The latest, Ulises Ruiz Ortiz, a protégé of party strongman and future presidential candidate Roberto Madrazo, won a fraud-marred election over a right-left coalition in 2004.
In the first 16 months of his regime, Ruiz proved spectacularly unresponsive to the demands of the popular movements for social justice. When, on May 15, 2006, National Teachers Day, a maverick, militant local of the National Education Workers Union known as Section 22 presented its contract demands, Ruiz turned a deaf ear. Then, on May 22, tens of thousands of teachers took the plaza and 52 surrounding blocks and set up a ragtag tent city. Each morning the maestros would march out of their camp and block highways and government buildings, which were soon smeared with anti-Ruiz slogans.
Ruiz retaliated before dawn June 14, sending 1,000 heavily armed police officers into the plaza to evict the teachers. Low-flying helicopters sprayed pepper gas on the throng below. Ruiz's police took up positions in the colonial hotels that surround the plaza and tossed down concussion grenades from the balconies. Radio Plantón, the maestros' pirate radio station, was demolished and the tent city set afire. A pall of black smoke hung over the city.
Four hours later a spontaneous outburst by Oaxaca's very active community, combined with the force of the striking teachers and armed with clubs and Molotov cocktails, overran the plaza and sent Ruiz's cops packing. No uniformed officers would be seen on the streets of Oaxaca for many months. And on June 16, two days after the monumental battle, 200,000 Oaxacans marched through the city to repudiate the governor's "hard hand." The megamarch was said to extend 10 kilometers.
John Gibler, who closely covered the Oaxaca uprising as a human-rights fellow for Global Exchange, wrote that the surge of the rebels June 14 soon transformed itself into a popular assembly. The Oaxaca Peoples Popular Assembly, or APPO, was formally constituted June 21. The APPO had no leaders but many spokespeople, and all decisions had to be made in assemblies.
A CITY PARALYZED
For the next weeks, the actions of the APPO and Section 22 paralyzed Oaxaca but the rest of Mexico took little notice. Instead, the nation was hypnotized by the fraud-marred July 2 presidential election in which a right-wing PAN-ista, Felipe Calderón, had been awarded a narrow victory over leftist Andrés Manuel López Obrador, the candidate of a coalition headed by the Party of the Democratic Revolution. López Obrador was quick to cry fraud, pulling millions into the streets in the most massive political demonstrations in Mexican history. Oaxaca still seemed like small potatoes.
But Oaxaca is an international tourist destination, and the APPO and Section 22 protests had closed down the tourist infrastructure, blocking the airport and forcing five-star hotels to shutter their doors. On July 17, Ruiz was forced to announce the cancellation of the Guelaguetza, an indigenous dance festival that has become Oaxaca's premiere tourist attraction, after roaming bands of rebels destroyed the scenery and blockaded access to the city.
Ruiz began to fight back. By the first weeks of August, the governor launched what came to be known as the Caravan of Death a train of 30 or 40 private and government vehicles rolling nightly, firing on the protesters. Ruiz's gunmen were drawn from the ranks of the city police and the state ministerial police.
To keep the Caravan of Death from moving freely through Oaxaca, the APPO and the union threw up barricades; 1,000 were built in the working-class colonies throughout the city and its suburbs. The rebels piled up dead trees, old tires, and burned-out cars and buses to create the barricades, which soon took on a life of their own; murals were painted using the ashes of the bonfires that burned all night on the barriers.