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Battle for Control in Mexican State of Oaxaca

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September 9, 2006

Battle for Control in Mexican State of Oaxaca

by Dru Oja Jay

As media reports focus on the clash of two candidates in the closest presidential election in Mexican history, another battle is playing out in the country's southern state of Oaxaca. The conflict has everything to do with the deep divisions that have created the largest crisis in Mexican politics in decades.

In late May, thousands of striking teachers occupied the centre of Oaxaca City, demanding an increased minimum wage, increased funding for schools, and an end to the siphoning of public funds by corrupt officials. On June 14, police attempted to break up the strike with a pre-dawn raid. Officers shot tear gas and bullets, and destroyed the tents of sleeping demonstrators. Police reportedly targeted the teachers' radio station, Radio Plantón, destroying broadcasting equipment. The teachers, however, fought back and drove the police out of the occupied area after a four-hour battle.

According to one journalist, the raid "ignited a mass uprising in the state and beyond."

Hundreds of thousands have demonstrated in favour of the removal of State Governor Ulises Ruíz, and the Asemblea Popular del Pueblo de Oaxaca (APPO) was formed.

While Oaxaca is rich in natural resources, it is among the poorest regions in Mexico. Two thirds of Oaxaca's 3.5 million inhabitants descend from indigenous ancestry, a trait that correlates closely with poverty there.

While united behind its demand that "Ruíz must go", the APPO has since advanced a much broader political campaign, calling for civil disobedience to prevent the functioning of the government until Ruíz steps down.

On August 1, groups seized Channel 9, a state-run television station. While it was controlled by pro-APPO forces, the channel continually broadcast interviews with people in the street, who spoke about the effects of neoliberalism on their livelihoods and the political situation in Oaxaca. The station showed documentary films, including one on the living conditions of Palestinians in the Occupied Territories.

In retaliation, a paramilitary force entered the occupied TV studios on August 21 and thoroughly destroyed transmission equipment, riddling racks of electronics with bullets.

Pro-APPO groups responded by taking over 10 radio stations across the state. Their goal is to further a simple set of principles: that "institutions must be responsible to the popular will," that the "function of the state is to promote the interests of the public," and that "the responsibility of the public is to govern itself."

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The Dominion is a monthly paper published by an incipient network of independent journalists in Canada. It aims to provide accurate, critical coverage that is accountable to its readers and the subjects it tackles. Taking its name from Canada's official status as both a colony and a colonial force, the Dominion examines politics, culture and daily life with a view to understanding the exercise of power.

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