Science - December 7, 2006

‘Mexico is looking like a dictatorship’

On 1 December the president of Mexico was inaugurated. Over the past month there have been mass demonstrations against the new president, because of election fraud. But in the city of Oaxaca there has been unrest for months. In mass demonstrations against the corrupt governor many people were arrested or killed.

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Victor Mendoza, who is following the MAKS programme at Wageningen University, is from Oaxaca. He is very concerned about the situation in his home country. ‘There is almost no true information in the ordinary press,’ he says, ‘So I would like to tell my story.’

‘Oaxaca is one of the poorest states in Mexico. Although there is high investment in tourist areas, many regions are deeply marginalised. The protests are against the governor of Oaxaca, Ulises Ruíz. He belongs to a class of corrupt politicians from the traditional ruling party (PRI) since the Revolution. They have always controlled the election systems and kept power in this way. In the past, people were not so aware of these issues, so the politicians could do whatever they wanted. Now people are more aware.’

The demonstrations were started in June by teachers demanding a better education system, improvements to infrastructure and services, and higher wages. ‘It started as a peaceful demonstration, but they were attacked by the police and then far more people joined the movement. An umbrella organisation was formed, called Asamblea Popular de los Pueblos de Oaxaca (APPO), the popular assembly of Oaxaca people. It is composed of students, middle class people, farmers and indigenous people, all of whom have had conflicts with the governor before. Corruption is the most important issue; the governor spent money that was meant for schools and hospitals on his own election campaign and his political party.’

The police were unable to prevent the protest movement from taking control of the city, until October, when the federal government sent police and the army to Oaxaca to re-establish order. ‘But then the protests started again,’ says Victor. ‘The police response was to arrest the leaders of the movement, and other people taking part in the protest.’

The worst day until now was 25 November. ‘People took to the streets again because their movement had been restricted due to the presence of the army in the city. It was a peaceful demonstration, but more than 250 people were picked up by the police. The families of these people have had no contact with them since. For example, a girl who was selected by the same foundation for a scholarship like me was arrested by the police, and has been sentenced to twenty years in prison! Just for joining the protests.’

‘Mexico is looking increasingly like a dictatorship,’ says Victor. ‘People are being killed and disappearing during the protests. There is no freedom of speech, no freedom to demonstrate. Mexico is chair of the UN human rights commission. It’s absurd.’

Victor is concerned about his relatives and friends in Oaxaca. ‘A friend of mine has already been killed during the riots,’ he says. ‘I’m very sad and also feel rage. If I were there, I would be out on the streets for sure. Maybe I would be in prison now or maybe worse.’

He doesn’t know what will happen next month. ‘I don’t know. I only know that the new government won’t make changes that will solve the problems. This president is also corrupt, but the protests will continue, I think. And it’s important that people from the whole world know what’s happening there. The Mexican media portrays the protesters in Oaxaca as bandits and terrorists. But they are just ordinary people, and most of the population supports the protest. I hope it will help that people know the truth.’

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