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From the Barricades: Oaxacan Teachers Speak

by danielsan
38 minute interview (in Spanish) with two Oaxacan teachers recorded 10.14.06 at La Ley Barricade, which protects an occupied Radio in Oaxaca City. Posted to radio.indymedia. English language transcript below.
Question: How are you all this evening?
Teacher 1-good, good.
Teacher 2-good. we are a little afraid
Q: why?
2-because there has been a wave of repression against us, against these corners. already we have had eight deaths, so its kind of dangerous.
Q: eight deaths at this barricade?
2-no, on this barricade we've had one death. he died there, where that car is up the street. they shot him in the back.
2-and yesterday another death.
1-yesterday another.
2-at the barricade in the street to the airport, another death. so we're feeling a little fearful because of all this. because every night there are thugs from the government agressing upon the people at the barricades. But we're in a struggle here, and we have hope, not only that the tyrant [ulises ruiz ortiz, state governor] will fall, but also we hope to build an organization that will include all the political powers of this state, that will include everyone. especially those that haven't had a voice
2-the people with the least protection
1-yes, the most vulnerable sectors of society. the excluded ones, we say. now they can be part of this project. that's the long-term goal. In the short term, we are focussing on the fall of this structure, the structure now headed by ulises ruiz. and in the middle, between short-term and long-term goals, we want to strengthen our organizations, to unify ourselves, so that everyone can participate in the democratic process. We have been in this struggle for twenty-six years now, and in twenty-six years we have learned alot. and we have felt the solidarity of the people, not only in our state, not only with workers, but also we have felt the solidarity of the whole country, including you, who offer solidarity on an international level. people have protested in the streets, not only our indigenous companeros from latin america, but also people from germany
1-europe, lots of europeans, and north americans as well have been present with us. canada, the united states. they have been part of our struggle. and they have been in solidarity with us, which is the most important thing. this is what sustains us, because without this [international] solidarity, what we're doing here would not have had the impact that it has had. thus we make good use of this media, because our fellow oaxaquenos listening in santa cruz, in salinas, in monterey, in seaside, in milpitas, are lending their strength to our struggle as well. we know that they [oaxacans in the us] send us large amounts of money, which transforms the well-being of our communities here. also we can use this medium to tell them that we are with them, that we condemn the use of military force by the united states government in open agression against migrant workers. we here condemn that agression, and we know that history will judge the tyrant there [in the states]. sooner or later, he will be judged by history, because of his ignominity and irresponsibility. so we are with them, here in the barricades of oaxaca, and the medium of radio has allowed us to enter into their communities, to send our message--that right now is really important--into the community, so that we all join the struggle. And its a fact, that barricades are a demonstration of this. Here's the community--here are the people, involved, offering their bravest and strongest, in solidarity, present, to demonstrate to Fox and URO that this community can't be torn apart. The people are here, giving to the struggle, giving to the battle on every corner and at every barricade. Not just these fires [which burn throughout the night in the middle of intersections], but the internal fire, the fire of hope.
2-the heat of the struggle.
1-the heat of the struggle.

Q: It looks to me like this movement is only growing. More and more people every day. When the marches pass by, people pour out of their homes to join and support. How do we keep bringing people in? Beyond identifying as teachers, or as workers, but how do we include the whole of society, and continue to expand the movement?
1-Well, it's not easy. In reality, these 26 years, the struggle has been seen as criminal. Nonetheless, in these months of struggle, like my friend said, there is a new hope in the community, that these structures can change. It's been 77 years that Oax has been ruled by one party, the PRI. Seems like we're reaching the limit, not just with the state government but with the federal government too. For us, a lot of these things are new--the barricades for example--something we're going into for the first time. And not just us, in the center, but in the outlying areas joining the fight.
Q: The colonias ('suburbs')
2-Like my friend here said, it's been years of grievances, many years of forgotten wrongs. Until now, when the gov't is forced to remember, that there's an uprising, that there's poverty, that there's fraud, not just economic but political fraud. They've broken us to the point where there are places with no medicine, with no roads.
1-It's strange but to look at maps of Oaxaca, there's a drawing of a paved highway, that's what it says. But you visit, and it's a dirt road.
Q: It's like that with schools, too, right?
2-Schools too.
Q: I've heard that Ulises says in some towns there are schools and when you visit there are none.
1-Or if you visit a new hospital, there aren't any medical instruments. No beds. No medicine. The result is a type of surrealism.
Q: Creativity
2-Yes, because va coraje a ver que se paren el cuello. As we say here... With jobs, or projects or whatever. In this manner we see public works that aren't necessary, when other more important things are lacking. It's a grievance that just builds. This is why people support us, why they're sympathetic. You see how they pass by the barricades, for example recently a guy came by who holds a certain economic position, which is to say he doesn't really have money problems, and he had sympathy, because people realize what's happening, and see the long list of grievances. They don't pass through to disparage us. Here they've been taxed by the municiple authorities, by the representatives, by the governor, who's in office as a result of fraud--he wasn't elected. It was really questionable, his election. This makes it illegitimate, like a lot of the elections. Here in some municipalities of Oaxaca, there are those who rule by custom, and who have corrupted the social structures of the indigenous population. And we feel like this accumulates. It's simmered and fermented until we have a soup that's favorable to the situation that we've got now--that's boiling over right now.
1-And because of this they're worried. They're seriously worried. They know that this struggle isn't going away with the fall of URO, this struggle will keep going, it's obvious. Like Samuel Ruiz said, the archbishop, this, in Oaxaca, is a birth, he says. Painful, yes, but a birth. From which will emerge, well, at least a proposal for the country. And we think that he's right, because we see the conditions, for the people of the whole country to value what we're living through, assimilation. We live in a very polarized society. The north of Mexico, which is quite industrialized, but with such misery, and also oppression. And we have the south, on the other hand, with such natural wealth, incredible biodiversity. Oax represents, at a national and intern'l level, a place where more species of flora and fauna... an enormous biodiversity. Nonetheless, it has the lowest per capita income. It's a shame to even say it, but that's how it is. That's how the system has had us. We see, in the indigenous communities, that they maintain their resistance, safeguarding their resources. They defend their resources to the point of giving their lives. In the southern mountains, for example, there was deforestation for years. Only in the last ten years have communitiesstopped the practice, and defended sustainable projects in their own interest.

Q: Speaking of natural resources, maps and industry, what can you tell us about the role of Plan Puebla Panama in Oaxacan life, and for URO, the role of Oaxaca in the neoliberal plan?

-2 The PPP intends, as its name says, to take all that is Central America [firework blast]; they're alarm signals (the fireworks).
-2 They would be three (if it were an alert)
Q: yah, three blasts, right?
-2 One blast is just to keep us all alert, awake. it's quite common here at the barricades. it's also a form of, well, if we see someone suspicious, a suspicious vehicle, like for example here we've had some problems here with aggressive motorcycle riders... We orient each other about where they are.

-1 Anyhow, we were talking about Plan Puebla Panama. Here, the public opinion for the state of mexico is basically to go along with the dominant economy. Here, with the hegemonic role of the U.S. in the world economy, president Fox has essentially bowed down to them. Within the context of Plan Puebla Panama they seek not only natural resources, but strategically this zone in relation to the Itsmo canal. If the Panama canal stopped being useful to the US, they would use the canal of Itsmo Tauantapec which is strategic for the market economy and communication. There you have the canal of Itsmo Tahuantapec. The canal is useful for transport from Salina cruz (on the coast) to Veracruz: The transport of goods directly across Mexico, through Oaxaca to Veracruz and the Gulf. This won't leave our environment in peace, because on one hand it'll disrupt the ecosystem. On the other hand it'll disrupt the way of life for the people, for our towns. And its a model that will be repeated in other countries, with repercussions from development and the imposition of simple communication infrastructure. It's not like we're against bringing infrastructure to the pueblos, but when it's done for profit, done at the will of the market, that's when the process is perverted.
2- And effectively, for the establishment of the PPP they had to use strategies we hadn't seen, maybe some analysts had, but the modification of Article 27 is a clear example.
Previously, rural communities didn't have formal title to land (the 'ejido' system). With this system, the land couldn't be sold. With the changes to Arcticle 27, land became a commodity to be bought and sold. So they said to the campesino: Now it's yours! Now it belongs to you! But then multinational corporations came to BUY. This was the strategy to implement their plans. So now they pressure poor rural farmers around places like Salina Cruz to sell their land, and at unreasonable prices, too. Seven or even five pesos (fifty cents US) for a square meter of land. All these strategies they've used, but we haven't always had the tools to see them for what they are. But like my friend here was saying, in the last ten years or so, people have been rising up to stop this, to defend themselves, but at the cost of so many lives. So many deaths. we've seen new beginnings and errors, and clean starts on the path. But with this change to the consitution, they achieved a change in ownership--to foreign companies. And this has been an aggression against the people. Unfortunately we just haven't always had the vision to realize it's happening. I think that right now we're seeing we've improved in this aspect. Now we're seeing through all this. And the teacher plays an important role in this process--awakening the people. Laying bare the strategies used by capitalism and imperialism, the strategies used to subjugate people. Right now we can see that our Public Universities are a disaster, and that they'd prefer Private Universities. Why? Because they want to rent out our education. Why? Because they're doing the same with healthcare. Little by little, to privitize them both. ANd so the role of the teacher is fundamental, in this struggle even more so. It'll be harder for imperialism to subjugate our country because our consciousness, well, we're opening our eyes to what they are, to what's happening.
Q: And if you think of the lessons being learned by students right now, through this struggle,...
1-This is one of those primary things that the movement does, independent of driving out Ulises, an immediate success, the most valiant victory of this movement is what we're learning from it, those who are participating, and those who are watching too. Oaxaca will never be the same again, after all of this. Because the people know what it is, a popular struggle. They know what it costs--the blood spilled. They know the need of organizing themselves. People see the need to organize just to feed the barricades! To sustain them!
2-And people like you, no longer come with an idea of Oaxaca from the books, with pictures of folkloric dance, of cute little indians, of everything all pretty. They'll know that Oaxaca is a place of rebellion. That right now it's a place of injustice and inequality. Where the rich rule, and don't permit industry because they want a Oaxaca that is for tourists.
1-No one was seeing our true culture here. They've created an image of culture that is the total opposite of what we are. Like what he was just saying, the guetalguetza [an annual folklorico festival that brings many tourists], for many tourists, is just dancing. There's more to it! Dancing is a small part of the guelaguetza that we live.
2-This is the guelaguetza--to share.
1-Yes, when people arrive with some tortillas and cheese, with some beans and a rice dish, this is a form of guelaguetza. We await the day that this corresponds to what we have to give. This tortilla, this chile, this rice that we offer, someday it'll match in our pueblos. But the big tourist outfits have made it
2-have distorted it
1-have distorted it to the point where our tradition is just some dancing and giving gifts. When someone dies, like the citizen at the barricades
2-our comrade
1-people are going to come with a bottle of mezcal,
2-some candles
1-candles, beans, whatever they bring to accompany the body, to show solidarity. THIS is the guelaguetza. What's happened is those in power have
2-they've distorted it, they've disempowered it
Q: Well there's obviously more to a culture than dancing and food. But for tourism that's it. One writer said that Oaxaca is, for some, an 'indigenous disneyland' (Jill Friedberg), that's the image that some have.
2-The colors!
Q-Yes, flavor and color, nothing else.
2-No, this isn't Oaxaca.
Q-Oaxaca has a history of struggle, and now is writing a new chapter in that history.
1-Oaxaca is historically a state that has developed
1-That's it--(Benito) Juarez, Porfirio Diaz, Ricardo FLores Magon, and it's not just about personalities. Beyond those who've left with their name, many more have given their blood to defend this country, and beyond that there are things much more valiant, if we go to the towns, know the places, and learn the relationships they have with their citizens, it's an issue that, well, what we're living now is the big picture, a macro of what's going on in the smaller communities. [blast, dogs barking]
1-well, that's how it is here in Oaxaca. Apart from the biodiversity, the environment, there's the rich resources we have, physical ones.
Q-Yah like the fireworks, the heat...
1-This struggle is a symbol, no?
[pause; what happened? it's just a plane]
that's how it is at the barricades.
2-But we've recieved the support of the people. These last two months, without pay,
Q-How have you done it?
2-Well, with whatever people bring. What there is, we eat. What we can eat, we eat.
Q-Do you have kids?
2-We've got kids. We all do, but like my friend said, we've got faith, we've got confidence
2-that we can change the situation, that we can see equality, that we can see justice, and that is what keeps us going even though we know we can lose our lives here. But that doesn't make us afraid, because if that is what brings change, then it's welcome, come what may. Because like my friend here said, Oaxaca will never be the same. Oaxaca will be a different place. And we don't lose our faith, we know the tyrant will fall. The people just have to reclaim the power structure and make it equitable with those now marginalized and forgotten.
1-We're so grateful to see the solidarity of the people, because like you asked, well, I have two kids. And just to go and see them, well, I have to ask friends for a loan, for gas, for food, you know? But people don't deny us this resource. We help ourselves, for example here we cook for each other. With ten pesos [1 dollar US] we make a dish for everyone. I was recently in a Zapotec community in the valley called 'yoquescxa[?] de aldam' and it surprised me, a woman in indigenous dress, and also with all the marks of poverty, gave me half a kilo of beans. What she was going to use, she gave to us. And just like that, people bring bottles of water, they come with onions and fruit, whatever they can. And that's how we're surviving. And we haven't gone hungry--we've been able to count on the help of the people. and that's the fuel that keeps us going.
2-like yesterday, thursday, something exceptional happened to me. it was amazing because one of my co-madres (neighbors who helped raise me) came to the barricades when we were eating, and she handed me a nylon bag, and inside? A barbeque. 'I brought it for you all to eat,' she said. I asked her if she bought it for herself, and she said "no, I bought it because I know there have been days you haven't had any meat." But I felt bad. I felt bad and she said "take it--you all are getting like skinny cows at the barricades. you can pay me back someday." But you see the solidarity, because everyone knows we're in a tough economic place right now, we've got kids, I've got two in college, so it's, well it's complicated, daily. And I don't quite know how it's working, but it is. We keep going. We're at day 146 today, of struggle, and at times, to be honest, we lose heart, with no resources, but somehow we know it's worth it.
1-My friend put emphasis on this point--losing heart. Sometimes little conflicts come up, because of course spending this much time together we see each other's faults, our differences... and this sometimes creates friction between us, but it makes us reflect on the need to stay united, no? We know that if we divide we make it easier for the enemy. it's just a symptom of what happens, cohabiting for so long, little problems are inevitable. But we surmount this, and like I say the most important thing is like with this little recorder we have in front of us, we know we'll be heard in another place. we know that up there in santa cruz, like daniel says, up in alta california, there are our fellow mexicans, in the fields picking strawberries, lettuce, artichokes,
Q-...sprouts (which we had to explain, since they don't grow in Oaxaca)
1-They're washing dishes, because they had to. They crossed out of necessity. They crossed illegally, my brothers specifically, who told me how they crossed: in piles, one on top of the other, for hours. ANd this is the experience all of them have lived through. And they left here because there are no opportunities here. They left such richness here to know another culture, and they aren't always welcome, but they're there, maybe enriching oaxacan culture by bringing it with them, bringing our tortillas, our chapulines, our customs and our richness to the other side. And the result is we're grateful to hear that the media like your radio station in Santa Cruz wants to hear about the problems we face here, that there's interest and that people are in solidarity. And this too, is what allows us to keep going. For the people who have no hope, who haven't seen one ray of concrete hope that the tyrant will fall, what keeps us going is the solidarity we see and feel. And I hope you two send this message to all who hear it, all the teachers up there.
2-Well like the space you've got up there [free radio santa cruz], you know they're not free, that you have to fight to keep them open. They've been censured, persecuted. That's why we're here, why this barricade is here, protecting a radio antenna. It's a space where information gets to the people, and so, greetings to everyone up there...

Translated by Emilyn, Ariel, & Daniel
§reformatted interview
by el enemigo comun
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From the Barricades: Oaxacan Teachers Speak

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great interview, thank you.
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Comision Permante, translated by emilyn
Mon, Oct 16, 2006 6:19PM
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