27 November 2006
What is happening in Oaxaca?
What is going on in Oaxaca, the dirt-poor, southern Mexican state? Have you ever read The Leviathan by Thomas Hobbes? Well, if you have, you now know what is going on in Oaxaca. Basically, the PRI Leviathan that has governed the state since the 1920s has lost its touch. Once people see that a dictatorship is weak, then everyone piles in to bring it down. Oaxaca is going through that process at the moment.
It started back in May when the state's teachers began their annual strike for more money. Normally the strike is settled in a couple of weeks, but this year the state government couldn't meet the strikers' demands. The reason for that was the federal election; put simply, the government had to divert every centavo it could lay its greasy paws on to pay for pro-PRI propaganda.
Federal elections are now controlled by a reasonably clean electoral commission, so the usual tricks could not be used. The election process was clean, but the Oaxaca state government used state funds to try and buy the votes. So, to be fair, did every other state in the Mexican union, but that is not the point. The point is that only Oaxaca City had a main square that was full of strikers.
In June the state governor sent in the riot squad to clear out the square. The problem was that it was full of women teachers, many of whom had their kids with them. In spite of many a cracked skull, the strikers managed to regroup and launched a counterattack that took control of the square back from the police.
This is where Hobbes' argument comes into play. He said that a dictator had to be in control, and that if he wasn't, then nobody had any duty to obey him. This is what happen in Oaxaca City: the people saw that the PRI was no longer in control, that their riot police had been defeated, and then everyone else began to join in the protests.
A dictatorship maintains control by suppressing dissent: thus social tensions build up until such time as the ruler's control starts to weaken. However, once the boot is removed from the neck, then all hell is set to break loose, as decades of tensions are sorted out. That is what began to happen in Oaxaca.
President Vicente Fox sent in the federal police in October, but all that did was make a bad situation worse. Fox will go out of office next month and has about him the air of a man who doesn't really give a stuff.
Also last month the Congress asked the governor of Oaxaca State to resign - and he told them to get lost. The Congress changes its membership next month, so why should he care what the lame ducks say?
Nothing will get settled until the new president and Congress are sworn in and get comfortable in their new roles. Expect more trouble until then.