Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Protests in the Centro

Before I continue to talk about our city tour I need to write about the manifestaciones de los maestros, or basically the teacher protest that is going on in the historic center of town (centro) in the zocalo. Apparently each summer for the past 32 years the Oaxacan teachers union, which encompasses the whole state and includes about 70,000 individuals, camps out in the zocalo for weeks or months to demand a number of things but mostly more compensation. They currently make about $600 dollars a month which is much less than teachers in other areas of Mexico and they aren't happy about it! More on the pay issue in a minute.

Now when I say camp out I literally mean camp out. There are tents, tarps, sleeping bags, grills radios, etc. all over the central square and surrounding streets. These encampments have completely obscured the zocalo (should be an accent on that but I haven't figured out how to do that yet) and the facades of buildings on neighboring streets. When I arrived a week ago they had already been hanging out for a number of weeks. It really is amazing to walk through these camps, they are incredibly dense concentrations of people living squished in between buildings on the street. As you walk through them you have to duck under ropes that are securing the tarps so you don't clothesline yourself and take care to walk around groups of people gathered to hear someone speak.

As explained to me, although this collection of shelters looks amazingly haphazard it is actually quite organized. Each tent area is marked with a sign that designates the zone this particular group respresents. There is roll call twice a day and if you are present you earn "brownie points" with the teachers union and if you are absent, well no brownie points for you. These become important because the union decides which school/district etc. you will be placed in to teach. If you want a choice assignment, close to home for example, you better be earning your brownie points!

The protests as I mentioned are aimed at making more money but the teachers are also upset about the privitization of schools and the attempt to make the union function at the municipal level (there are over 500 municipios in Oaxaca, more than any state in Mexico) which would effectively dissolve the union. Additionally there are a lot of politics mixed into the whole thing, allegiances and alliances with different political parties and dissatisfaction with the current government elected two years ago in an election many think was stolen.

So why do I write about this now? Well last night the shit hit the fan with the protest. Normally the government pretty much leaves them alone, something is negotiated and the protest ends. Well not so this time. This morning around 4am or so the police moved in with batons and tear gas to clear them out of the centro. As you might imagine a bit of chaos ensued and we have heard some pretty crazy stories about goings on down in the centro. According to some, the government sent 50 police in who were quickly surrounded by teachers in the center, fires were started, teachers threw stones but essentially it appears that the teachers have surrounded these initial police forces. Well, the government is now sending in reinforcements to surround the teachers and the teachers are simultaneously sending in reinforcements to help their comrades.. As you can tell it is quite a mess and although it is hard to tell what reports are credible we have heard of 8 deaths, beatings, police shooting from helicopters, teachers with guns, cars on fire, a lot of shit on fire actually and children being hurt in the process (whole families are camped out). So needless to say I'm not going to be heading downtown anytime soon.

My roomie and I are actually in an interesting situation which makes good information even more difficult to come by. Our SeƱora is a bit right-of-center while the school we attend is very leftist, I mean very leftist. For all that think I'm a crazy communist you should spend some time at this school. Some of those working with the school were helping the teachers with their radio station and others are filming the violence and conducting interviews. So we get information and the perspective of both sides but as usual the truth no doubt lies somewhere in the middle.

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