sosa told reporters.
With the emblematic leader in jail, the movement is weakened. Jasso-Aguilar speculates at how the protesters are able to carry on. "To surrender at this point would be the worst thing, because you cannot negotiate when you are on the ground," she says. "That's why they continue, because they know they would go back to a situation that was worse than when they started." She predicts Ruiz will be asked to step down by Mexico’s new president. Since Ruiz has been in office more than two years, an election won't be required to seat his replacement.
"Basically, the social movement loses," says Jasso-Aguilar. His as-yet-unnamed replacement, who would be appointed by Ruiz' party, will likely be similar, she says.
Jasso-Aguilar hopes to return to New Mexico with testimony that will convince the state's politicians to embark on their own fact-finding mission. Along with UNM's associate professor Lois Meyer, she's met with an assistant to Sen. Jeff Bingaman and hopes to have a phone conversation with members of Congresswoman Heather Wilson's staff next week.
"With turmoil in Mexico, people lose their jobs. People are afraid of being killed," she says. "If people know they are on a hit list, they are going to leave the country. Where do you think they're going to go?"
New Mexicans should take note as the situation in Oaxaca continues to roil and build, she says. "We should be concerned because we're a border state with Mexico, and whether we like it or not, we are very close."