“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 government.


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 overhead.

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 ground.

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.


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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 home.

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 looking great.



All that afternoon I was very paranoid.  Helicopters over head.  Black smoke rising from many locations.

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 to nap.

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.”




            Government plain-clothes police burned many large buildings in the city to later blame the protesters. 

            The soldiers moved into the university and on Tuesday morning the university radio was taken off the air.

            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 Senate.




            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 the situation.


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. 

            Oooops, sorry. 


*  *  *



            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.




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