Saturday, July 01, 2006

Striking teachers and government further apart in Oaxaca

The striking teachers and the government of Oaxaca Governor Ruiz Ortiz are further apart than ever. The teachers pulled off a massive march on Wednesday afternoon/evening/night that surprised even me by its size. The government claimed 65,000 people took part in the march. The teachers claim 1,000,000 took part. That's a difference of 1,400% or thereabouts.

The last teachers' mega-march was estimated by the teachers at 200,000 participants and the government at 50,000, a difference of only 300%. So, the teachers' union and the government are almost 3 times further apart than they were 2 weeks ago. And this in spite of the intervention of both the federal government and the Catholic Church in the negotiations.

I will say this about what I saw. The march started at 3:00 PM on the airport highway. At 9:30 PM they were still passing a point some 5 km from their start point. They fooled the government by changing their route from that which they had originally announced. Traffic did not move for some 6-8 hours or maybe more. I have seen estimates by the newspapers of between 500,000 and 800,000 marchers. That's probably about right.

The teachers have refused to back down one peso from their demands for money and are now also demanding the resignation of Governor Ruiz Ortiz and some of his top government officials. It's an impasse. The national presidential election is scheduled for tomorrow and the teachers have claimed that it will be a "castigo" (punishment) for both the PRI and the PAN political parties. Governor Ruiz Ortiz is a Priista and President Fox is a Panista.

The way the teachers will assure that this happens is by blocking the central city polling places here in Oaxaca City as well as in some 40 other locales around the state. Under Mexican law, a registered voter with the requisite voter ID can vote anywhere in the country in a national election. With the teachers blocking the polling locations, only the teachers themselves will be able to vote. Neat, huh? Many people I know will leave the city today and tomorrow for other states so that they can vote.

In order to stay out of trouble with the federal governemt which is authorized to send in federal troops to maintain order in a presidential election, the teachers say they won't actually prevent anyone from voting. All you have to do is wade through 500-1000 surly teachers' union members in front of every polling station to cast your vote. No problem there that I can see.

As far as the future is concerned, I suppose that downtown Oaxaca is shut down for the remainder of the summer. The internationally known Guelaguetza festival is scheduled for the end of this month and, if the teachers are still in positions in and around the city, this would be a financial disaster for the people of the state. The city has already suffered several related blows as some events which should take place here, like the famous mezccal festival, have been moved to other locations.

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