Bloqueos, 4

Thursday, June 23, 2016


            Given the marches and the blockades, it is a nuisance to have to go into Oaxaca every day, but the dentist summons, and I cheerfully chauffer Linda’s abscesses and Kirsten’s molar roots down to the Calle Reforma every morning. So far we’ve not been too hindered at the choke points, since I’ve been here long enough to know some routes around them. And there are the smart phone ‘bloqueo apps’ [pronounced blow-káy-oh] to give us a heads-up about the siting of current chaos.


            [A note about that. We are safe; most everyone who doesn’t go looking for confrontation is safe. The flash points are announced ahead of time. Leaders say when and where they are going to march: they have to, to be able to attract their followers. The bloqueo apps inform the rest of us about the whens and wheres, so we can avoid them. You mostly can’t predict which of the marches are going to flare into violence, since angry people and policemen are always present. But WE won’t be there, that’s almost a certainty. Back to the report:]


            On Monday nothing moved. Neither did we: all appointments canceled, schools closed. Tuesday they were still closed, with ‘until further notice’ signs on many of them. Tuesday on the way in to the dentist in town we saw the remnants of a few burnt-out trucks on the highway, and the scorch marks, perpendicular to the traffic flow, of the incinerated barricades. Tuesday on the way home the vehicular cadavers had been reduced to three, and we saw a crane lifting one of the charred hulks for removal. Tuesday morning in town, while the ladies’ molars were being poked and drilled, I strolled down to the Zócalo for a newspaper, and took photos of some of the most aggressive, picturesque, and artistically meritful of Sunday’s graffiti on Calles García Vigil and Independencia. When we returned to town Wednesday morning, the graffiti were gone, the walls painted over with ugly orange swatches.


            The tents in the Zócalo and surrounding streets still remain where they were place 39 days ago, though they seem less densely packed and with not nearly so many people lounging about in them. The steady drizzle that intensified to heavy rain every fifteen minutes or so might have had something to do with that. Yesterday somebody planted some symbolic coffins in front of the Municipio.


The violent clashes on the highway were Sunday afternoon. In the past couple of days many photos of the confrontations have been posted on the internet. On Sunday in town several businesses had had their windows shattered. ATM machines were destroyed, and several department stores and convenience stores in central Oaxaca were looted. Many walls are smudged from the smoke of burning rubber. By Wednesday most of the street trash had been removed and some of the windows replaced. There has been a run on the installation of roll-down metal shutters.


            The follow-up news stories to Sunday’s events make it pretty clear that the CNTE, the national teachers’ union, and its Sección 22 Oaxaca affiliate, have been successful in at least one of their objectives, which is to turn their protest against the education reform law into an issue of basic labor rights, and to engage international labor and human rights organizations to accept their version of events and to speak out on their behalf. They also seem to have successfully situated their struggle into the context of a class war, and the worldwide clash of the proletariat and the capitalist exploiters.


            Wednesday was held up for a few minutes in town by a march of health industry workers: most in their dress whites, calm, chatting with each other as them marched, some on cell phones, a few carrying placards of solidarity. In the Zócalo one of the leaders of Sección 22 thanked them for joining the struggle, underscored how it was a government plot to seize control of the health industry and warning them that their labor rights were just as much in play as those of the teachers. “We will join you,” they said, “in your fight to annul the new public health reform laws. [Note: not a single sign referenced Obama-Care.]


The casualties at the blockades in Nochixtlan (92 kilometers north of Oaxaca City on the toll road to Puebla and Mexico City) and at Hacienda Blanca (2.5 km downhill from the Casa DaviLinda) have galvanized (a) opposition to the government in general, (b) conspiracy theorists, (c) other labor unions, (d) students, and (e) even the Church, which –no surprise-- has taken a stand pro-negotiation and anti-violence, without venturing into the minefield of specificity. The recent violence has also galvanized supporters of the primacy of law and order and the sanctity of life and property; government people, impresarios, chambers of commerce; small business owners, and some of the organizations of parents of school kids. Though I have always considered my self solid with the downtrodden and against the alleged downtreaders, to my discomfort and lurking embarrassment I find myself increasingly in sympathy the the law and order folks.


All sides seem to be urging the parties to negotiate rather than resort to violence, and some conversations have indeed begun. Few people seem to be focusing on the tragedy of yet another truncated school year.


            As my brother John pointed out in his analysis of a few days ago, in struggles like these facts are only semi-relevant and events are generally labeled and given valence even before they occur. This truth becomes self-evident when one glances at the competing narratives playing out on the front pages of the newspapers posted at the kiosks in the Zócalo. The police fired without warning / the CNTE began hurling rocks and cohetes (fireworks) at the police. The CNTE was determined to provoke violent response / the CNTE was infiltrated by agitators, probably from the government, and they are the ones to blame. The CNTE demands to negotiate / but is intransigent. The government won’t negotiate / wants to negotiate but will not capitulate to ultimatums. There is probably an element of truth in ALL of these assertions. And also in the belief that none of the parties will negotiate in good faith. And that the whole mess rests on an underlying bed of class struggle. (No, I am not talking about party rifts in the US Congress.)


            There is a strong element of economic terrorism in the tactics employed by the unions, one that while it purports to cause grief to the “ruling class,” mainly hurts the “people.” An increasing number of stores in the historic center of Oaxaca are shuttered. Waiters, kitchen staff, sales people are on reduced wages or out of a job. The spokesperson for the hotel sector estimates losses already at 150 million pesos (18p = $1 US). The twenty-plus blockades on national highways in various parts of Oaxaca State mean that goods are not moving. The protests have clamped a tourniquet on the arteries of commerce – to save the patient, argue some, and to kill the patient, say others. Perishables like fruit, vegetables, fresh fish, and chickens (so many, and so cheap, that they are the only meat eaten by many people) are not reaching Oaxaca City. Supermarket shelves are going empty, and prices are rising on the goods that are getting through, further prejudicing the folks on the margins of the money economy. Banks can’t move cash, and everyone below a handful at the top are paid in cash, not by check or bank transfer. People can’t meet their payrolls.


Possibly the biggest hit has been in the construction industry which, according to industry figures, employs 183,000 people in the state. Cement comes mostly from the states of Puebla and Morelos, with some from the Isthmus of Tehuantepec. Construction projects -- roads, houses, factories – are coming to a stop, and their workers are not being paid. And there seems to be no one – except maybe “the system,” to hold accountable. Or to make restitution.


            There aren’t many notes of humor in all of this, although here is one that maybe would have made even Bakunin smile. I’m paraphrasing from the ADN news service: ‘A group of self-styled anarchists, their faces covered with black masks, blocked one of the lanes of the road that in front of the university. Their plan, to seize a bus to block the road completely, to gather supporters, and to march to the Zócalo in support of the striking teachers. But nobody wanted to join them, so after a few minutes they dispersed and went back into the university.’ Ideally, to attend a good labor history class. Don’t they know that trying to organize anarchists is like trying to herd cats?


            More, undoubtedly, to follow.