Friday, July 2, 2010

Tensions and Violence Rise in Oaxaca As Elections Near

This is part of a longer article about San Juan Copala that won't be published before Oaxaca's state elections on July 4.  I'm making this excerpt available here, because after this Sunday's elections, everything will change.

by Kristin Bricker

UPDATED JULY 5 to clarify UBISORT murder.

Violence in Oaxaca is increasing as state elections draw near. Nearly all of the opposition parties have formed an alliance against the ruling Institutional Revolution Party (PRI) and are backing one gubernatorial candidate, Gabino Cué.  The PRI has ruled Oaxaca with an iron fist for the past eighty years.

While violence and elections always seem to go hand-in-hand in Oaxaca, the close race seems to be raising tensions to a boiling point. Section 22 of the teachers union, which lead the nonviolent uprising that nearly unseated Ruiz in 2006, remains on strike pending resolution of their contract negotiations with the state. Section 22 hasn't been on strike this long since 2006, when Ruiz attacked sleeping teachers and children in their protest encampment without warning, sparking the uprising. With Oaxaca's most important cultural and tourist event of the year, the Guelaguetza, following on the heels of the election, the state government has a lot of motivation to get the teachers off the streets...one way or another. On June 30 in Santo Domingo de Morelos, unidentified gunmen murdered the mayor and another high-ranking official. Both men were Section 22 teachers and members of the opposition Democratic Revolution Party (PRD).

Tensions are rising in the autonomous municipality of San Juan Copala as well, as the government debates whether or not it will send ballot boxes into the besieged area. Likewise, the autonomous municipality, which was formed with the goal of banishing political parties from the indigenous Triqui region, is debating whether or not it will allow the government to place the ballot boxes in the municipality. The Triquis who founded and support the autonomous municipality blame political parties for creating divisions within their communities. These divisions have lead to a situation in which much of the violence in the region is the result of Triquis killing other Triquis.

San Juan Copala declared itself autonomous following the 2006 nonviolent uprising that nearly drove out Oaxaca’s governor, Ulises Ruiz Ortiz.  Founders of the autonomous municipality played an important role in the uprising as advisors to the Popular Assembly of the Peoples of Oaxaca (APPO), which coordinated the protests.  The paramilitary organization Union for the Social Well-being of the Triqui Region (UBISORT), which was formed by the PRI in 1994 to keep the Zapatista uprising in the neighboring state of Chiapas from spilling over into Oaxaca.

In Copala, violent attacks appear to becoming more frequent as the elections draw near. Last week, snipers shot an eight-year-old girl and two women in San Juan Copala in two separate attacks. All three survived the shootings. On July 1, unidentified gunmen executed UBISORT leader* Severiano Flores.


The Oaxacan media, which is very pro-government, claimed that Flores was an UBISORT leader.  That same media, without providing a shred of proof, claimed that MULTI, the Triqui organization that is pushing for autonomy in the region, carried out the execution.  Sources close to the autonomous municipality tell me that Flores wasn't an UBISORT leader.  A member, yes, but a leader, no.  He was murdered in a dispute that is unrelated to the fight over Triqui autonomy, and the UBISORT is only now claiming that he is a leader in order to blame the autonomous municipality of San Juan Copala.  Who knows who is telling the truth, but that's the other side of the story.
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