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Guerrillas in the mist…

18 December 2006

The situation in Oaxaca took me by surprise.  I honestly only expected the annual teachers’ strike to go on a bit longer… and get a bit rowdier… than usual and possibly piggy-back on discontent with the outcome of the national elections. I hadn’t expected the popular uprising against the corrupt (and obviously fraudulent) state governor, Ulises Ruiz Ortiz, nor that so many other grievances would surface.  Given that the uprising was largely peaceful, and the only violence came from state repression, and until the very end, the Federal Government had the sense to stay out, I’d expected some sort of compromise settlement… I didn’t expect APPO would “win” necessarily, but given Mexican history since the 70s, I’d assumed the state would work out a face-saving solution that would at least meet some of the legitimate demands for reform.   

With the only grudgingly accepted Calderón administration having decided to launch attacks on the left under the guise of “restoring order”, starting with – not gangsters, but political dissidents — I don’t see the emergence of groups like this as surprising.Calderón came into office with 2/3rds of the electorate against him (and that’s just counting voters, not those who responded to “la otra campaña” and refuse to vote, or just didn’t bother), clearly there is not going to be a “Presidential honeymoon”.  I suggested in the post below that the administration is seeking to use the “mano dura” Calderón promised during his campaign, not against criminals and the corrupt, but against dissenters to the “neo-liberal” (pro-NAFTA, pro-big business, pro-US) model that has been a disaster for the Mexican campesino… and, for much of the working class as well.  The guerrillas quite rightly see a reaction by the ultra-right (which made a comeback under Fox, who ironically came to power as a result of leftist pressure – and the very real possiblity of a guerilla uprising — after the 1988 elections were stolen by the PRI) as the greatest threat.  If the far right tries to maintain the status quo, it could get very ugly, indeed.  What is particularly interesting is you have the guerrillas justifying their action in the name of budgetary policy.  I don’t think people understand how sacred a large education budget and a small military budget is to Mexicans… education might have been a better investment if Calderón wanted his “mano dura” to succeed against narcos.  It’d have gained him support from the left.  This is gonna bite him in the ass.    

I question how real the threat of a guerrilla uprising is:  the midnight press conference, the staged uprising in Reynosa, Oaxaca, the bombings (which were carefully set to cause only symbolic damage… I know the neighborhood where the bombs went off and, if the group really wanted to create havoc, they would have targeted the Wal-Mart next to the PRI headquarters), using the non-violent APPO as a model, the military salute at the end of the news conference  – all suggest political theater.  Serious theater, but not la revolution.    I don’t take such “theater” lightly.  The Black Panthers were “theater”too… and WERE a threat to the establishment.   It took shock theater —  with an all-star cast including Huey Newton, Eldridge Cleaver and a cast of thousands in the role of “rioters” —  before anyone decided basic racial equality was “normal”.   

Manuel, José Arturo, Gertrudis and Javier seem to be in the same spirit as the Panthers, but with a lot better organization, and – given the amount of time I just spent plowing through dictionaries – much better educated, sophisticated people. Their goal of their “strategic partnership” seems to be to pressure the Calderón administration – and the Mexican establishment — into realizing that the neo-liberal economic model followed since Salinas de Goutari has not improved the lives of most Mexicans.  While this is most clear in the south of Mexico, it has largely been ignored by the focus of U.S./Canadian reports on industry rather than agriculture, and the foreigner’s focus on the northern cities and the capital.  The guerrillas claim they have support among the discontented norteños as well as among the various rural southerners.   

Mexican papers don’t always use “AP style” in their writing, and the Jornada interview does  ramble a bit.  But, then, when I’m not writing for newspapers (and, even when I am, according to some of my editors), I’m all over the map myself.  Translation errors are mine, and in a few places, I transposed sentences and paragraphs to conform a little more with “our” idea of news writing.  I didn’t bother to translate “liberal” and “neoliberal”… even though readers in the United States are sometimes confused.  Everywhere EXCEPT the U.S., it means a pro-big business “free trader”.  The location and time of this interview was, of course, not given by Aranda.  We can assume it was within the last week.     


Social forces needed to counter state-sponsored violence

Bombings in DF should have been heeded as a warning of huge social discontent.By Jesus ArandaThe government’s repression of the Oaxaca popular movement was “an emblematic process”.  The message being sent is that “all attempts to transform our society through peaceful means are condemned to failure.”  What is needed is “to open new avenues of social change, not necessarily involving armed resistence.”

Interviewed by La Jornada, leaders of several armed resistance movements — Movimiento  Revolucionario Lucio Cabañas Barrientos (MRLCB), Tendencia Democrática Revolucionaria-Ejército del Pueblo (TDR-EP), Brigada de Ajusticiamiento 2 de Diciembre (BA 2D), Organización Insurgente 1 de Mayo (OI 1M), Brigadas Populares de Liberación (BPL) and Unidad Popular Revolucionaria Magonista (UPRM)– admitted responsibility for the series of bombings in Mexico City on November 6. 

The bombings, according to the resistance leaders  generated a reaction that gave a “cover of legality” to recent crackdowns on protest movements.

However, “we believe that if you take a good look at the event, you’ll see it was a sign, a warning, an alarm raised against growing state repression.  No one wants to repeat that unfortunate event, but “we believe it’s behind us, and we’re now ready to move forward.”

Announcing that the four groups were intergrating as a coordinated revolutionary and united” front under UPRM, the four isassociated themselves from armed movements of the past, but at this time are questioning the value of a merely electoral campaign. 

Their faces covered with bandanas and guarded by six uniformed guards carrying high powered rifles the four — Manuel, José Arturo, Gertrudis and Javier – said  they have come to the realization that the “so-called electoral left” is useless.  The communique they read at their nighttime press conference, affirmed that their view that the social resistance represented by the “National Democratic Convention” (at which various groups refused to recognize Felipe Calderón as President of the Republic, and ratified the symbolic legitimacy of Andrés Manuel López Obrador)  “contributed to our understanding of class-based repression, and demonstrated that our political institutions are being used to undermine change.  It affirms the need for a democratic transformation of those institutions and the need to reconquer our sovereignty.”

They will help the PRD ex-candidate (Lopez Obrador), “although he hasn’t proposed any profound social alternative to oppression and capitalist exploitation.”

In direct response to other questions, the four said they saw the ELZN’s “otra campaña”  and the actions undertaken by the Asamblea Popular los de Pueblos de Oaxaca (APPO), as “extraordinarily important.” 

On a national scale, they hope to foster an “ Asemblea Popular de los Pueblos de México”  “undertaking the same process of resistance, armed struggle and development of a common front among revolutionary groups and organizations” in the fight against neoliberalism and capitalism.

Gertrudis, speaking for the collective leadership of the MRLB, took a clear position:  “we weren’t fooled” into thinking an eventual triumph by Andrés Manuel López Obrador would resolve the country’s problems, but “given that a good part of the people put their confidence in him,” and if he was working to help those people, and if the PRD leads the legitimate fight against privatization of national resources and imperialism, “in those things, we can work together” .

Queried about their joint effort, the group stressed that the enemy was powerful, and they need to stick together.  During the press conference, the uniformed guards stood around the speaker’s table, over which hung the national flag and the famous photo of Francisco Villa and Emiliano Zapata in the Palacio Nacional. 

The directors of the armed groups said that events in Oaxaca were particularly important to their thinking.  They recognized that the
Mexico City bombings were interpreted by many as a justification for repressing the APPO, or were thought to have been provoked by the government of Ulises Ruiz. 
On August 30, a dozen TDR-EP militants briefly appeared in Reynosa, near Santa Catarina Ixtepeji in Oaxaca State.  Though wearing military uniforms, masks and carrying high-powered arms, the event was a staged propaganda event. 

In response to repression by the Federal Preventative Police (PFP) and local police against the APPO, and in support of (Oaxaca PRI Governor) Ulixes Ruiz, the TRD-EP – which is a splinter group of the Ejército Popular Revolucionario (EPR) – planted eight bombs in Mexico City, six of which exploded: two in the Plutarco Elías Calles auditorium at PRI national headquarters, two at the Tribunal Electoral del Poder Judicial de la Federación (TEPJF) headquarters and two more at various Scotia Bank branches.    

Lessons from Oaxaca

José Arturo, of TDR-EP, said: “the repression in Oaxaca had had a profound impact on the people.  It will take years to heal the wounds opened by what happened.  The only thing the Federal Government accomplished was to harden discontent and intensify actions against  powerful groups that have turned a deaf  ear to the consequences of the neoliberal model.” 

Gertrudis underscored that “they (the government) responded in
Oaxaca against the people with the expectation of facing armed organizations.” 

He recognized that “certainly there are valid criticisms of our actions.  Those criticisms were precisely the reason actions were halted on December first.  The spiral of violence was not coming from the people, but violence would have been forthcoming.” 

Ultra-rightist threats

Gertrudis has said that actions like those of the APPO are met by growing repression, but  “what else can we expect from an ultra-rightist government which already uses violence to further its goals of giving foreigners concessions to the beaches, the oil, electrical energy and our water resources?   

“We will need a stronger response.  But for now, we have to act symbolically.  Not in a spirit of revenge, but in a spirit of justice.

Marcos (the ELZN’s “subcomandante Marcos”) said that Mexico is bleeding.  We say that there has to be blows from all sides.  The reality is that groups (like ours) are springing up in the north too,  not just in the south.”   

Questioned on the ethics of  bombings, Gertrudis, consulting with the others, responded, “what was the ethics involved in running people off from indigenous communities?  What is the ethical value of cutting the education budget?”

In this context, Manuel, of UPRM, the organization which formalized its role as coordinator of armed groups, defended the November 6 explosions in the Capital, as a legitimate response to what happened in Oaxaca. 

Police actions in Oaxaca “Caused hatred and pain.  What was a social movement was said to be an armed movement. Ulises Ruiz’ imposition opened the door to violence.”  

Warning that the thinking in his organization leaned towards working on a parallel political and electoral struggle, including popular representation, “we aren’t about to ‘turn the other cheek’.  If we need to, we’re willing to act on two fronts… political and military.

There has been a change in the left’s thinking since taking up arms in the 60s and 70s, when those who sought electoral change were branded as “traitors”.  Asked if this didn’t indicate a new stage in the struggle, or a “maturity” on the left, Manuel noted that he had the privilege of working in politics for several years. The 15 million votes for Lopez Obrador were “the cumulation of a national political struggle, and we need to assimilate the experience in our own effort.”  

The growing agitation, he continued, “is not just a mobilization on behalf of Andrés Manuel López Obrador where you see rivers of people on all sides, and sit-ins.  Demonstrations and street protests are part of the struggle, though there are other ways.

“We are searching for mechanisms to transcend this struggle, and we hope to capitalize on discontent, leading up to a national movement to that will allow me and my comrades to bring our proposals forward with more strength than at present.” 

Asked about the ambiguity of their methods – speaking of a political solution while taking up arms, and suggesting that a peaceful option was closed off, Gertrudis responded, “Have we declared war here? ”

José Arturo expanded on the theme. “We neither want, nor think it’s desirable that the profound social changes needed in this country come through violence.  Our actions are small signals – and warnings – to the neoliberal elite to step down the repression.  It’s not us and our actions they need to worry about.  They run the risk of a revolutionary social explosion if they continue their barbaric political practices. 

“We’ve accepted the proposition that we cannot hope that this government will solve the basic problems Mexicans face in their everyday life, and we’re prepared.  When we speak of opening new avenues, we’re not necessarily speaking of violence, but of promoting and organizing a new constituency .

“The point is, that although it seems there are different agendas among the various social movements and political players, we can permit these various forces to articulate their demands, discuss them, establish a new social pact, and it isn’t necessary to turn to violence.” 

“There are possibilities of finding solutions within or outside of existing institutions, but during recent social movements, there has been serious repressive reactions in Sicartsa, Atenco and Oaxaca.  Social and pacific movements have been obliged to protect themselves from federal and state repression.

“While these movements seek legality, it’s is necessary to defend their space.  We believe we are neutralizing the violence of the powerful.  These movements are only possible if they can contribute to the broad public.

“It’s a lie to claim that armed organizations are isolated from the people.  No group could survive that way.  We are a necessary part of social movements, the self-defense unit, the Mexican people themselves countering state violence.  It was the revolutionary movements of the 60s and 70s that opened up the space for the social movements in the streets today. 

“Today, we’re not discounting the push for change coming from the electoral left and we hope to make an effective contribution to their efforts.  

“We believe that the concept of  “reform or revolution,” “legal struggle or armed struggle” is a false dichotomy.  It is necessary to articulate all forms of struggle, use different processes and movements if we care going to achieve a transformation and if it can be done without spilling a single drop of blood, then we’ve taken the right course. 

“This is what seems ambiguous.  We are armed groups that want to avoid violence.  The ELZN  said it much better: “we’re soldiers today, but we won’t be tomorrow.”  

At the same time, the four leaders criticized Felipe Calderón’s attempt to increase the armed forces budget, while proposing reductions in funds for education and public health.  

Gertrudis commented: “Lucio Cabañas said “soldiers are also the people”.  Los zetas sell drugs and serve in the Army and Navy… and are “of the people” too.  As are those fighting them, and their families.  I’ve had friends in the military who were murdered.  Thanks to some of our comrades in the army, we’re  aware of paramilitary groups like “grupo Cataris,” in Jalisco and Michoacán, commanded by an Arginine and a retired Mexican Army captain, and are prepared for disappearances or infiltration.  Aside from the Army, there is military intelligence, the police, CISEN  (Centro de Investigación y Seguridad Nacional – the Mexican national intelligence agency), and various right wing paramilitary groups. 

“That is why we’re asking honest soldiers and sailors – who mostly are of humble backgrounds themselves – to disobey criminal orders and avoid reprisals by military authorities.  We’re asking them to desert repressive groups and join any of the diverse popular movements. 

“The armed struggled, if it comes to one,” warns José Arturo , “would not lack assistance from people  now serving in police and military units.   Historically, during social movements, such people join with their social peers. 

The news conference ended with a changing of the guard.  While the olive-drab uniformed guards fired off a round during the ceremony, and remained alert during the conference, it was not seen as threatening by this reporter. 

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