I have delayed this post for some time until I could walk around and see for myself what I began hearing about 4:00 this afternoon. The PFP was attacked from all sides by superior numbers and superior firepower. They have been forced to retreat to a position about 1.5 km from the university. The PFP commanders are claiming tonight that it was never their intention to enter the university. Their intention, according to PFP officials, was to simply clear the 1 km of Avenida Universidad from the intersection with Periferico at Cinco Señores south to Plaza del Valle.
This could be true but I don't think too many people believe it. I walked around for about 2 miles to see what had happened to all the barricades. What I see is not so depressing at first glance. The PFP managed to remove all of the burned out trucks and buses from the main thoroughfare. These vehicles are now either hauled away or sitting on the side of the road. What is depressing is that the PFP is nowhere in sight and all of the barricades will be replaced.
What happened is this: The PFP are riot policemen. The vast majority of them are not armed with anything more than a baton. For protection they carry a shield and wear protective padding and helmets. Many also wear gas masks. The few PFP officers and commanders who carry weapons are not allowed to use them until they begin receiving fire from firearms - that is, from guns that are shooting bullets.
What the PFP is facing in Oaxaca are large mobs armed with rocks, slingshots, Molotov cocktails and homemade rocket launchers. The PFP officers, unless allowed to protect themselves with gunfire, are no match for the mobs. In the city's center, where the streets are narrow and there is an intersection every 75 or 100 meters, the PFP has the advantage. Even in yesterday's clearing of Brenamiel, once the PFP had removed the barricades from the main highway and entered into the narrower side streets, they held the advantage.
At University Juarez, there are no narrow streets, just an 8 lane divided boulevard. Inside the university it is even more roomy. The mobs can outrun the tear gas, outflank and circle the advancing police and then attack from behind. This is what occurred up and down the length of the boulevard this afternoon. The police were attacked from every side and from front and rear. They had no offensive weapons other than tear gas and water cannons.
I watched the water cannons and they are, well, less than impressive. I've only seen them in use in South Korea and Taiwan. The water cannons they use in those locations put out a stream of water much like that of a fire hose. It will knock down groups of people and hits them with enough force to hurt them. In videos that I have watched, a mob cannot stand up against a water cannon assault.
The water cannons being used by the PFP are squirt guns by comparison. They fire a stream of water just large enough in diameter to delay one person. They are mostly ignored by the rioters. Whomever bought these pieces of junk in 1998 should be fired. Oh, wait. He's already retired and living in a penthouse in Italy. Never mind.
That leaves the police with only one offensive weapon, the tear gas. With the mob's ability to maneuver at will, the tear gas is not a problem for them in a open area. In the city's center, one or two cannisters in the middle of a street just about closes that street. The gas is trapped by the walls on either side and can spread out and pretty effectively block the street. In open ground, especially with a bit of a breeze, tear gas is not too effective.
Since the police were not allowed to use their firearms and their only offensive weapons were ineffective, they were reduced to picking up rocks and throwing them back at the rioters. It was not enough.
The police were forced to retreat. And it was not a tactical retreat, it was an ignonimous retreat. More of a rout, really. The mobs pursued the police every step of the way, firing rockets at them as well as rocks, bottles and Molotov cocktails. The police have withdrawn to about 1.5 km from the university. After their initial advance, they begin to take a beating and continued to take a beating until they reached Plaza de Amor, their original starting point.
I am really having trouble coming to grips with what happened here today. It seems obvious to me that if some 5000 or so more riot police do not arrive within the next 24 hours, the city will be lost. The PFP opened the Zócalo yesterday to the populace for their Day of the Dead ceremonies, but I think it has been closed again.
In one of the more egregious incidents of the day, the police chased a group of APPistas into a cemetery -- a panteón. The APPistas proceded to bombard them with rocks, bottles and Molotov cocktails from inside the graveyard. The cemetery was filled with families honoring their dearly departed. The police went in after the APPistas. The families came pouring out. In the news footage that I saw, enraged family members were screaming at reporters. Some blamed the police, some blamed the governor and some blamed the APPistas. A sad day, indeed.
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TAGS: Oaxaca, Mexico, Oaxaca teachers strike, APPO, PFP, UABJO