Tis the night before elections, and the teachers are at it again, only more so.
Stomping around disrupting everything they can, they are the guarantors of a right-wing victory tomorrow. So far this week, they have destroyed some offices of the Federal Electoral Institute; closed down the central distribution point for gasoline in Oaxaca, causing the closure of almost half the stations; blockaded and in some cases vandalized various outlets of transnational businesses; closed down the schools, denying over a million children their constitutional right to a free education; and in general created chaos and havoc.
As of Saturday, 8,500 federal, outstate and out-of-state soldiers, sailors and cops were added to city and state police in an effort to suppress the disrupters, keep the polling places open, and ensure the free flow of traffic. For those of us who lived through the rebellion of 2006, this was hardly unexpected. It worked then, and it will probably work now. “Order” will probably be restored, and the election will take place.
All this activity, combined with the teachers’ call for a boycott of the elections will almost certainly result in the lowest turnout since the revolution of 1910; and the lower the turnout, the more likely that the 70-year “perfect dictatorship” of the PRI party will be back with us after only three years of the opposition coalition of Governor Gabino Cué.
The rebellion of 2006 started when the teachers, out on strike, were attacked by local police ordered into action by then-governor Ulises Ruiz, perhaps the most hated of a string of PRI thieves. It lasted for five months, when the citizenry rose up in outrage at the attack and drove all the police out, and the governor fled to one of his many houses in Mexico City. The People’s Assembly, weakened in the end by internal struggles, was suppressed by a similar invasion.
The difference is that today the teachers stand alone, and there is no militant, popular opposition to the government of Gabino Cué, and little support for the teachers among the people. They are not the unjustly oppressed any more; rather they are seen as sleazy opportunists: greedy, reactionary, self-interested demagogues. I go to sleep, wondering what tomorrow—election day—will bring …
Helicopters. Sunday brings helicopters, buzzing low overhead. They carry large caliber assault rifles and teargas. I hate teargas. I got a whiff of it in 2006, and in Berkeley in 1969. Teargas ranks right up there with “bad earthquake” and “head-on-collision.” An expected but nonetheless inauspicious beginning to election day.
At noon, I leave the house. I am on my way to a Sunday tradition of a cafecito with some old Oaxaca hands. Everyone on the street is looking to the west, where, on Juarez Street, a crowd seems to be gathered. As I get closer I can see that it is a march, stalled for the moment. The marchers are carrying sticks and machetes. I can´t run so fast any more. I return to mi casa, cowardice being the better part of foolishness.
At 1:30, a friend comes over with a report: The marchers used their sticks to break street cameras and joined the throng at the Zo´calo (main square), where they were still milling around when he left.
It seems as if we are going to have an “election,” after all. Nothing will change much. The buildup was the climax. The election results are the anti-climax. Such are the realities of life in paradise.
Monday morning: hundreds of disruptions, including burning of ballots and destruction of voting places, and the interim elections are almost over. Some cities have decided to continue voting today. Some results will be challenged on the grounds that people were prevented from voting. The dust is settling. Little has changed. As the reviled ex-governor Ulises Ruíz used to like to say after a riotous protest had been quelled by “police specials,” “No pasa nada.” (“Nothing is happening.”)
Stan Gotlieb has been living in, and writing about, Oaxaca and Mexico for over 20 years, ever since he moved there from South Minneapolis. Pretty much retired, he has agreed to write this two-part report exclusively for Southside Pride.