Popular Assembly of the Peoples of Oaxaca
The Popular Assembly of the Peoples of Oaxaca (in Spanish: Asamblea Popular de los Pueblos de Oaxaca), or simply the APPO, is an organization that was assembled in response to the political situation in the Mexican state of Oaxaca, first meeting in June 2006.
A public demonstration and a teacher's strike in May of every year had occurred every year for 20 years in Oaxaca City. The strike would involve occupying a portion of the main square in the city, exhortations made via bullhorn, civil protest marches and an eventual settlement of some of the demands of the teachers. Before 2006, none of these protests resulted in large scale violence.
At 3:30 in the morning of June 14, 2006, the striking teachers of Section 22 of the Mexican National Educational Workers Union (SNTE) who had occupied the Zcalo (main square) of Oaxaca de Ju¡rez (the capital city of the state of Oaxaca) were evicted by 3500 Oaxacan municipal police, some local firefighters and troops from the Polica Federal Preventiva (Federal Preventative Police) supported by helicopters in an attempt by the state government to dislodge the strikers. The teachers had been on strike for 23 days with demands for higher wages, salary rezonification in the state, and increased educational resources. At many points in the altercation tear gas and shots were fired by the police. After hours of conflict, the teachers were able to take the center of the city as their own and begin to construct a system of barricades that would make it impossible for the police to return via the roads. Reports vary as to the number of casualties the teachers sustained in the struggle. Amnesty International has since confirmed that there were over one hundred people hospitalized.
This police action resulted in a conflict calling for the resignation of Oaxacan governor Ulises Ruiz Ortiz. In the following weeks, the teachers were reinforced by sympathisers, who helped them with the construction and protection of barricades made of wood, concrete bricks, corrugated metal sheets, and disabled cars and buses. For a number of months, these roughly constructed barricades had been effective in preventing the entry of police into the central part of the city that surrounds the Zcalo.
There are a number of reasons that Governor Ruiz had begun to garner opposition from several groups even before the raid upon the encampment in the Zcalo. First, Ulises Ruiz's Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) has been in power in Oaxaca for decades and has often been accused of political corruption. This played out in the allegations of electoral fraud that accompanied Ruiz's election as governor in 2004. Also, Ruiz has been blamed for repression and violence against political opponents, media outlets, and indigenous peoples in Oaxaca. Finally, many people were angered over public works projects in the city that they said were corruptly managed and resulted in the destruction of main squares and public spaces in the historic center of the city.
In the light of this situation, and the impression that the state government was repressive and had become effectively powerless in governing, the APPO was created and convened for the first time on June 17, 2006. It declared itself the de facto governing body of Oaxaca. Its body included representatives of Oaxaca–s state regions and municipalities, unions, non-governmental organizations, social organizations, and cooperatives, the largest group being Section 22, the Oaxacan teachers' union. It encouraged all Oaxacans to organize popular assemblies at every level: neighborhoods, street blocks, unions, and towns. The APPO took the slogan that it was a "movement of the bases, not of leaders" and asserted the need for common civilians to organize and work beyond the scope of elected officials. While the primary demand of the APPO has been the removal of the governor of Oaxaca, they have also called for broader economic, social and political transformations, as well as changes in the state's constitution. This goal was furthered through the formation of the State Council of the Popular Assembly of the Peoples of Oaxaca (CEAPPO) during the APPO's November Constitutional Congress. The State Council is an effort to create an organization that will outlive the current mobilization and extend beyond the capital city throughout the state. The Council is formed of 260 representatives from the various regions and sectors of Oaxaca, including 40 members of the teachers' union.
Included in the resolutions of the APPO are a recognition of indigenous rights and autonomy, gender equality, political accountability, opposition to neoliberalism and Plan Puebla Panam¡, a demand for an alternative education, and collectively-run media, amongst others.
The Popular Assembly of Oaxaca uses inspiration indigenous political practices called 'usos y costumbres' (traditional usages and customs) that have been incorporated into the municipal level government of Oaxaca. These practices stand apart from standard electoral politics in that the assembly structure does not include secret voting procedures, but rather open meetings to make decisions. According to the APPO:
'The executive branch' (the authorities) is charged with accomplishing the tasks the assembly gives it. The municipal president, foremost among the authorities, leads (as the Zapatistas– phrase explains) by obeying. For the population of Oaxaca, the idea of governing by consensus remains part of the common cultural heritage. Therefore, as APPO was convoked, the modest people who comprise 80% of Oaxaca–s population, recognized it immediately. And they support it, despite the obvious difficulties of convening authorities from around the state. Since these authorities receive no pay, a trip to the capital city is not easy. But it–s happening.
The APPO refused to negotiate with the state government and met with officials of the federal government periodically throughout the conflict, but has yet to be able to negotiate a resolution to the conflict.
Since the conflict began, APPO members have spray painted many walls with graffiti, set vehicles on fire, bombed buildings as well as other violent acts while calling for the resignation of the Governor Ulises Ruiz Ortiz. The barricades set up by the movement to protect themselves from arrests have been accused of scaring off tourists. When a group of business owners decided to protest the lack of action by the federal government to solve the crisis by closing their businesses, some received threats spray painted on their walls. Some accuse APPO members of intimidating business owners.
Some people have lost their jobs due to the conflict, because of the decline of the tourism industry. Many restaurants, hotels and people who depend on tourism have seen a sharp decline in tourist business. In July 2006, APPO members refused to allow the state-organized –Guelaguetza– festival to occur. They shut down construction and burned parts of the stage in which the festival was going to take place. Instead, the APPO held an alternative free Guelaguetza festival to replace the boycotted government organized celebration.
Different corporate radio and television stations had been taken by members of the APPO and they had refused to return the stations to their official owners. The radio stations operated by APPO members were sites of frequent violent attacks by PRI supporters, state, local and federal police (PFP). Currently, movement members are only broadcasting from the University radio station.
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