Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Mexico: More And More People Are Talking About The Impossibility Of Averting Civil War

Kommersant, the Russian online news service, has this -- reportage which you probably won't see in any American paper -- in a format that makes it almost impossible to read. I repost it here in an effort to encourage you to read it.
Taming the State: Mexican Authorities Take Control of Rebellious Oaxaca

by Andrey Gorenko

Mexican federal police forces took control of the province of Oaxaca, in the south of the country, after more than six months of local unrest. With barely a month left before the end of his term in office and the inauguration of his successor, Mexican President Vincente Fox's last-ditch attempt to resolve the problem of the rebellious region may provoke a full-scale civil war.

Truck convoys full of soldiers began to converge on Oaxaca, one of Mexico's most popular tourist spots, on Sunday. The troops, backed by police units, entered the city and drove out the protestors who have controlled Oaxaca for the last several months. The streets leading to the center of town were littered with burned-out cars, overturned buses, and tractors run out of the fields. The police attempted to clear the barricades from the roads while simultaneously dispersing protestors with water cannons and tear gas.
AP Photo: Mexican federal police armed with water cannons push back protesters as they enter the city of Oaxaca, Mexico on Sunday, October 29, 2006. Federal police with assault rifles and riot-shields advanced into Oaxaca, pushing past barricades of burning tires and tree trunks in this normally picturesque tourist destination wracked by five months of protests and violence that began with a teachers protest demanding salary increases and later asking for the governor's resignation.
The Mexican authorities refused to comment on the number of police and soldiers who were deployed to the city, but local residents put the number at around four to five thousand.

The reactions of the city's residents to the appearance of federal forces were varied: some met the police waving white flags, while others peppered the policemen with stones.
Reuters Photo: Protesters throw stones at Mexican federal police in Oaxaca on October 29, 2006. Federal riot police backed by helicopters and armored trucks seized control of Mexico's popular tourist city of Oaxaca on Sunday after months of street protests, and one man was killed in the violence.
The drive by federal forces towards the center of town caused panic among the protestors. "Fellow countrymen, don’t run away! Don't give ground!" cried one of the leaders of the insurgency through a microphone. After a while the police turned back, and the protestors, believing that they had won, began to harass them from behind. But the police soon returned again, this time with a bulldozer to clear away the barricades. The protesters eventually left the center of town, which they had controlled for several months, and seized the university building. They are now announcing that they will not give up the building until Oaxaca city mayor Ulises Ruiz resigns.

The clashes between federal forces and demonstrators led to fresh casualties. According to federal forces, 15-year-old Jorge Alberto Lopez Bernal was killed by a gas canister. According to other sources, he was shot and killed with a pistol by police. "Bernal took part in the protests with us, and he was killed by federal forces," said Gustavo Adolfo Lopez, a representative of the protestors. "When they started to shoot, they wounded two women as well."
Reuters Photo: A man runs past burning buses during a federal forces operation in Oaxaca on October 29, 2006. Riot police backed by helicopters and armored trucks advanced on the Mexican tourist city of Oaxaca on Sunday, meeting little initial resistance from protesters demanding the removal of the state governor.
The government made the decision to deploy troops to Oaxaca after American journalist Bradley Roland Will was killed in an exchange of fire last Friday. The incident aroused the ire of the American embassy in Mexico. According to American ambassador Tony Garza, by all accounts the reporter was killed by police forces.

In the wake of Mr. Will's death, Mexican President Vincente Fox came to the conclusion that Oaxaca mayor Ulises Ruiz was not dealing properly with the situation and decided to send in the troops.
Reuters Photo: Mexican federal police officers remove posters left behind by Popular Assembly (APPO) members in Oaxaca city's main plaza on October 29, 2006.
The standoff in the state of Oaxaca between local professional teachers' unions and the Oaxaca city mayor, who is a member of the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), has already lasted for more than half a year. In May the mayor refused to raise teachers' salaries and sent state police to disperse union protestors who were demonstrating in the city. The striking teachers, who were immediately joined by left-wing protestors, seized the center of the city, formed an alternative government, the National Assembly of the State of Oaxaca, and demanded that the government force Mr. Ruiz to resign. However, President Fox decided against souring relations between his own National Action Party (PAN) and the influential PRI in the heat of the battle for the presidential seat, and he turned a deaf ear to the teachers' demands.

When the teachers organized a march on Mexico, the authorities turned the matter over to the Senate, which confirmed that Mr. Ruiz had the right to continue to execute the duties of his office.
Reuters Photo: A member of the Popular Assembly of Oaxaca (APPO) confronts federal forces officers during an operation in Oaxaca City on October 29, 2006.
For almost six months, complete anarchy has reigned in Oaxaca. Schools are closed, the center of town is blocked off, and many local residents have been forced to either move to another state or at least to send their children out of Oaxaca so that they can attend school. The state police have tried unsuccessfully to battle the unrest that has taken over the city. Their methods have been strange: the police, dressed in civilian clothing, have started mass fistfights with protestors in the street and have opened fire on them, leading to the deaths of eight people before the federal forces were deployed to Oaxaca on Sunday.

Nevertheless, many in Mexico believe that the use of federal muscle to impose order in the town will only cause the situation to deteriorate. Two weeks ago, the leaders of two large Marxist rebel groups – the People's Army and the Lucio Cabanas Revolutionary Movement – delivered an ultimatum to the country's central government announcing that they would launch an armed revolt if the authorities took violent action against the protesting teachers in Oaxaca. By all appearances, the most recent moves by the federal authorities may provoke the insurgents to radical action.
Reuters Photo: A member of the Popular Assembly of Oaxaca (APPO) holds a Mexican flag in front of federal forces in Oaxaca on October 29, 2006.
Meanwhile, the political situation in Mexico is such that more and more people are talking about the impossibility of averting civil war. The country held its presidential elections in June, and the results of the elections have split the country in two. The left-wing candidate, Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, lost to Felipe Calderon, the candidate from the ruling PAN party, by less than 0.5%. Leftist groups practically paralyzed the country for months after the elections: they were not convinced to disband their thousands-strong protests in Mexico City's Socalo Square until September, and passions are still running high. The state of Oaxaca is one of the strongholds of support for Lopez Obrador and the Mexican left wing. If the Marxist groups really do start a war with the government, the unrest could easily spill over into the states neighboring Oaxaca.

President Fox's term in office expires on December 1, after which the presidency will be assumed by his fellow party member Felipe Calderon, whose victory in the elections is still being contested by left-wing groups. It is possible that the month before the inauguration will see dramatic events that could lead to major bloodshed and regime change in Mexico.