Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Oaxaca, Mexcio: Everything is just hunky-dory?

I've received a few emails and also some comments to posts from and by Americans living or staying in and around Oaxaca. Some of these people have taken me to task for "dramatizing" the anarchy that reigns here in the streets and in many of the smaller cities and towns throughout the state. One commenter went so far as to state that I "have an agenda", another emailer who is not here said that she had friends here who reported to her that they had no concerns with security, and another person who does live here charged that I was making American expatriates feel "paranoid" and demanded that I present my "credencials".

Well folks, I have spent the last couple of days reviewing my posts on the situation in Oaxaca, the political situation nationwide, and some posts on Mexico's history. I don't think that I will be retracting anything. I will mention that in some of the later posts on the violence in Oaxaca, as well as those concerning the well-run election and post-election chaos, I did not always provide links to major media reports on those same situations. I did not always provide those links because those media outlets are in Spanish which most of my readers do not speak. I have also discovered that most of the emailers and commenters don't speak Spanish either.

I was and am concerned enough about security here in Oaxaca to have sent my family away a week and a half ago. Each and every one of the incidents of violence, civil unrest, vandalism, theft, threats and the financial disaster are well documented, at least in the Spanish-speaking press. I havn't made anything up. I will also note that, in the future, I will try to link to pertinent Spanish language references, whether you speak Spanish or not. That's just a CYA tactic for the next time I receive emails and comments from residents and visitors who don't seem to be able to observe what's going on around them or do not seem to understand what they might observe.

I might also ask, at the risk of seeming to be overly curious, whether any of the emailers and commenters had bothered to look at the photos that I have posted. I will assure you that when a photo of a smashed downtown store window appears, it was smashed before I got there with my camera and was not smashed before the teachers union arrived. When a photo appears of a burned-out city bus in the parking lot at Juárez University, I didn't set it on fire and the bus wasn't there until students stole it, drove it onto university grounds and then torched it the next day. I can assure you that the blood on the faces of policemen was not one of Heinz's 57 varieties.

Now, if one were sitting in a coffee shop across from Santo Domingo at the time the bus was stopped by a group of slogan-shouting students armed with clubs, bottles and rocks, all its passengers forced to deboard and its driver's money stolen, then I suppose that one could claim that one didn't feel threatened by the affair. I would suggest that the passengers of the bus and the bus driver did indeed feel a sense of a loss of security. I would further suggest that anyone in their right mind who read about this incident or heard about it on Spanish language radio and television broadcasts, as well as all of the other incidents of violence, vandalism and theft that are occurring every day here, would also have some concerns for their personal security as well as the security of their loved ones. Or maybe not. To each his own. Different strokes for different folks. Etc.

Let's take a look at the past few days. On Monday, the state's Secretary of Culture had organized a Guelaguetza dance at Parque Llano (identified on many tourist maps as Parque Benito Juárez but known to all locals as El Llano or Parque Llano). This park is undergoing refurbishment by the state and that work is some two months behind schedule. The park is divided into thirds with the center section around the statue of Benito Juárez more or less finished while the sections to the north and south are still under construction and are unusable. Immediately after the dance performance, there was a children's music concert scheduled for Teatro Benito Juárez, a theater also just newly refurbished which sits directly across the street from the park. There were about 200 mothers with children lined up outside the theater awaiting the opening of the doors for the concert.

A group of about 200 striking teachers and their APPO supporters , armed with clubs and metal bars, had also gathered in the park to demonstrate against the dance because it was sponsored by the hated state government. According to one news report, at some point a student made his way through the dance spectators and climbed up the side of the Juarez statue and began shouting anti-government slogans. Some spectators began pelting him with fruit, rocks and bottles. This incident does not appear in other reports from news reporters that were on hand.

His nearby compatriots then converged on the dance recital. There were some face-to-face confrontations between spectators, dancers and protesters. At that point, a group of protesters stormed the dance stage and began to try to destroy it, jumping up and down, beating on it with chairs and the like. The dancers and the orchestra fled, including, in one report, the poor tuba player trying to run with his gigantic instrument.

Again, if one was in Tule at this time taking pictures of the big tree, I suppose one might not feel any concern for one's security.

After the breakup of the dance recital, a spokesman for APPO held an impromptu news conference with reporters at the scene. Suddenly, some of the protesters decided to attack the theater with the 200 or so mothers and kids standing outside. Some of the mothers managed to get inside the doors of the theater before security guards forced them closed again. The mothers and kids who couldn't get inside were forced to flee.

The protesters managed to force open the doors, got inside, and began ripping out the theater's seats and other funiture. They then commandeered 2 city buses that failed to make it through the mob, loaded the stolen furniture into the two buses and drove them away. The protesters' spokeman, realizing that this was getting out of hand with so many reporters present, abruptly ran from the interview in the park to the theater where he and some other protest leaders tried to get the students under control. The spokesman shouted at reporters as he ran from the news conference, "This was not part of the plan."

A police commander who was on site was accused later of having waved his pistol around. The mob's spokesman claimed that his threat of use of a firearm was a "grave escalation." Apparently the threats, vandalism, thefts, bus-jackings and scaring the crap out of a bunch of little kids was not considered "grave".

After things had finally calmed down, which is to say that everyone except the protesters had fled the scene, the mob spread out and blocked all four intersections at each corner of the park. At this point they apparently threatened or scared another policeman who was near the park on a side street. He allegedly fired 3 shots from a 9mm sidearm. The mob rushed him and took him prisoner while another policeman managed to run away. Several hours later the mob turned him over to federal representatives of the Attorney General (PGR). He denies firing any shots but the protesters also gave the PGR 3 spent cartridges. There either were no reporters at the scene or none heard any gunshots as this report is based solely on the words of the protesters.

Now, if one were shopping at the big market in Mitla when this incident occurred, I suppose one could claim not to feel any sense of a loss of security.

There is lots more for other posts, but I think that you may get the idea. At least, some of you may.

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