Thursday, January 29, 2009

Prominent APPO Member Survives Attempted Murder in Oaxaca

Unknown assailant stabbed long-time activist Ruben Valencia Nuñez in a café after shouting disparaging remarks about the APPO

On January 10, an unknown assailant attacked prominent Oaxacan activist and former Popular Assembly of the Peoples of Oaxaca (APPO) advisor Ruben Valencia Nuñez in a public café in Oaxaca City. The attempt on Valencia’s life follows other recent attacks against Oaxacan activists, in particular the Oaxacan Voices Constructing Autonomy and Liberty (VOCAL) collective, of which Valencia is a member.

The attack on Valencia occurred at approximately 11pm on January 10 as he was walking from a meeting in a café to the Oaxacan Autonomous House of Solidarity and Self-Sustaining Work (CASOTA). As he left the meeting in the café, about three people in a blue car without license plates began to follow Valencia and another person who was walking with him.

Valencia told Narco News that as the car pulled up alongside him, the occupants shouted at him, “Fucking APPO! We’re going to fuck you up!” Valencia says he asked them what they had against him. Soon thereafter, the men got out of their car and approached Valencia. Valencia says he had “no other choice” but to enter the nearest café.

Upon entering the café, Valencia headed to the bathroom. At least two men from the car followed him inside. One of them stationed himself next to the bathroom door and waited for Valencia to exit.

“It all happened so fast,” Valencia says. When he came out of the bathroom, the man produced a “sharp weapon” and attacked Valencia from behind. Both men fell to the ground in the scuffle.

When Valencia picked himself up off the floor, he saw that the men had fled, leaving behind the weapon in the café. At that point Valencia realized that the attacker hadn’t merely pushed him around. Valencia’s shirt was quickly becoming soaked with blood; he had three stab wounds in his neck and head and other more minor injuries in other parts of his body.

VOCAL issued a statement describing Valencia’s injuries. Valencia suffered three stab wounds to the nape of his neck, “one being 3.5 centimeters long and approximately one centimeter deep…[A]nother wound was three centimeters long and one centimeter deep.” Valencia told Narco News that the third blow to the nape of his neck “opened up a wound two centimeters deep and seven centimeters long” just one centimeter from his jugular vein. Valencia says that if the attacker had hit his jugular, “I would have been dead in five minutes.”

Doctors tell Valencia that one of the wounds might have damaged a nerve in his brain. In the days following the attack, Valencia says, “I kept forgetting things, I’d get tongue-tied, I had a tick, and my head hurt.” Most of the symptoms have gone away, except the headaches. Valencia says he will undergo tests to determine if he has suffered neural damage. He is currently undergoing acupuncture and massage therapy to help speed his recovery.

“Selective Repression, Dirty-War Style”

Valencia doesn’t know who attacked him in the café. The man who stabbed him was approximately 28 years old, “with a solid build and short hair.” He was dressed in plainclothes and did not cover his face during the attack. The man “looked like ministerial or judicial police,” says the VOCAL statement.

While the attackers’ identity is unknown, VOCAL considers in incident to be “part of a strategy of repression and violence orchestrated by the Oaxacan state government, but though groups of parapolice or civilians working for the state. We denounce to the whole world the possibility of the beginning of selective repression in the style of the dirty war that this country’s social movements suffered over thirty years ago.”

Valencia is a prominent and experienced Oaxacan activist. He was one of the founders of Oaxaca’s Universidad de la Tierra (Unitierra in its Spanish abbreviation) in 2001. Unitierra considers itself to be “a community of learning, study, reflection, and action.” Unitierra is open to all students regardless of they have previous school experience. According to co-founder Gustavo Esteva, students plan their own curriculum and study a range of subjects including, “practical trades such as urban agriculture, video production, or social investigation, or areas of study such as philosophy or communication.” Valencia currently sits on Unitierra’s Coordination Council and in the past was a member of its board of directors. One of Valencia’s primary responsibilities has been to connect Unitierra with towns and communities, and, since the 2006 uprising, with “popular neighborhoods” (colonias populares in Spanish) and social movements within Oaxaca City.

Valencia recently authored a book about the 2006 uprising with his Unitierra colleague Esteva and fellow VOCAL collective member David Venegas. The book is called Hasta las Piedras Se Levantan (loosely translated as “Until the Stones Pick Themselves Up”).

Valencia is from the Tehuantepec Isthmus in Oaxaca, a resource-rich region that has been targeted by international “development” projects such as the Plan Puebla-Panama (now known as the Mesoamerica Project). Valencia participated in various regional movements to protect the Isthmus’ natural resources from “foreign companies who, supported by the Mexican government, try to take over our territory.” He has also participated in projects to promote organic and sustainable agriculture and animal husbandry in the Isthmus. Recognizing Valencia’s ten years of activist organizing in the region, APPO activists from the Tehuantepec Isthmus elected him to be one of the 260 advisors to the APPO during the uprising.

The attack against Valencia came just days before he was supposed to moderate a presentation of renowned Uruguayan journalist, professor, and author Raul Zibechi’s new book in the Benito Juarez Autonomous University of Oaxaca’s law school. Valencia and other members of the Oaxacan “Barefoot Investigators” collective organized the event.

The attempt on Valencia’s life differs from the strategies of repression the government utilized during the 2006 uprising, when protestors had to erect barricades in the streets of the state capital in order to protect themselves from death squads run by state police and parapolice. Journalist John Gibler, who was present during most of the uprising, says, “The shootings [in those days] seem to have targeted the support base—people who were just coming out to help, rather than the people who were grabbing headlines by giving interviews to the press or people who had already had a rather well-known trajectory in local or state politics or activism.”

Valencia knows that the attack on him may signal a change or escalation in the government’s strategy. “Other compañeros have suffered physical aggressions, kidnappings, and threats, but after 2007 they hadn’t dared to send hit men to try to kill APPO members. That’s what’s worrisome…this may be a strategy [to send] paramilitaries or plainclothes police to make a political assassination look like a regular fight.” Valencia adds, “Oaxaca is a pressure-cooker that can blow at any moment, and the government knows it.”

“The Government is Afraid We’re Making a Comeback”

The attack on Valencia is the second violent attack APPO participants have suffered within the past two months. In the middle of the night on December 8, 2008, Oaxaca state police raided the political-cultural space known as CASOTA. VOCAL, which actively participates in the APPO, and other local collectives run the space. During the raid, police opened fire on the house with live ammunition, destroyed the house’s front door and windows, shot tear gas into the house, and beat those inside with bricks, billy clubs, and stones. The activists say a two-year-old child was in the house at the time of the raid.

Despite the recent surge in violence, Oaxacan activists are not deterred. “[The government] knows that the people’s fear isn’t as big as their courage and rage, because they want to change society and take down the government,” says Valencia. “The people aren’t the same after [the conflict in] 2006.”

Gibler concurs. He says that in 2006, “with every assassination more people took to the streets. Instead of being terrified and running away, the response was a surge in popular support for the teachers and the peoples' movement.”

Valencia says the increase in violence could be because “the government knows that VOCAL and other spaces, peoples, collectives, and organizations aren’t giving up the struggle and won’t stop reorganizing the movement and the APPO.” He says 2009 holds a lot of promise for the APPO because it will hold a state-wide congress in February, the local teachers union has new leadership, and local elections will occur in July (the APPO organized heavily around the 2006 elections and delivered a severe blow to the ruling Institutional Revolution Party and its attempts to rig the vote). The government is aware of this convergence of factors, and, according to Valencia, “It’s afraid we’re making a comeback."

From Narco News: http://narcosphere.narconews.com/notebook/kristin-bricker/2009/01/prominent-appo-member-survives-attempted-murder-oaxaca
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