18 December 2006
OAXACA, MEXICO: "What's wrong with that?"
"We organize women's collectives to make clothing and table cloths; what's
wrong with that?" said Bety Cariño tearfully to a group of Mixteca women
in northern Oaxaca. Cariño, the director of CACTUS, was describing to the
women the recent surge in government repression of the movement for justice
in this impoverished, primarily indigenous, state.
CACTUS (Centro de Apoyo Comunitario Trabajando Unidos) is a civil society
organization that works with alternative education projects, farmers and
indigenous people in the Sierra mountains of Oaxaca as well as advocating
for women's rights.
Matthew Wiens and Chris Schweitzer were accompanying her and another CACTUS
leader in early December during Mexican government actions targeting the
movement, including the arrests of four APPO (Oaxaca Popular People's
Assembly) leaders in Mexico City on 4 December. After these arrests, many
APPO member organization leaders, including those of CACTUS, decided to go
underground temporarily. Wiens and Schweitzer accompanied Cariño and
another CACTUS leader who needed to leave Oaxaca, because both were under
threat of arrest for their involvement in previous public actions.
On 7 June, 120,000 Oaxacans turned out to support a teachers' strike in the
largest protest in Oaxaca's history. A week later, on 14 June, Oaxaca
Governor Ulises Ruiz Ortíz sent in hundreds of police who used
helicopters, tear gas and beatings in an attempt to drive out the
demonstrators from the central square, but were unsuccessful. The following
morning, 300,000 marched through the city to demand Ruiz's resignation.
Three days later, on 17 June, the teachers union and many other sectors of Oaxacan society
launched the Oaxaca Popular People's Assembly (APPO) as an alternative
governing body to the Ruiz administration. The APPO primarily demands the
resignation of Ruiz, but more broadly it is working to build a grassroots
participatory political system; it now includes representatives from 365
Oaxacan civil society organizations.
Cariño is planning to return to the struggle in Oaxaca very soon, "After
514 years of repression we are finally taking the center square. I can't
leave my land and my people. I need to go back."