Don't Think, You're Hurting the Team
By Robert Joe Stout
Indymedia was one of the few U.S. or foreign news outlets that reported the Guelaguetza incident in any kind of depth. The wire services passed on government reports which minimized the number of injuries and used terminology like “repelled the aggressors” and “restored order.” None asked or tried to answer important questions like why the government of Ulisés Ruiz refused to negotiate the use of the amphitheater or why the Popular Assembly had insisted on mounting an unarmed assault on hundreds of soldiers and militarized police who’d been entrenched on the hillside surrounding the amphitheater for over a week.
News coverage of the confrontation in Mexico and abroad reflected the assumption that anti-government activities break the law without examining or considering whether or not the government itself has been the lawbreaker. I questioned a number of journalists, both Mexican and foreign, if a riot that included burning buses, Molotov cocktails, brutal beatings and indiscriminate arrests had occurred in Iran, Venezuela or Palestine would media disregard have been the same? The almost universal response was: Journalists report the news, editors amend or delete it and corporate owners determine policy.
In other words an anti-government uprising in Cuba or Venezuela is not the same as an anti-government uprising in Honduras or Mexico.
Lurking in my memory is the perception that the confrontation resembled a staged performance with thousands of spectators and only a few hundred participants. The clamor that included sirens and clouds of roiling black smoke from burning buses pulled hundreds of Looky Lous (including a good portion of the city’s ex-pat population) to view the entanglement. Spectators climbed porch railings, perched on car roofs, zigzagged this way and that to avoid colliding with the participants. Some shouted encouragement or insults; many had cell phones pressed against their ears as they related what was happening to relatives, authorities or friends.
As the police and military sealed off the streets surrounding the access to the amphitheater, forcing both Assembly adherents and spectators to retreat from the areas of major confrontation, fire engines and tow trucks doused the three or four smoldering buses that had been commandeered and set aflame and paramedics and ambulance attendants treated the cut and bruised at curbside.
A protester—obviously a teacher since one of those with him called him “maestro”—refused to board an ambulance despite what appeared to be a broken arm, protesting “the police come and yank you out of there [the hospitals].” A teenager in skintight slacks flipped her air away from her face and gestured towards her companion, “This is the third time the poli have clobbered him. He won’t have a brain left by the time he’s twenty-one.”
A staged performance, but not one that had been scripted and rehearsed. Improvised but performed within an established set of circumstances: Guelaguetza, armed police and soldiers, idealistic youth, irate mob. All concerned performed as they were programmed to respond and the result was electric, highly dramatic—though not surprising.
Those observing the sequence of events, like spectators at a football game (or Vietnam protest marches or abortion clinic raids) were boisterous, opinionated, provocative (annoyed, disgusted, bored); they followed the action without actually being part of it and gave widely divergent accounts of what they’d seen and what they thought had happened. Government supporters saw hostile teachers and Molotov-cocktail throwing delinquents; Assembly supporters saw vicious armored mercenaries assaulting innocent civilians trying to demand their rights.
Like many such confrontations the violent four hours of street combat that included vicious beatings, sequestering and demolishing vehicles, tear gas, bottle bombs, rock throwing and arrests terminated without visibly changing the status quo in Oaxaca, although it materially affected individual lives. Emeterio Cruz, beaten nearly to death, slowly regained much of his motor and mental abilities and became a featured presenter (martyr) at Assembly events. Governor Ulisés Ruiz and his political organization, the PRI, were repudiated at the polls in 2010 and replaced by an Assembly-backed coalition candidate. Many of the forty or more arrested and released on bail had to report weekly to parole authorities as convicted felons.
The following year the Guelaguetza became a divided event, with the Las Vegas-type spectacular staged at the amphitheater and a more popular day-long free presentation by authentic regional dancers and performers on the Technical University’s athletic field. Meanwhile, throughout the city the number of ambulantes selling pirated CDs, used clothing and Chinese-made knickknacks doubled, then tripled, parents maxed out their credit cards to give fifteen-year-old daughters coming out celebrations, junior high and highschool dropouts struggled northward to seek work in the United States (or be recruited by the drug corporations), pilgrims flocked to the shrine of the Virgen of Juquila and other regional saints and the Guerreros, badly managed and without adequate pitching, finished last in the southern division of the professional Mexican Baseball League.