Saturday, June 17, 2006

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What's gives with Oaxaca? (The teachers' strike)

I've held off writing on the Oaxaca teachers' strike, for a couple of reasons.
  • First, there are ALWAYS Teachers' strikes in Oaxaca this time of year. Every year, along with questions about the rainy season, the tourist message boards are full of worries about whether there are "riots" in Oaxaca -- and how this will affect them (for the record, there were more disturbances this year, but even so, such things seldom -- if ever -- more than inconvenience a tourist more than momentarily. The smart ones see it as an adventure (and a break from eavesdropping on the retirees whose gossip about each other gets old after about 15 minutes), or -- better yet -- a rationale to explore the REST of Oaxaca City -- Benito Juarez' house, the art museums and that Cathederal which is either an overly-enthuastic attempt at Baroque restoration, or was meant to be a drag-queen's vision of heaven) ...or... maybe go down the street and talk to the Mixtec and Zapoteca weavers.

  • Second, I'm no where near Oaxaca, and everything I have is second-hand. And unreliable: depending on who you read, there are either 25 dead teachers being hidden from the media -- or somewhere between two and ten , somebody keeling over from a heart attack ... or none. A reliable source -- quoting second hand information -- hints darkly at "disappearances". And -- again based on foreign reports, people either do, or do not support the teachers. "Mark in Mexico" -- which calls itself "moderate to conservative" but is linked to nothing but U.S. Republican Party websites and ultra-conservative opinion pages -- focuses extentively on alleged damage done by the striking teachers. Mark makes some mistaken assumptions about Mexico(Pemex oil is nowhere near the OPEC benchmark 75 USD per barrel -- an important figure he uses in his analysis of Mexican education, for example) and his political leanings aren't shared by Mexicans, but he's got photos that clearly show some violence occurred. How much is anyone's guess. And the number of arrests is questionable. The Governor of Oaxaca, according to el Universal, cancelled 25 arrest warrants connected with the disturbances. Mark -- and most tourist reports -- suggest the strike has no popular support. Which doesn't give with the photo on the cover of today's Jornada -- showing "Padres de Familia" (an organization similar to the PTA in the U.S.) and merchants marching in support of the teachers.

    Of course, the left-leaning and anti-Ulises Ruiz (Governor of Oaxaca) press (and just about all of them despise Ruiz -- whose election was tainted by almost as much corruption as George W. Bush's) press reports anywhere from 25,000 to 300,000 people marched in support of the teachers. None of which seemed to inconvenience one person crossing the city during the supposed event.

    The only thing anyone seems to agree on is that negotiations are going on -- but for now, the question of Ulises Ruiz' resignation is off the table -- at least according to Ulises Ruiz.

  • And, finally, with a presidential election, a couple of years of union disputes over leadership within Oaxaca, some federal changes in labor law that will affect the Oaxaca teachers, AND nation-wide actions over changes in the curriculum -- this demonstation is much more complicated than any of the foreign analyses let on.

Harry Avis -- a retired college psychology prof (and serious researcher in hallucinogenics) -- who has been in Oaxaca for several years and who has reliable contacts with Mexican teachers posted this on a tourist message board:

The situation is far more complicated than we foreigners know, There reports of deaths seem grossly inaccurate and the situation is calm. I know a few teachers and none of them are sure what the strike is all about. One sticking issue is the right to rezone the state, Salaries depend on the living conditions where the teachers work and this decision is made at a federal level so the teachers union is applying pressure to force a rezoning. Another issue is the upcoming election. Do not believe the propaganda promulgated by either side and in my opinion you should refrain from writing letters of protest unless you know the situation well.

The teachers had the support of most people in previous years, but in my talking with the locals that support has been serioiusly eroded by their recent actions.

Like the presidential polls (AMLO is on top, again -- though within the margin of error) this is another "¿quíen sabe?" . The Revolution is not going to break out anytime soon -- my advice is that if going to Oaxaca, you might have to spend an afteroon eating the world's best ice cream around the Basilica of Nuestra Señora de la Solidad instead of sitting around the Zocalo with the old gringos and their toyboys.


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