Struggle in Mexico:
“There can be no conciliation”
An interview with Felipe Velasco and Maria de la Luz Mendoza
By Ivan Drury and Esteban Gonzalez Arteaga
Felipe Velasco and Maria de la Luz Mendoza are two Mexican activists who live and organize in Vancouver. They have been founding and leading members of organizations like “Relatives and Friends and of Mexican Political Prisoners,” and “The Other Campaign Vancouver and Organizations in Solidarity with Atenco” that have organized in defense and solidarity with Mexico against imperialism and the agents of imperialism in Mexico.
On Wednesday November 15th, Fire This Time sat down with these two Mexican activists to talk about the explosive situation in Mexico: the legacy of state repression of social movements in Mexico, this past summer’s election and the subsequent electoral fraud carried out by the ruling class, the massive anti-fraud movement that is still shaking Mexico, and the near-revolutionary movement that has completely overtaken Oaxaca, a poor, mostly Indigenous state in Southern Mexico.
We think that these two activists give a clear picture of what is happening today in Mexico, and especially what both the stakes and potentials are for the working, oppressed, poor, and Indigenous people who are in struggle there. As one of the main slogans of the anti-electoral-fraud movement says, “if there can’t be a solution… there will be a revolution…”
FTT: What we would first like to ask you, because you have a great deal of experience in this, is what is the role and position of political prisoners in Mexico? How is repression used as a tool by the government and why is there repression?
FELIPE: Something that is important to point out is that Mexico has had almost a quarter of a century of neo-liberal politics. In Mexico there is a capitalist economy that is under-developed and dependent upon the United States. And the combination of both of these situations, under-developed capitalism that is dependent upon the United States, and neo-liberal politics, is an atrocious combination for the conditions of life of any people. This quarter century under neo-liberalism has generated conditions of extreme poverty where the great majority of us, more than fifty percent, live in poverty; and also, forty percent of Mexicans live in extreme poverty. These conditions of life have generated a constant social struggle. And the Mexican state has responded, primarily, through the use of repression and systematic violence.
We have endured already many years of ‘dirty war’ in Mexico. What we are talking about is that after the movement of ’68, a student movement heavily repressed by the government, generated such indignation that desperate movements were created to try and change Mexico through armed struggle. Many organizations were created, many new acronyms. And this exasperated the possibility of repression against these movements and the places they operated in. This created a ‘dirty war’ that left hundreds disappeared, detained, kidnapped, and murdered. More recently repression in Mexico has escalated to what is known as state terrorism. And it has become fashionable, for example in the case of Guerrero, Aguas Blancas, which is televised, it is televised how the police criminally murder the campesinos, who where making their way to a demonstration. We are astonished that this would be broadcast on the principal television chain and monopoly to engender fear in the populace, to send the veiled message ‘if you organize, if you fight against the government you are going to receive this criminal treatment.’
State terrorism has come to the national stage with Atenco. With Atenco you have the practice not only of broadcasting the repression on commercial television, but the preparations for the repression as well… we would expect it in the remote rural areas of Chiapas and Guerrero, but nonetheless it occurs close to the colossal Mexico City. And it is carried out with such viciousness and brutality, that is within what the government of Mexico and many governments around the world recognize as state terrorism. What is occurring in Oaxaca can also be contained within this policy.
FTT: We should talk about the recent events in July, the election. What is the significance of this election?
FELIPE: I think that the recent presidential elections in Mexico were of great importance, given that, for a moment there was the possibility of the continuity of the neo-liberal program.
Amongst the candidates to win the election, certainly the most likely was Obrador, the candidate of the coalition ‘For The Good of All’.
While his program, in its essence, did not differ much from a neo-liberal program, he did gain the sympathy of the populace. He won over many who felt great indignation at the injustice of the neo-liberal projects
The people had hope, and they saw in the elections a peaceful, electoral, and legal way to achieve substantial changes of social benefit. The theft of the popular vote, the fraud, is an attack against the rule of law, it is an attack against the will of the majority, and it is a cancellation of the possibility of peaceful, democratic change in the country within the current context.
LUZ: What was the response of the people, those who voted for Lopez Obrador, to the fraud? Socially there is an environment of much desperation and depression. Even people that we know who openly supported Lopez Obrador showed signs of demoralization. A situation of ‘now what?’ If change can’t be achieved through elections, how will we achieve change?
This is an environment that is also creating support for the Popular Assembly of the People of Oaxaca (APPO). Because many of the people that are supporting the APPO are rank and file of Obrador’s party, the Party for Democratic Revolution (PRD), and they are people who are there in the movement. The confluence of the fraud on one side and the repression on the other meant that many seemingly politically different people are together in support of the APPO.
FTT: As you said the movement against the fraud, quickly has become a mass movement, through which people have been able to express their resistance to injustice. And another movement that is growing in Mexico is that of Oaxaca. This movement has reached its’ most organized point and therefore, I would say, its’ most revolutionary. Especially with the formation of the Popular Assembly of the Peoples of Oaxaca (APPO). Could you explain to us the importance of this movement in Oaxaca?
FELIPE: You could say that it is one of the contemporary movements of largest social and popular importance. Never had the kinds of mobilizations organized by APPO been seen before, 1,200,000 people marching in the streets of Oaxaca. Even when there were 20,000 soldiers from the marines and the national army in Oaxaca. Even with 4,000 members of the Federal Preventive Police (PFP). Even with the presence of elite police squads, like AFI. When the plain clothes police, mercenaries, and paid killers of the ‘Caravan of Death’ is there. When there had already been murders, detainments, disappearances, torture, rapes. And this demonstration occurs at the same time! It is really a historic event.
This would not have happened, could not have happened, without the sympathy and the active solidarity of people who had come together at this moment. It is possible to see that a wide spectrum of political tendencies are active in support of the movement in Oaxaca. This is setting an important precedent for the struggles of Mexican people. The APPO has brought together more than 350 popular organizations with a sensible program, not of exclusion, not of theoretical confrontation, but one that vindicates popular organization, and encourages solidarity. The APPO has created a situation when so many tendencies are supporting the present movement in Oaxaca.
FTT: You mentioned that there is a great spectrum of organizations that are participating. Which are the most prominent, or symbolic of what the APPO is?
FELIPE: One of the principal initiating forces of this movement, was section 22 of the teachers movement. This is part of the spinal column of the movement.
The movement in Oaxaca is a popular movement of many years. Oaxaca is one of the poorest states in the country. Fifty percent of indigenous people and ethnicities that exist in Mexico are in Oaxaca. A great part of daily life in Oaxacan communities is governed by traditions and customs, where communal participation and solidarity have been practiced for many years. This makes it possible that in the face of the repression of the teachers movement that was ordered by the governor Ulises Ruiz Ortiz on July the 14th, the great majority of the spectrum of organizations have responded.
Solidarity with the teachers has formed this movement and the support and solidarity within Mexico is amazing. The National Democratic Convention (CND) was formed by the different parties, including the PRD, who participated in the election and who truly had the popular vote stolen from them. The PRD has declared their unconditional support for Oaxaca, for the APPO. This is very important, since the PRD is central to the anti-fraud movement, one of the most important contemporary movements parallel to Oaxaca, due to the context of this election.
Another movement, which is Zapatismo, and the ‘Other Campaign’, has become active in a different way in the past months, but has given an effective solidarity…
The APPO has recently called for a barricade to be laid [around the Zocalo in Oaxaca] so that no police can leave the downtown for two days. What may happen at that moment could be incredible.
And something else that confronts more the state in Mexico, is that on the first of December the APPO has called for a general peaceful insurrection. That is the day that Felipe Calderon has planned, in accordance with the rules of the constitution, to take political power. This is the day that the CND, which is organizing in defense of the popular vote, has promised that they will not permit the presidential inauguration. And that is how the three the principal forces of the social movement in Mexico, the APPO, the Other Campaign, and the CND, find a common enemy: the Mexican state and the imperialist plans towards Mexico.
FTT: We have discussed that this moment in Mexico is of crucial importance, not only for people in Mexico, but also for people around the world. What can people in Canada learn from the struggle that is being carried out in Oaxaca?
LUZ: My opinion is that the struggle that is taking place in Oaxaca is an example for Mexico and the world because it has been an inclusive struggle… I think that’s an important lesson. That when organizations unite for a common struggle you can have a movement like the one in Oaxaca. It is interesting that this movement has maintained itself and has achieved truly important victories; like that the PFP was not able to take the university. The people made them retreat, and they retreated after seven hours of pitched battle…We are truly awed by the example of dignity and anger that people are showing.
But there is also a terrible page being opened in the history of Mexico.
Although it is true that there has been more than thirty years of ‘dirty war’, right now there is total impunity. They are no longer interested in hiding what they did before. Calderon said ‘I will become president, cueste loque cueste’ [at any price]. This is a very clear threat. Obviously this means more repression, because there can be no conciliation…
FTT: Thank you for giving us this interview, because your experiences are invaluable for us. The struggle will continue – La Lucha Sigue!
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