On October 28, Mexican President Vicente Fox ordered the mobilization of Federal Preventive Police to retake the besieged city of Oaxaca. Nearly five months after initial teacher strikes paralyzed the city and local demonstrators overtook government buildings to demand the resignation of Oaxaca state governor Ulises Ruiz , Mexico?s federal police regained control of the city?s inner square, driving protestors back and apprehending those who continued to resist police action. During the five months of incessant protests and small-scale violence, nine people, including one American citizen, were killed. An estimated US$440 million was lost in revenue from Oaxaca?s formerly thriving tourist industry. And 1.3 million local school children lost 100 days of classes. Moreover, the protests demonstrate Mexico?s continued inability to encourage local activists to pursue political grievances through the ballot box and not through the streets.
International Attention Squarely on Fox and Calderon
Fox?s order to seize control forcefully of the town from local protestors appears motivated by the death of an American journalist from Indymedia. The Mexican government likely felt compelled to demonstrate the federal government?s ability to control its territory to the international community, particularly to the United States . Democratic practices throughout the country have been called into question following the months of political uncertainty and chaos of the Mexican presidential election.
Additionally, Fox recognized that any prolonged protest would burden and perhaps jeopardize the incoming administration of President-elect Felipe Calderon. However, acquiescing to the demands of the protestors would hamstring the Calderon administration and the National Action Party (PAN), which will require the support of Ruiz?s Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) to mitigate the strides made by the opposition Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD). Publicly calling for the resignation of Ruiz, as demanded by Oaxaca protestors, would likely have caused a backlash by PRI congressmen, dividing the Mexican Congress.
Controlling the Situation and Preventing Further Outbreaks of Violence is Key
At this time, calm has returned temporarily to the streets of Oaxaca with local residents filing into the streets to thank federal police officers. However, rumors circulate that protest leaders are preparing to reorganize outside the city center will attempt to march en mass and drive the police out of the city. Mexican government officials are preparing for any eventuality and have alerted residents that federal police forces would remain in the city for an indefinite period of time.
Furthermore, some Mexican government personnel believe the presence of Mexican federal police officers will inflame the situation and provoke continued violence. No attacks directly targeting federal officers have yet occurred and are unlikely to surface in the near to mid-term. However, the presence of federal officers on the streets of Oaxaca conjures up images of the Tlatelolco massacre of 1968, in which the Mexican military used overwhelming and deadly force to breakup a student-led protest movement. Throughout the PRI?s 70 years of uninterrupted rule, deadly force by the hands of Mexican federal officers and military personnel have left an uneasy sense among the local Mexican populaces, hindering Fox?s ability to use these forces.
The Mexican citizenry and Mexican political parties have averted public acts of disorder to achieve certain demands. Protests have hindered the growth of the country?s democratic society, as local populaces feel their demands can be met by engaging in activities that are harmful to the greater society. Mexican federal police will continue to occupy the city, limiting public demonstrations of civil disorder. Should federal officers limit freedom of movement to the local citizenry and/or act in and inappropriate manner to the Oaxaca City residents, violence between the disparate parties can be anticipated. Although the situation has improved from a mere five days ago, foreign travelers would be well advised to reschedule trips to the city for sometime to come.