Behind the Protests in Mexico

By Zidane Zeraoui (for Safe Democracy)

Zidane Zeraoui explains that far from having anything to do with indigenous or democratic interests, the current conflict in Oaxaca is a classic struggle for power between section 22 of the independent syndicate of the magistracy and the state government. In provoking protests in one of Mexico‘s poorest regions, the syndicate leadership is looking for more than its traditional share of the power. Linked with the interests of the PRD, it seeks to destabilize the entire leftist region and further the legitimacy crisis that Mexico’s government has mired in since the presidential elections in July. In Zeraoui‘s opinion, the decision taken by Vicente Fox to act was not only legitimate, but also greatly needed.

Zidane Zeraoui is a professor of International Relations and Coordinator of the Master’s program in International Studies at the Technological University of Monterrey, Mexico.

THE CONFLICT IN OAXACA, WHICH BEGAN AT THE END OF MAY, has entered into a critical phase since the decision of the federal government to send in the Federal Preventive Police (PFP) in order to stop the wave of violence that has paralyzed the capital of one of the poorest states in Mexico.

Although President Vicente Fox Quesada had previously stated his will to respect democracy and not to intervene in the internal affairs of his states, given the magnitude of the movement and the impact it has had on spurring criticism from various sectors of government, especially tourism, the use of force appeared to be the only viable option in order to remove the protestors from their barricades. Fox’s decision solicited immediate criticism from NGOs and even the United Nations for the disproportionate use of force. Damned if you do, damned if you don’t: the federal government was stuck between a rock and a hard place, criticized for not reacting, and reproached for intervening. Still, they chose to intervene.

In the international press, various journalists defended the call of the Popular Assembly of the People of Oaxaca (APPO) and condemned the actions of the Mexican government. But if at one point in time it was true that the people of Oaxaca desired to negotiate a solution, what is now clear, is that the current Oaxacan movement is not out for dialogue. Rather, they demand the immediate resignation of state governor Ulises Ruiz Ortiz, without exception. And while it may appear that many sectors of Mexican society support the APPO, both on a national level with protests in Mexico City, as well as among student and international groups who stand for indigenous rights, few have actually questioned the true origin of the problem.

This is no indigenous movement, nor fight for democracy; it is a classic power struggle between section 22 of the independent syndicate of the magistracy and the state government. Traditionally, during the revision of the collective contract that takes place every year at the end of May, state governments –to avoid problems with the syndicate– opt to cede a bit of power to union leaders who have been able to impose themselves into the position of state secretary of education. In the current legitimacy crisis –resulting from the elections last July– the syndicates, with the support of the Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD), went beyond the normal power claim to destabilize a region with a huge leftist presence.

The strike that state syndicate leaders decided to initiate last May has little to do with magisterial or indigenous interests, and a lot to do with the corrupt alliance between the syndicate and the government, one that is quickly losing its place in Mexican democracy. In this national crisis, the birth of the APPO and the demand for the resignation of the governor were mechanical processes to unite the syndicate’s strike with the manipulation of the party of the Aztec Sun (PRD).

The problem in Oaxaca does not represent democratic advance, but rather a struggle between well-established sectors of society that want to expand their power. The anarchy in which the state has fallen –with blockades, riots and car burnings –has left no margin of action for the federal government. The choices were limited: either let the situation get worse, or make a categorical decision to send in the federal police and avoid further pillaging.

The President’s decision was legitimate. If only it had been carried out sooner, it may have stopped the problem at a time when it was easier to solve.

Anarchy should not be confused with democracy when it is used to impose what was legally and legitimately not achieved during the democratic electoral process.

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