Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Oaxaca, Mexico: Guerrillas moving in - striking teachers moving out

The Ejército Popular Revolucionario (EPR) has weighed in on the increasing violence in Oaxaca. The EPR, formed in 1996 in answer to the Aguas Blancas Massacre, hasn't been too active lately. The group, financed by bank robberies and kidnappings, was responsible for 100-150 deaths of police, military and unlucky civilians in 1996 and 1997 in the states of Guerrero, Oaxaca, Puebla, Tabasco, Guanajuato and Mexico City. They aren't too active in Chiapas because they don't get along well with the Zapatistas of the EZLN. The EPR is thought to be lead by Marxist - Leninist Europeans, refugees from the old Red Brigades and Bader-Meinhof.

The EPR announced that it would soon make a statement or take actions in support of the APPO and the striking teachers in Oaxaca. The EPR statement did address the recent appeal for calm and dialogue by the Catholic church, saying, "Let no one say they are surprised, let no one cry out to the heavens, let no one think they will solve these outbreaks of social violence with prayers and fasting."

Well that's certainly good news for the authorities.

On a lighter note, the rank and file of the striking teachers union, the SNTE, has just about abandoned the cause. They are ignoring their leadership's threats of fines, loss of seniority and unwanted assignments and staying away in droves. The downtown blockade, which at one time covered some 53 city blocks, has shrunk to about 20. Of those 20 blocks, only about 7 are covered day and night by the tent city. Many teachers have said they will return to their classrooms next Monday, having only missed the first week of school.

The rank and file discontent is over the violence and vandalism perpetrated by the APPO as well as unhappiness that the SNTE's original goals of better pay, working conditions and major investment in education reforms have all been lost in the nose-to-nose confrontation with the governor. The downtown occupying force, which at one time may have numbered 10,000, is down to about 500 diehard holdouts. They are outnumbered in the Zócalo by the street venders on most days.

This is not to say that all is well. As the striking teachers who had and still have legitimate grievances are moving out, the APPO has just about taken over the fight. If the EPR joins the mix, it could become yet more poisonous.

Note: The link to the Aguas Blancas Massacre above is to a grainy video of the shooting. This video is clear enough to show that the peasant farmers who were attacked were unarmed at the time. The state government released a video after the massacre which was obviously edited. In it, the government first spread around weapons of every type and description among the bodies, then tried to pass it off as legitimate self defense on the part of the state police. The video that you will see is the original which was smuggled to the press by an unknown member of President Ernesto Zedillo's staff. Yet another example, I think, of Ernesto Zedillo's attempts to cut the legs out from under his own ruling PRI party.

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