The Changing of the guard:
It’s the day after, and the giant sound stages, the people mover barriers, the generator trucks and all the rest of the extravagant circus that our new Governor, Gabino Cue lavished on himself are gone. The Zocalo is sparsely occupied at mid-day. The streets are swept clean and there are balloon sellers – but no others – on the Alameda in front of the Cathedral. Yesterday, however, was an entirely different kind of day.
There were at least two marches yesterday to let Gabino know that he is not going to get any free passes from Oaxaca’s most seasoned and organized political opposition groups, among which are the teachers, remnants of the APPO from 2006, the radical left, and the guerrilla formations that lurk in secret or virtually inaccessible places around the state. The demands have not changed: freedom for unjustly accused political prisoners; investigation, trial, and punishment of ex-governor Ulises Ruiz Ortiz (URO) and those who aided and abetted his oppressive regime; transparency in government; and an end to the sacking of Oaxaca’s natural resources by greedy international corporations.
Protests started early. The first took place before Gabino’s swearing-in at the legislative “palace” in mid-morning. Several groups of teachers and their affiliates blocked the roads leading to the building, forcing the political class to abandon their vehicles at some distance and trudge in. Some very important officials – including most notably Marcelo Ebrard, the governor of the Federal District, and Felipe Calderon’s personal emissary, the Interior Secretary Francisco Blake Mora – arrived by helicopter. Attended by four of the past six Governors (URO and his predecessor Jose Murat were missing), three current governors-elect (all, like Gabino, creatures of unlikely coalitions), and the national heads of the various parties in the coalition that helped him to victory, Gabino gave a relatively short, often generalized but occasionally specific speech. Also conspicuously absent among the attendees was the outspoken Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador (AMLO), who claims to be the “legitimate” president of Mexico, having lost the 2006 election to Calderon in a plebiscite marked by allegations of fraud. It is thought that if he had come, many of the guests would have stayed at home, having been at one time or another the targets of AMLO’s barbs.
The emphasis – as it has been in recent interviews – was on building a transparent and democratic regime, based on consultation with the people. Authoritarianism, he said, is a thing of the past in Oaxaca. Corruption – in the past as well as the future – will be rooted out, and where provable will be prosecuted. Development, with an emphasis toward maximizing employment through an emphasis on natural resources (and here he listed coffee, mezcal, and other benign products without mentioning mining or other polluting and destructive industries), is a priority. The first priority, though, seems to be the construction of an ice skating rink near the soccer stadium. AMLO built one in MexCity during his term as mayor and it was by all reports a popular success. Pretty cynical if you ask me…
“I am a politician; that is my profession”, he has said; and he provides evidence of that by saying he will not allow impunity – while at the same time vowing to avoid any signs of vindictiveness. Much of the promised investigation of corruption will be hampered by the lack of documentation: Ulises and his henchmen are reported to have spent much of the last month systematically destroying the evidence of their alleged looting of the state treasury.
Gabino comes to office without a clear majority in the Legislature, where the PRI still has a lot to say about how things will go: they are the largest party, although the sum of all the parties in Gabino’s coalition is numerically larger, it is not certain that they will vote as a bloc. PRI has already flexed its power, rejecting a sweeping reform package that he submitted; and PRI leaders have indicated that they are going to give a long hard look at whomever he chooses for Attorney General, the only cabinet office over which the deputies have a veto.
Azael Santiago Chepi, the head of Section XXII of the teacher’s union, made it clear during the run-up to the election that support of Gabino and his coalition was motivated primarily by the desire to defeat URO’s hand-picked choice to be his successor, in order to remove one of the layers of protection URO had to avoid prosecution for his many alleged crimes; and that any support that his union – the largest in the state – will give Gabino, once he assumed office, will depend entirely on his actions – or lack thereof – when it comes to resolving the union’s demands.
Some of the demands may prove problematic for Gabino. One of these involves the municipio of Loxicha, in the Sierra Sur (southern mountains), not far from Oaxaca’s coastal resort area, in the mid-1990s. The slaughter of 17 farmers by minions of Ruben Figueroa, then the governor of Guerrero, near the village of Aguas Blancas while they were on their way to a protest against clear-cutting of their forest lands – Figueroa owned the trucks that took the logs to market – was commemorated by an armed guerrilla band calling itself the People’s Revolutionary Army (EPR in its Spanish initials), a group that later staged attacks on police barracks, army checkpoints, and other installations of the armed wing of the government.
In an attack on a police station in the municipio of Huatulco, a few EPRistas were killed. Among them were the president and the treasurer of Loxicha. Loxicha had been a thorn in the side of then-governor Diodoro Carrasco, Gabino’s patron and founder of Gabino’s party, Convergencia. Victimized, as many mountain villages were, by elements of the state motorized police, Loxicha decided to take matters into its own hands. Barricades were erected to keep the greedy cops out, and the cops lodged complaints with Diodoro, asking him to send in the troops to teach the uppity villagers a lesson. Diodoro demurred, basically telling them that if they couldn’t take it themselves, they couldn’t have it; that he needed a better excuse for stomping on Loxicha than that they wouldn’t give up their belongings and their women.
After the failed attack in Huatulco, the excuse – hotbed of terrorism – was at hand, and Diodoro didn’t hesitate to invade. Several people were arrested under suspicion of terrorism, a few disappeared, and others fled. Diodoro told the legislature to declare Loxicha to be without a legitimate government, and appointed an “interim” president who named his own cabinet, the state cops resumed their predations, and a permanent planton (occupation) was set up in the Zocalo, which lasted for years, until the current one of women and children survivors of the siege of San Juan Copala. Now, in an ironic twist of fate, Gabino has it in his power to pardon the few remaining prisoners from Loxicha. What will he do? No mention of “political prisoners” in his speeches.
While Chepi (he is called that even though it is his mother’s maiden name) was putting the squeeze on Gabino in a speech from the Kiosko in the Zocalo, backed by most of the membership of his union, Gabino was talking to a reporter, saying that pulling all the teachers from their classroom for political demonstrations was bad for the students, and bad for Oaxaca. Keep them in the classroom, he admonished Chepi, and sweetened the deal with promises of more money and more resources for education. Who knows, he may be able to buy labor peace. It remains to be seen.
One of the biggest problems in Oaxaca, the alarming deterioration of the state university (UABJO in its Spanish acronym), did not figure prominently in Gabino’s discourse. Nor did the tinder-box situation in San Jose Progreso where Canadian silver miners are being accused of polluting the ground water, and ecological protesters and local residents who oppose the mines are being beaten and shot – including a very popular Catholic priest who preaches liberation theology. As far as development in general, does that mean more wind farms? More hydroelectric dams? The resumption of construction of the trans-Istmo railway?
The question on everyone’s lips (except of course those who have learned to expect little to change when the heads of state are shuffled) is, will Gabino come through in the specifics to match the general thrust of his rhetoric. We in Oaxaca live in verrrrrrry interesting times…
Last night (the 3rd) a professor of indigenous education said to be aligned with MULT, one of the factions disputing control of San Juan Copala (see previous Newsletters), was gunned down on his way from the regional center of Putla de Guerrero to his home in the Copala municipio. MULT and another faction, UBISORT, have started fighting amongst themselves, having pretty much cleansed Copala of their rivals the MULTI. Nancy Davies speculates on the possibility that the responsible parties were involved with one of the two narcotics syndicated that operate in the area. So far, no-one has claimed responsibility.