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Oaxaca, Mexico: Mass march protests police violence

Published Jun 20, 2006 11:08 PM

Oaxaca, Mexico, state police—armed with tear gas, firearms and covered by helicopters—moved in hours before dawn the morning of June 14 and forcibly removed thousands of schoolteachers from the plantón, the location of a protest encampment that had been set up two weeks earlier in the central plaza of Oaxaca City.

400,000 march on June 16 in Oaxaca
to support teachers.

Some 40,000 teachers have been on strike since May for higher wages. They are now demanding that the governor of Oaxaca State be impeached.

Witnesses said police fired into the crowd, and local media reports claim two dead. Police fired large amounts of tear gas indiscriminately into the crowd, including from police helicopters.

Reports are that 92 people were injured by the police assault. A pregnant woman suffered a miscarriage as a result of the police violence.

Although the local citizens have re-occupied the city’s central square, there have been reports of people being killed by the police, with many others injured, arrested or “disappeared.” According to state officials, two police officers were also being held hostage by teachers. If true, this is an indication that the teachers are not taking the police attack lightly.

Mexico City leaders of the National Coordinating Body of Educational Workers (CNTE) also said that two teachers had been killed in the attack, and six “disappeared.” (El Universal, June 15) Meanwhile Oaxaca Gov. Ulises Ruiz Ortiz had the audacity to deny in an official TV and radio address that any teachers had been killed.

Mexican President Vicente Fox refused to condemn the police action. Presidential spokesperson Ruben Aguilar Valenzuela said the federal government “respects the sovereignty” of the states, adding, “Never again will we have the presidential authoritarianism, never again the centralism; we have embraced democracy and we now have real federalism.”

That same day five airplanes with 700 elite Federal Preventative Police landed in Oaxaca.

Since the attack, the third teachers’ mega-march in Oaxaca took place on June 16. It brought out all sectors of civil society in a vast repudiation of the governor’s repressive policies.

The march, hundreds of thousands strong, was the direct response to the brutal June 14 police attack on the strikers’ encampment—an attack that is being called “the straw that broke the camel’s back.”

Yet for many, the Oaxaca attack it is just typical violence, similar to what has been seen in years past in Mexico and also sadly in the very recent past as well. In May, police suppressed a rebellion in San Salvador de Atenco, a town near Mexico City. Demonstrators opposed the government’s efforts to evict flower vendors who were selling without official permits. Two protesters died in the crackdown. Also, in April two steel workers were killed in battles with police sent in to break a strike, part of a long and bitter nationwide work stoppage by miners and metal workers.

Presidential spokesperson Aguilar said the upheaval in Oaxaca, like the previous incident in San Salvador de Atenco, was not a sign of instability around the upcoming presidential election. For their part, the 40,000 teachers vowed to continue the strike, and have threatened to disrupt the presidential election voting in Oaxaca.