Wednesday 20 June 2018

In Oaxaca on July 1 there will be no "free and fair" election

La politica es la politica has posted 32 articles - one for each state in Mexico, including Mexico City - in advance of the July 1, 2018, presidential election. For links to all 32 articles, scroll to the bottom of this post.

Oaxaca is a state in southern Mexico, with a population of about 4 million. There is a significant indigenous populations in Oaxaca – sixteen groups are officially recognized, with the largest and best known being the Zapotec, Mixtec, and Chatino people. Almost three quarters of Oaxaca’s 570 municipalities are governed according to local tradition.

Oaxaca has a long history of brutality and corruption. In the past century, this has been almost entirely at the hands of the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), which is the party of the sitting president, Enrique Peña Nieto.

The present governor of Oaxaca is the PRI stalwart Alejandro Murat Hinojosa, who served as housing coordinator for Peña Nieto's presidential campaign. Murat Hinojosa ran for governor under a typical PRI-PVEM (Green)-New Alliance coalition. He won on June 5, 2016, and began his six year term on December 1st, 2016. Murat Hinojosa was born in the State of Mexico but his father, José Murat Casab, was the PRI governor of Oaxaca from 1998 to 2004.

Two of Oaxaca’s federal senators belong to the left-leaning Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD), with the third being PRI. 

The state is often beset by social unrest, usually related to land conflicts, issues of self-determination, and union-based demonstrations. The most common unrest is driven by the CNT teachers’ union, which frequently holds mass demonstrations protesting Peña Nieto's education reforms. The most significant period of conflict was in 2006 and 2007. At that time the city of Oaxaca was a veritable war zone, with 30 people killed. In total it is estimated that during the conflict 311 people were illegally detained, 248 were tortured, and at least two were forcibly disappeared. In 2016, another teacher protest in Nochixtlán killed eight people.

In early June of this year, the teacher’s union set up street blockades that gridlocked traffic in the capital (also called Oaxaca). As of this writing, encampments remain in place in the zocalo (town square) and surrounding streets. It is estimated that these protesters represent about 20% of the union membership. The main demand of the union, the repeal of the 2013 education reform law, is beyond the state government’s ability to address.

At the south end of the zocalo, outside of the governor’s offices, there is a semi-permanent encampment of Trique people from San JuanCopala, in western Oaxaca. Much of the population has been displaced as a result of government-coordinated violence in response to the indigenous population’s assertion of self-determination. The violence began when in 2008 two Trique women were shot dead by UBISORT, a militia supported by the PRI.

UBISORT has allied itself with MULT (also known simply as “MULT-PUP”, which is the political wing now affiliated with the PRI), a Trique paramilitary group that was originally allied with leftist liberation organizations like the Zapatistas (EZLN) in Chiapas. The government, in response to political reforms in the 90s that legally permitted indigenous communities to be governed by their own “usos y costumbres” (uses and customs), actively co-opted MULT via financial support and the insertion of PRI activists. The group was then transformed into a pro-government paramilitary organization. The machinations even went as far as creating the aforementioned political party, “MULT-PUP”.

After the murders in 2008, the Trique people in San Juan Copala continued to resist the government. In response, in January of 2010 UBISORT and MULT blockaded the community, cutting off supplies of food, medicine, electricity and water. Efforts were made to provide humanitarian assistance. In one attempt on April 26, 2010, human rights observers Jyri Jaakkola and Bety Cariño were killed – allegedly by UBISORT and MULT. Twelve other people were disappeared and are presumed dead. Despite international pressure –  Jaakkola was Finish, and Cariño a well-known activist –  the murders have not been solved.

The violence hasn’t stopped, which explains why there are still entire Trique families from San Juan Copala living in the zocalo in Oaxaca. They are, in effect, refugees from an internal conflict. Most recently, on January 12, 2015, the Trique leader Julian Gonzales Dominguez was forcibly taken from his home by paramilitaries; he was found dead outside only minutes later. To this day the paramilitaries control the Trique communities “using the most savage methods, from beatings, rape, wrongful killings – exercising ‘the faculty of article 42’ – meaning killing the disobedient ones with a 42 caliber gun, food deprivation, slavery and even imposing a state of siege if necessary, all under the watchful eyes of a complacent government.” (Quote excerpted from, Paramilitaries in Mexico and the State’s acquiescence: The story of the Trique peoples of Oaxaca, by Priscila Rodriguez Bribiesca).

In other parts of Oaxaca, the oppression of the indigenous peoples, as well as the resistance, remains strong. On April 18 of this year about 500 people from Santo Domingo Teojomulco came to the capital city to demand a new trial for Manuel Roque and Fortunato Osorio, two Zapotec leaders who have served six years of 35-year sentences for homicide and torture. The people of Santo Domingo Teojomulco believe the men to be innocent victims of political persecution, and demanded a meeting with the president of the state Supreme Court. After getting no response, they occupied the judicial offices and courthouse, effectively taking 2,000 people hostage. Finally the Interior Secretary Héctor Anuar Mafud arranged a meeting, though the issue remains unresolved.

At times local communities simply take matters into their own hands. Early in June of this year Froilán Gaspar Pedro, who is the PRI municipal president in San Francisco del Mar, arrived at the community of El Vergel del Maiz, thinking that he was going to get a tour of the town office. Instead, he was held hostage, with the residents wanting to know what happened to the money he was given, and the promises he made, with regard to road works, potable water, and sanitation. Other towns, notably Santa Rita and Villanueva, jumped on board and wanted to know what happened to their projects too. After negotiations that included the public works officer and the municipal treasurer, Gaspar Pedro was released, presumably with assurances that he would fulfil his promises.

Though less of a problem than in other states, Oaxaca has its fair share of drug conflicts, particularly in the south and along the coast. On March 30, in the small town of San José Obrero Paso Ancho, in the municipality of Sola de Vega, 50 families were forced to flee when armed men from the neighboring town of San Vicente Coatlán attacked them and set their houses on fire. The problem? A 45-year conflict over 19,600 hectares of land, now being used to cultivate drugs. No one died in this attack, but last February in a similar incursion a 12-year old boy was killed by a stray bullet.

Which brings us back to the election. Clearly, in Oaxacan communities such as San Juan Copala it is impossible to exercise a free vote. In the federal race, the winner in these villages will be the PRI’s Antonio Meade.
One of Hernández López's ill-fated trucks

This is even true to some degree in more urban setting such as Santa María Jacatepec. There, the Frente coalition candidate for the municipal presidency – this is the PAN-PRD-MC block – Víctor Raul Hernández López, has been mercilessly harassed by the PRI. Early in the campaign a group of men armed with machetes, sticks and firearms arrived at Hernández López’s country house, where his mother lives, and destroyed several trucks and broke windows. Most recently on the night of Monday, June 18th, Hernández López and members of his campaign were stopped and threatened by PRI activists in the community of La Joya. A few hours later ten people led by PRI candidate Gerardo Domínguez Gerónimo arrived outside Raúl Hernández’s house in a gray Toyota Tacoma. They proceeded to set off explosions and fire weapons, destroying three trucks and generally terrifying the neighbourhood. Hernández López has since filed an official complaint.

Violence against candidates has been a problem since late in 2017. On September 7th, Claudio Merino Pérez, a Citizens' Movement (MC) candidate in Santiago Jamiltepec, was killed. 

Then on May 17, 2018, the Workers' Party (PT) leader in Santo Domingo Tehuantepec, Hernán de Mata, was shot to death in broad daylight after an event, with his attackers fleeing on foot. 

Most recently, on June 25, a Morena candidate seeking a seat in Congress in the 21st district in Oaxaca, Emigdio López Avendaño, was shot to death on a rural road along with four members of his campaign.

And the PRI is not immune to violence. On February 15, 2018, Francisco Hernández Sánchez, the PRI mayoral candidate in Ejutla de Crespa, was shot to death on the street.

At times violence visits a candidate, often with the PRI, when criminal organizations become more powerful, and there is some conflict over the cut in profits. For example, on June 2 Pamela Itzamaray Terán, the PRI candidate for municipal council in Juchitán in southern Oaxaca, was attacked and killed by gunmen after she, her driver, and a photographer left a bar in the city center. The motivation is unclear, but it’s worth noting that Terán was the daughter of Juan Terán, the presumed leader of the Juchitán Cartel, who was arrested last year.

In response to the killing of Terán, Governor Alejandro Murat Hinojosa announced he was deploying 500 members of Oaxaca’s Special Security Force to the region. This is a typical PR and window dressing. Rather than investigate and solve the crime – which almost never happens – the government instead puts on a big show, to little or no effect.

With politicians facing this level of violence in Oaxaca, it's perhaps not surprising that journalists are under pressure, too. From 1975 until the beginning of the drug war in December, 2006, it is estimated that eight journalists were killed in Oaxaca. Sine then, in only the past 12 years, 19 journalists have been murdered. Most recently, on June 2, 2018, photojournalist Sol Cruz Jarquín was killed in Juchitán Zaragozar.

Amongst all this dire news there has been some absurdity. Earlier this year the Oaxacan electoral body rejected the applications of 17 men from across the political spectrum who had tried to register as transgender female candidates for the July 1 elections. The reason? Political parties had been unable to conscript enough female candidates, and filled the available spots with men claiming to be transgender women. It’s worth noting that Oaxaca has a tradition of “muxes”: people born male but who, on the gender spectrum, identify as closer to female than most men. They are sometimes recognized as a third gender.

By now, most readers will have concluded that politics in Oaxaca is at its worst terrifying, and at its best a joke. There will be no “free and fair” elections in Oaxaca. In places like Santos Reyes Yucuná, in the Mixteca region of the state, a recent newspaper article found that most of the residents, many of whom are illiterate, are unaware there is even an election on July 1. If they do vote, their information will mostly come from television, given that very few homes are connected to the internet. On television, the duopoly of Televisa and TV Azteca ensures that the PRI is given favourable coverage, lip service is payed to the right-of-center PAN, and the left-of-center Morena and its leader Andrés Manuel López Obrador are properly demonized.

Below are the links to the posts for each state: 

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