30 November 2006 Edition

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International: Deep divisions in México

Struggle for justice in Mexican state

On 20 November, left-wing presidential candidate, Andrés Manuel López Obrador, took the oath as Mexico's alternative president. On 1 December, Felipe Calderon, who the electoral court declared had won the controversial election by less than one percentage point, will take up his position as official President. The presence of 'two presidents' symbolises the deep divisions existing in México.

These divisions are more evident in the southern state of Oaxaca, where the struggle for justice and against political corruption is intense. It all started six months ago with a teachers' protest, and continues with the people of Oaxaca confronting more that 4,000 riot police, sent to protect Governor Ulises Ruiz who is accused of corruption.

Over the weekend, the people in Oaxaca organised another huge demonstration to demand the governor's resignation. Once again, police reacted with brutality. During a visit to the city centre, Governor Ruiz said that at least 160 people had been arrested. However, demonstrators point out that the number is higher and they are already talking about the "forced disappearance" of some members of the popular resistance movement, Popular Assembly of the Peoples of Oaxaca (APPO).

Broad protest

What began as a strike by teachers last June, has mushroomed into a broad protest against social and economic injustices in this poor state. Protesters have focused their anger on Ruiz, accusing him of brutality, corruption and electoral fraud. On 24 November, members of APPO charged President Vicente Fox, the ministers of government, Carlos Abascal, federal public security, Eduardo Medina, National Defence, Gerardo Clemente Vega, and Oaxaca Governor Ruiz with genocide and force disappearance at the Attorney's General Office.

Other charges include illegal arrests, organised crime, torture, abuse of power and denial of justice. Felipe Canseco, of the APPO Press Committee, said the lawsuit is linked to the over 17 people reported dead in actions against the Preventive Federal Police (PFP) in Oaxaca, and the over 30 since Ruiz was sworn in as governor.

According to the report, those people, along with the PFP Commander Hector Sanchez, Oaxaca's attorney Rosa Lisbeth Caña, and Oaxaca's Government Secretary Heliodoro Diaz, act like an organised group. They are accused of having tried to partially or totally wipe out a human rights group disagreeing with state policies.

Teachers' strike

Last May teachers in Oaxaca initiated a strike, seeking a salary increase. On 7 June, the presidential candidate of the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) denounced the strike as "artificial". A week later, the state's governor, Ulises Ruiz -- also a senior member of PRI, ordered the beginning of the repression. This only served to ignite the fire, and soon the protest was not only about teachers' wages, but about the many social problems in the state.

Oaxaca's beautiful beaches and tourist resorts are surrounded by the squalor of shantytowns housing migrant workers. The lack of land-reform, repression against the indigenous movement, the falling prices of locally produced agricultural products and, more importantly, resistance to an authoritarian state are all struggles that have found the same response from Oaxaca's authorities -- repression.

During the last elections to governor of the state, Ulises Ruiz was opposed by Gabino Cué. Ruiz close victory was questioned by Cué supporters, who denounced what they believed was a blatant electoral fraud. Oaxaca was key for PRI presidential candidate Madrazo, as critics say it is a state where it is still possible to buy votes cheaply. Ruiz offered Madrazo the security of a million votes before the election. Clearly, the teachers' strike and their threat to boycott the election wasn't in Ruiz plans.

Nine killed

Last month, President Fox deployed more than 4,000 federal police in an attempt to end a five-month siege of the city, once one of Mexico's top tourist destinations. Nine people have been killed, including freelance video journalist Bradley Roland Will, 36, of New York, who was filming a group of leftist protesters clashing with a group of right-wing paramilitary supporters of Governor Ruiz. However, the international community seems to have decided to ignore the situation in Oaxaca.

"Nothing is happening for those in power. The pain of the relatives, the rage of their relatives, the fear of the neighbours, and the solidarity of their fellow countrymen are being ignored by the powerful. Those sacrificed are corpses without a name, prisoners with no name, and wounded people without memory. They do not say it, but the silence of the powerful in the face of such outrage suggests that they believe that the victims deserved what happened to them", said Mexican daily La Jornada, while pointing out that those members of the right wing paramilitary and security forces responsible for tortures, shootings and killings remain free.

The paper says that when it comes to the police, there is a old story in Oaxaca that tells how when a man had to decide whether to walk on the road where there is a gang of criminals or a street guarded by police, the man decides to take the less risky way -- the road where the criminals are.

In Mexico's southernmost state of Chiapas, meanwhile, thousands of Zapatistas have been blocking highways throughout the state in support of the Oaxacan protesters.

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