17 July 2007

Police, Protesters Clash in Oaxaca City (and the Festival Goes On)

Tear gas clears an intersection near the Guelaguetza popular.

Violence broke out yesterday in the city center as Oaxacans celebrated the Guelaguetza popular despite aggression between protesters and police. The event was originally to be held at the Guelaguetza Amphitheater along the Cerro del Fortin, the traditional site of the festival, which has historically been a commercial boon for the economy of Oaxaca City. This year APPO, the Asamblea Popular de los Pueblos de Oaxaca (Popular Assembly of the Peoples of Oaxaca), vowed to boycott what they call the "Guelaguetza comercial," to which tourists are encouraged to purchase tickets at the price of $38 (U.S.) each. The government-sponsored event is scheduled to be held in the Guelaguetza Amphitheater on the next two Mondays.

Nancy Davies has a detailed account regarding yesterday's events. In a nutshell, police in riot gear refused entry into the amphitheater for
participants and spectators of the Guelaguetza popular--planned as an alternative to the Guelaguetza comercial--yesterday morning. Angry protesters then did their thing, throwing rocks at police and lighting between three and five city buses on fire. Police fired tear gas on the crowd, subdued and detained protesters and made, by some accounts, as many as 62 arrests. There is no clear line of information on the actual number of arrests, injuries or disappearances that have occurred as a result of yesterday's conflict.

We watched police use tear gas to clear protesters from a crowded intersection. Highlights from this morning's local news support Nancy's report that protesters were violently beaten. The footage showed an unarmed man, already in police custody, receive multiple brutal blows from several officers in retaliation for something he shouted to onlookers.

The conflict appeared to subside after these skirmishes early in the day and, as far as I know, the events went off as planned in an alternate location. What remains to be seen is what effect all this will have on efforts to boycott the so-called Guelaguetza comercial. Possibly the APPO, or some radical faction therein, will not simply boycott but will attempt to disrupt events, and that this will bring the wrath of the government. This is no longer simply about the teachers' strike that prompted last year's uprising, but about corrupt government, political prisoners, and repression of liberty. As one teacher explained this morning, something has to change.