“Observations From Southern Mexico”
On Thursday the 26, there
was heavy fighting in Cinco Señores, the neighborhood near the
university and the University Radio, from where the strikers broadcast
everyday, lead by our good friend, Dr. Bertha Muñoz. That night five
persons were killed by government forces. It should be remembered these
are plain-clothes forces, often masked, who drive up in unmarked pickups.
As it happened, one of the
killed was Bradly Will, a reporter from a United States news agency.
The next day, U.S. papers
reported, of course, “an American” killed in Oaxaca.
Friday, the papers and radio and
television were full of it all, including photos of the shooters who
killed Bradly Will.
President Fox came on the airwaves and
announced he was sending federal troupes to quell the disturbances in
Oaxaca. It was not lost on the Mexican people that it took the killing
of a U.S. citizen to finally force some reaction from the federal
All day Saturday, the troupes traveled
to Oaxaca. We received reports of their movement along the freeway from
Mexico City to Oaxaca.
* * *
Sunday, the 29 of October, was one of
our darkest days; the federal troupes attacked the city.
The city woke early, under
a tense calm, waiting.
At about 9:45, a single helicopter
began circling the city. I called Chucho to come over and we walked
together to the zócalo. I bought a paper and came right back.
On the University Radio they said there
is a big march planned for today.
Soon there were two helicopters
Big, black smoke began rising from the
south of the zócalo, it looked to be around Las Casas and J.P. García,
about three blocks from my house.
Lots of mirrors could be
seen flashing on the hill sides whenever the helicopters pass over. It
is a protest tactic to prevent the helicopters from seeing onto the
Throughout the afternoon the city
erupted. By 2:30 heavy black smoke could be seen rising from many
locations, the noise level increased with explosions, gunshots, car
horns, yelling and screaming. A huge explosion of smoke appeared on the
Trujano side of the zócalo. I would hear later that was when the
troupes were entering the center.
Soon there were three helicopters
overhead and the University Radio reported the Mega-March was passing
the Llano Park on its way to “recapture” the zócalo.
Within half an hour, the
zócalo appeared engulfed in flames. Government troupes were bringing in
busses and large vehicles and setting them on fire, to prevent the
protesters from entering the zócalo and to later blame the protesters
for burning public busses.
The sun slowly set and
there began a long night of watching the city burn and listening to
sporadic fighting in the streets and neighborhoods. The University
Radio is off the air.
I disconnected the doorbell.
Sitting in the house,
getting paranoid, I cover the windows with blankets and remembered doing
the same thing on June 14, our other dark day.
* * *
On Monday, the 30 of October, the sun
came up at 6:15; the city is very quiet.
University Radio is back on the air.
They announced that it was an electrical failure which cut them off
yesterday. The zócalo and the several blocks around the center are now
controlled by federal troupes. There are seven thousand in the central
plaza. The university, however is being held by APPO and the teachers,
who also are manning many of the barricades and entrances to the city.
Sergio Santamarìa and our theater group
had been planning to construct an altar for the Day of the Dead on
November first and second, to be located in the center of the zócalo, as
we had done many times before. It had been arranged with the teachers’
union who were quite enthused that we were doing it. This year it would
honor the fifty-six political assassinations by the government of Ulises
Ruiz. It would be called an “alternative” altar, as we had before. We
had begun construction of the opened graves and toppled gravestones from
which the assassinated dead would float into the sky.
Now, obviously, that plan was off.
I called Sergio and he said he was
headed over to the radio station, to help man the barricades. He
doesn’t know what will happen with the plans for the altar.
I walked far around the police lines in
the center to go to the studio and check on it. It’s fine, full of our
uncompleted constructions for the altar. I was feeling nervous and came
I called Carlos to say we wouldn’t open
the office today.
I sat listening to the radio and
watched from my balcony as many big fires burned the city. I tried to
read and nap and I must have dozed off because at one point a loud
explosion startled me awake. I sat up and began bawling aloud.
Later that afternoon,
Sergio called to say the altar is back on. Though federal troupes now
control the zócalo, the teachers and strikers have reformed around the
top of the walking street and the Santo Domingo plaza. We will move the
altar up there. I said fine and called my workers to tell them. The
plan is to install the altar tomorrow afternoon, and to be up all day
Wednesday and Thursday.
Chucho came by the house
and we walked to the studio, on the way passing the Santo Domingo plaza
to check out the sight for the altar.
Big fires were burning
nearby, one in front of the theater Alcalá, other on Trujano which we
can observe from Guerrero as we pass. A solid flank of soldiers with
shields are guarding each street leading to the zócalo. We must walk
far around the center.
At the studio, Chucho did a
great job of straightening up. I called Sergio, who was still at the
radio. We made plans for tomorrow.
Tuesday, was a huge day of work. We
were Carlos, Joaquín, Noé, Chucho, Sergio and I. We had built large
bases to hold the open gravestones and constructed skulls and bodies at
the end of long poles rising above them. We were planning to take it
all over to be installed at around 4 or 5 that afternoon.
Around midday, Sergio went to the site
to speak with the teachers in charge. He reported back that they had
arranged transport for the altar for tomorrow morning. Thank goodness!
Chucho, Carlos, Juaquín and I finished painting the graves and then the
big red sign and went home at around 7:30.
* * *
On Wednesday, November first, Chucho
and I went early to the studio. Carlos came early and Joaquín, then
Sergio. The people from APPO showed up about 9:30 and everybody (except
me) walked the bases of the installation over to Santo Domingo, then
came back for the rest. The truck didn’t show up so Chucho walked out to the front and hired one. They left with everything. I cleaned up a
bit and then walked over to the sight and saw that everything was
All that afternoon I was very
paranoid. Helicopters over head. Black smoke rising from many
Later I walked over to the sight and
saw that the altar had become an impromptu backdrop for a stage and
there was music and speeches and performances and a huge crowd gathered
around until late into the night. I remembered Maria’s words to me,
“That’s what you do, Bill. You build the backdrops.” Last year we had
painted a huge replica of Picasso’s Guernica which served as backdrop to
many anti-war demonstrations.
* * *
Thursday, November 2, was another very
dark day, federal troupes attacked the university.
Sergio called early to asked if I had
been by the altar to see if it was still there. I called Chucho, who
ran over to check and then came by the house to report that all was
fine. I called Sergio. We said see you later.
Lots of helicopters overhead. On the
way to the studio, an enormous caravan of trucks and tanks filled with
soldiers were leaving the zócalo headed south. I knew they were going
to the university. I heard several people commenting the same.
Back at the studio, I turned on the
radio and heard Dr. Bertha calling for help reinforcing the radio
station. I turned it off. I was getting nervous and decided to take
off. It was noon.
Back at the house I could see at least
six fires burning in the city. Three are big, black smoke, indicating
vehicles. Overhead helicopters were flying in circles. Sounds of
explosions. The radio was reporting that the federal soldiers were
attacking the university.
Later that afternoon, Sergio called
from his house. He had just gotten back from the university, where he
said it was very bad, fighting and tear gas in Cinco Señores, the radio
station and the entrance to the university.
I turned on the radio and heard them
describing the fighting in front. Depressed, I turned it off and tried
By 6:15, the sun was beginning to go
down. Feeling antsy, I walked again to Santo Domingo where Sergio and
the gang were sitting with the altar. He said the battle at the
university was horrid, but that in the end the protesters had repelled
the attack. They were excited and dancing and singing. He said it was
very inspirational, the people very determined.
I walked on down the block where I
encountered Miriam and a friend staring at the troupes and tanks
positioned around the zócalo, facing up the street. She had also been
in the fighting in the university and said many people were “bloodied.”
It was horrid, she said. I mentioned I was listening to my friend, Dr.
Bertha Elena, on the radio. Miriam said, Oh, she’s a real “chingona!”
* * *
Friday morning, the city was calm.
Radio U was off the air. I began checking every five minutes.
At 10:10, Radio U was back! They
opened with the national anthem, which had me a little worried, but soon
followed with the familiar voices of the kids and my dear Dr. Bertha.
The students and teachers were
continuing to hold the University.
Over the next few days, more federal
and state troupes would move in and advance up the walking street to the
Santo Domingo plaza. They routed the strikers and burned their camps.
Long lines of police with anti-crowd shields guard every corner in the
city. Convoys of troupe trucks filled with heavily armed soldiers
slowly roam the streets, their loaded rifles pointed at the crowds.
A few days later around noon, I was in
the studio waiting to go to the bank with Esperanza, when I heard noises
on the street, yelling, and running. I looked out into the patio, and
saw that the woman from the laboratory above had run down and was
closing the front door to the street, saying to several people, “We must
close it, it’s very dangerous.”
I turned on the radio and looked out
again, the guy upstairs was looking out the door. I went and joined him
and we watched lots of people in the streets running toward the zócalo
and shouting. Soon the woman came down again, this time with a bucket
of water, saying, “Here, we must put out water, we must put out water,”
and she stepped out onto the sidewalk, put down the bucket and stepped
back in. I noticed immediately lots of people saw the water and came
right over and dunked their handkerchiefs in it as they ran towards the
zócalo. I was amazed so many people knew what it was for. Inside I
learned there had been a tear gas attack against passing protesters by
the federal troupes at the corner of Colón and Bustamante, just two
blocks from the studio.
The next day, the papers were full of
the tear gas attack and news that the APPO was calling for a siege
(encircling) of the troupes in the zócalo beginning on the 25 of
November, next Friday.
Thus began three days of
some of the worst violence. When the mega-marcha on Saturday approached
the center, they were routed by federal and state troupes and over four
hundred protesters were rounded up and arrested. They were put on
carrier planes and taken to high-security prisons throughout Mexico. No
names were released and many are still being held or “disappeared.”
police burned many large buildings in the city to later blame the
The soldiers moved into the
university and on Tuesday morning the university radio was taken off the
The city is under police
control with large numbers of troupes on every corner and convoys of
troupe carriers moving slowly through the streets day and night.
* * *
Meanwhile, the country is
awaiting the Friday noon taking of office by Felipe Calderón, the right-wing
candidate who was declared winner of the election after the United
States-backed “ballot recount.” Opposition party members have seized
the Senate chambers where the swearing-in is to take place and have
vowed to prevent it.
One of the first
appointments of the Calderón cabinet was announced. As head of national
security, he has named Francisco Acuña, ex-governor of Jalisco and a man
known as the “torturer of Jalisco.” He has vowed a “firm hand” in
dealing with all opposition. He would later play an important role in
the Oaxaca situation.
On Friday morning, Ayax
came running upstairs to report that federal troupes had burst into the
Senate chambers at one minute before midnight and that Calderón had
taken the oath of office at one minute after midnight among fighting and
shouting. At two minutes after midnight, the troupes backed out of the
One of the first acts of
business of the new authority was to announce that they would reopen
negotiations with the APPO and movement leaders from Oaxaca to resolve
Flavio Sosa Villavicencio, activist and
spokesperson for APPO and three other persons from Oaxaca traveled to
Mexico City. When they entered the government offices, they were
arrested. They were sent to five different high-security prisons
throughout Mexico, where they have been since that time.
The lesson about what to
believe of Calderón words, will not be forgotten by the people of Oaxaca
any time soon.
* * *
Today, Monday, the 11 of
December, was the “blessing of the garbage trucks.” Hundreds, it
seemed, lined up in the streets with flowers and crosses and pictures of
the Virgin tied to their front grills, waiting to roll past the Basilica
of Soledad. In the midst of violence and shootings, a pause for the
Mother of Jesus Christ. On one hand, the utter corruption, greed and
cruelty of government, on the other hand, the utter stupidity,
gullibility and hypocrisy of religion.
* * *
Word has come down. It is
a green light to move against all opposition leaders. The Secretary of
Health and the Director of the State AIDS Council have sent plain-clothes
policemen to our Information Center and condom store. Our young workers
began to feel threatened and worried. I felt the responsibility for
their physical safety.
On December 26, we closed
our Center for the final time and ended a long, brutal and unjust year.
* * *
SKETCHES OF THE CONFLICT