OAXACA, MEXICO – The teachers and social movements have called for a convocation tomorrow to debate their collective response to the current political situation in Oaxaca, where state and local elections will take place in two weeks. The key question seems to be, will the popular movements back the candidacy of Gabino Cue, who represents a coalition of the leftish PRD and the right-wing PAN parties, and who is running against Eviel Perez Magaña, candidate of the PRI, still Oaxaca’s ruling party? Eviel is the chosen successor to Ulisses Ruiz Ortiz (known as URO), whose reputation for corruption and repression, including the violent assaults against striking teachers four years ago, is the #1 political enemy of the teachers union and its allies.
Alternatively, the “Encounter of the People of Oaxaca” could decide to stand aside from electoral alignments or even call for a boycott. Their conclusion will be announced at a mass rally at 5 pm, about which we heard from a small group of activists we met this afternoon.
At least that’s what I think is going on. My limited capacity to understand Spanish, and my lack of familiarity with the nuances of local politics reduce my confidence that I really know what’s going on, despite several weeks of reading local Oaxaca news over the internet from my desk in Canterbury. I feel like I’m reading between the lines, and I’m not sure I even understand the lines to begin with.
We arrived here last night, and were met at the airport by a young artist whose home is our base for at least the next 3 weeks. Our main focus will be language study, but it will be hard to avoid or ignore the demonstrations in the streets, where once again hundreds of teachers have established a “plantón,” or occupation, to push their economic and political demands. It was the teachers strike of 2006 that set off months of social rebellion that united diverse forces – teachers, campesinos, indigenous groups, ecologists, etc. – to support the teachers and call for URO’s ouster.
We experienced a taste of Oaxaca’s protest culture during our last visit here in 2001, which by chance also coincided with a teachers strike. In Mexico’s second poorest state, the teachers find it necessary to shut down the capital city’s commercial center every year in order to win decent conditions of employment and increased support for public education.
In some ways the city appears normal. A few blocks from the zócalo, the city’s center, it is business as usual. Even in the area around the zócalo, street vendors are hawking embroidered blouses, lichee nuts, pirated CDs, and balloons. But the teachers tents and tarps are strung between buildings, forcing detours for cars and obstacle courses for pedestrians, They are impossible to miss.
But perhaps this is the new normal. Three trips to Oaxaca in 20 years hardly makes me an expert. So I’ll approach the next few weeks with humility and open ears, hoping to gain confidence in my ability to read between the lines.