OAXACA, Mexico – Teachers in the southern Mexican state of Oaxaca, the scene three years ago of a months-long uprising against a widely despised governor, occupied banks, shopping centers and government offices at the beginning of a 48-hour strike.
Besides a pay raise, the teachers are demanding the resignation of Gov. Ulises Ruiz, just as they and a coalition of grassroots groups did in 2006 during a conflict that ended only with a federal occupation of Oaxaca city.
The teachers and their allies also want the release of “political prisoners,” including 11 Indians jailed since 1996 for alleged membership in the EPR guerrilla group.
Strikers arrived early Thursday at bank branches in downtown Oaxaca city, effectively shutting them down and forcing the employees to withdraw.
At some locations, the protesters erected tents to shield themselves from the sun.
An official with the state teachers union, Gabriel Lopez Chiapas, said his organization will offer students extra classes to make up for the time lost to the strike, but he also threatened to ratchet up protests if authorities don’t respond to the demands.
On Friday, the teachers plan to block all the roads into Oaxaca city, Lopez said.
The 2006 Oaxaca conflict began with Gov. Ruiz’s order for police to forcibly break up a sit-in by striking teachers in the capital’s main square.
The ensuing clash lasted nearly four hours and left dozens injured and under arrest, marking the start of a six-month conflict in Oaxaca that left at least 20 dead – almost all of them Ruiz opponents – and millions in economic losses.
Ruiz was a polarizing figure even before the clash with the teachers, as many accused him of rigging the 2004 election that brought him to power in Oaxaca.
The uprising against the governor was crushed by thousands of federal police and troops in November 2006.
Oaxaca is one of Mexico’s poorest states and is also the one with the largest Indian population, in both absolute and proportional terms. EFE