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Reoraganization of the Oaxacan Social Movement May 23, 2007

Posted by raved in Commune, Oaxaca.

Alebrijes and Opportunists


On the Reorganization of the Oaxacan Social Movement


Roberto Ramírez

May 18, 2007

México –

There is a struggle within the Peoples’ Popular Assembly of Oaxaca (APPO in its Spanish initials): how to reactivate and reorganize the movement after the brutal repression the people suffered on November 25, 2006. Part of this includes a fight for hegemony within the APPO’s council (a body created to give the organization structure) and it’s a fight that has had several matrices and has generated great discord.

After a period of re-articulation, the council’s first attempt to reactivate the movement was to convene the First APPO State Assembly for February 10th and 11th, 2007. The main issues to be debated were the upcoming August 5th Congressional elections and the October 7th elections in which 148 of the 570 municipalities would choose new government representatives.

Before this assembly took place, one sector of the APPO council met with the leaders of the Broad Progressive Front (FAP in its Spanish initials) regarding the elections. The council members had created a provisional list of electoral APPO candidates—going against the rest of the council which believed that whether or not the APPO would participate in the elections ought to be decided by the entire Assembly.

In light of this prior meeting, the discussion during the February State Assembly concerning elections was long and overshadowed all other agenda issues. This electoral question was a tactical concern for the group. In the long run, the struggle was against Governor Ulises Ruiz, for the transformation of the state and for the freedom of political prisoners. Some believe that Congress could be a battle ground and that APPO should enter. But others argued that participating in elections betrayed APPO’s fundamental principles and was disrespectful to member organizations who believed that the struggle should not enter the electoral ring. These organizations stated that APPO can’t be allowed to turn into a launching pad for politicians.

The discussion remained deadlocked on the night of Sunday the 11th. When dawn broke, many assembly members had already left, exhausted by the endless discussion. Member of the March 2nd Collective and of the Coalition of Oaxacan Women (COMO), delegate Guadalupe García Leyva had been attacking those who refused to participate in the elections. She also accused accused prominent APPO council member David Venegas Reyes—know as Alebrije*—of being a police plant.

David was a member of the Assembly’s debate roundtable and as a council member, had participated in the previous meeting where the elections question was debated. Also as a representative of the FAP, he made clear at other moments that he did not agree that APPO should take the electoral road.

Several delegates became furious on hearing Garcia Leyva’s accusations—to the point that it almost tore the APPO in two. But when it was his time to speak, Venegas Reyes stated: “these accusations only demonstrate that those APPO representatives who favor electoral advancement have no real arguments on which to defend their position,” and that since the accusations were obviously false, he would not respond to them directly.

After getting over this crisis, the session agreed that the APPO as an organization would not participate in the upcoming elections. Member organizations who decided to take part in the electoral process, would have to enter separately and not under the APPO name. In addition, any councilperson seeking election would have to resign from the APPO council.

Inventing Criminals

After the November 25th repression, APPO council members began to be persecuted. Despite the fact that the media was saying that all council members were subject to persecution indiscriminately, the truth is that the persecution was selective and included many of the people in charge of the blockades as well as active community members. Many were forced to leave Oaxaca because of the state-imposed repressive environment. Those detained were accused of various crimes including sedition, criminal association, and attacking outlets of communication, to name a few.

The coordinators of the main barricades—among them Alebrije Venegas—took measures to protect themselves but maintained contact with the APPO council. But a new phase had begun in which high government officials negotiated were negotiating with some parts of the APPO. Ulise Ruiz’s government would negotiate on the one hand, and criminalize those who refused, on the other.

It was in this context that Venegas was violently detained on April 13th near the El Llano Park. According to his comrades, his arrest was the government’s attempt to paralyze Alebrije’s activism within the newly created group, Oaxacan Voices Building Autonomy and Freedom (VOCAL in its Spanish initials). He had recently released a magazine named Barrikada and was planning on presenting it that same night in the Institute of Graphic Arts of Oaxaca (IAGO) and on the FM station “Radio sin mando.” He was also working within the APPO to prevent the dealing of electoral nominations.

His arrest was arbitrary; there was not even an arrest warrant issued. Twelve hours after his April 13th detention in the afternoon, David was brought before the legal body that deals with small-time drug offenses—the Unidad Mixta de Atención a Narcomenudeos (UMAN) in Spanish. Those who visited him during that period reported that he had been beaten—a claim confirmed by a photograph published later in ADNSureste. However the photograph also showed him with a bag that supposedly contains 30 grams of heroin, though to this date there is no proof that he was in possession of that bag at the time of his arrest.

On the morning of April 15th, after having spent one day in the custody of the Office of the National District Attorney, Alebrije was moved to the Ixcotel penitentiary. There, he was told that there had been another capture order issued for him—one that charged him with sedition and arson in relation to the November 25th burning of the Oaxaca Superior Courthouse. Many other APPO leaders are still being held on charges relating to this day.

The Power of Sowing Disaccord

During the weeks prior to the First APPO State Assembly, the Popular Revolutionary Front (FPR) had forged a series of alliances in order to strengthen their support for engaging the APPO in elections. Among their most important allies were the August 1st contingent of the COMO, the Democratic Coalition of Teachers, the March 2nd Collective, the Broad Popular Struggle Front (FALP) and the New Oaxacan Left. They also revived parts of the FPR—such as the Union of Mexican Revolutionary Youth, the Union of Poor Campesinos and the Union of Educational Workers. All of these organizations were, for the time being, carrying forward congressional candidates under the APPO name.

FPR operates indirectly: members of their group start rumors which the FPR later affirms with declarations or actions. Guadalupe Leyva’s accusations against David Venegas for his non-agreement concerning elections and for becoming her principle opposition is just one example. During council meetings, meeting with other groups and in neighborhood gathering, the rumors against Venegas and other VOCAL members were repeated. FPR relies on these types of mis-information schemes to generate mistrust within the APPO council and to strengthen the FPR block.

APPO spokesman and FPR member Florentino López, mentioned David Venegas’s arrest only once: “The anti-APPO offensive has been revived because there are now 43 political prisoners,” he stated. Despite the international mobilization to free David, the spokesman has stayed silent on the issue aside from this brief, indirect acknowledgement.

Analyzing this situation on her program Shotgun Radio, Doctor Bertha Muñoz explained her experience with being isolated and thus subjected to such mis-information campaigns: “While in exile, news only comes filtered by council member Felipe Canseco—like that Alebrije’s arrest was a government hoax to quiet the rumors that he was a member of the police.”

The Doctor also made declarations that the FPR had held meeting with Lopez Oprador on behalf of the APPO and that it had called on the organization to “close ranks and clean-up its own backyard.”

Despite all this and its negotiations with FAP, the FPR-led electoral block has thus far only managed to get one candidate on the Congressional plurinominal list. Zenén Bravo Castellanos is number 10 on the list and Carmen Jicayan’s nomination is still in doubt. Given the way elections work, this essentially means that the APPO members have almost no chance of entering Congress.

Alebrije Behind Bars

As the APPO’s internal struggle continues, council member David Venegas has written several letters from jail, speaking out against his incarceration and analyzing the movement. There has been international outcry demanding David’s release but David has also received threats in prison to force him to negotiate and quiet those who call for his freedom, according to a May 2nd letter he wrote.

The movement for his liberation also caused concern regarding FPR’s organizational tactics. In a public statement read on May 6th in the National Forum Against Repression, Zapatista leader Sub-Commander Marcos announced his support for Alebrije and criticized the FPR as a political organization “supposedly left-wing…that claims it agrees with the principles of the Other Campaign when it’s convenient but then distances itself when it’s not. These people are not looking for power to be able to persecute anarchists and libertarians because they are already persecuting others—they are persecuting those that think differently and those that have and struggle for a different vision of society.”

During the demonstration commemorating Day of the Teacher in Oaxaca on May 15th, one of David Venegas’ letters was read publicly in the heart of the city. In it, he expresses his unease, calls attention to the fact that some of the APPO council members had betrayed the movement and points to some of the odd happenings he witnessed before and after his arrest. Alebrije also described the criminalization of his VOCAL comrades and the FPR’s complicity in the face of these drastic situations.

After all this, and after the failure of the FPR to obtain any well placed electoral nominations, the fight in Oaxaca for control of the APPO council has worsened. Yet it’s important to note that the bases continue to mobilize and create their own initiatives that stay true to APPO’s roots.

It’s in this context that Dr. Bertha Muñoz commented in Shotgun Radio, that the “other phase of the movement” has begun—one in which not only FPR’s actions are publicly denounced, but also in which reorganization is needed and a new APPO State Assembly ought to be convened. We will soon see what happens…

  • Alebrijes are well-known traditional Oaxacan crafts. They are colorful, creative figurines whose style and shape are derived from recent popular culture and imagination.


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