Saturday, July 15, 2006

Oaxaca, Mexico: Striking teachers need dictionary

The striking teachers in Oaxaca announced two weeks ago that they would boycott the world famous Guelaguetza festival this year. Apparently the teachers do not understand the difference between the terms "boycott" and "arson". They entered the Guelaguetza Amphitheater yesterday and burned the big wooden dance floor which is installed annually for the festival.

The highlight of the annual festival is the competition between hundreds of folk dance teams from around the country. These dance teams are comprised of mainly poor campesinos from various towns and villages from around the state and around Mexico. They plan and practice for this competition for an entire year. They invest what little money they have in hand crafting their costumes and traveling to other competitions and exhibitions to tune up their routines for this one annual competition. There are divisions for different age groups, different indigenous dance types and even for different types of accompanying music.

That's probably all over for this year.

Mark in Mexico, Oaxaca, Mexico. Striking teachers burn amphitheater dance floor prior to Guelaguetza festival
A dance team in the Guelaguetza Amphitheater in Oaxaca in July, 2005

The teachers entered the amphitheater yesterday morning, burned the dance floor, stole all the construction materials that they could carry, covered the walls of aisles, entryways and bathrooms with graffiti, stole or destroyed lighting fixtures, destroyed the multi-lingual "Welcome" signs and destroyed the water tanks that supply the bathrooms. Then they left to march back to the zocalo.

After the teachers left, the chief of the Municipal Police and a group of officers arrived to put out the fire and try to paint over the graffiti. The teachers returned and began to hurl insults and threaten the police who were then forced to withdraw. The teachers again returned to the city's center, at which point the police attempted to erect a temporary fence to block access to the amphitheater. A mob of teachers returned and set up their own blockade to the hilltop stadium. The police were once again forced to retreat to "avoid provocations".

2006 Guelaguetza Festival, Oaxaca, Mexico. STAY AWAY.

Now, I have received a number of emails from people asking if they should come or not. The majority of these people send me the email 24 hours before they are due to embark for the area. I tell them, as best I can, what the situation is on the day that I receive the email. I cannot predict whether the situation on the ground here will deteriorate or improve within even an hour after I have responded. If you have been following my posts, you know that your safety and comfort cannot be guaranteed by law enforcement here. The teachers go where they want, when they want and do what they want.

The state does not intend to cancel the Guelaguetza Festival. I don't see much Guelaguetza Festival left to cancel.

The dance floor in the Guelaguetza Amphitheater in Oaxaca in July, 2006

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