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9th & 10th Days in Oaxaca - A Report

by Xochitl Tuesday, Dec. 05, 2006 at 3:41 PM

started Nov 21, finished Nov 22, 2006 As I write this I sit outside the first aid station at Radio Universidad. For the first time since I arrived in Oaxaca I am a little frightened. I don't know what is going to happen tonight, but there are some rumors of police gathering nearby the university. But maybe all will be fine. Vamos a ver (We'll see)

started This morning I came over to Radio Universidad to teach another first aid class at the Cinco Senores barricade. After the class I came back to the Radio and helped a bit with the construction of a barricade near the first aid station.

University classes began again today, and the area around the Radio Station, which includes several classroom buildings as well as the radio, is barricaded off so that non-movement people cannot pass through. This caused great consternation among some students who wanted to take the shortest route, rather than walk around the radio area. When one group of students tried to climb around the barricade near the first aid station, La Doctora was exasperated, "Oaxaca is falling, and here they can't be bothered to walk around!"

Just then word came of an attack on the barricadistas at Cinco Senores. The barricade blocks the major thoroughfare from the city of Oaxaca into the University campus and community. Some universities in Mexico (all? I am not sure) are autonomous, meaning that they are not a part of the local municipalities, and local and federal police cannot enter the university area. On November 2 the federal police tried to enter the university, probably to destroy the Radio, which is the voice of the movement, albeit a bit harder to receive now because of interference over the radio waves and vandalism to the radio equipment. If you aren't close to the radio station you hear this terrible marching music over the AM band that previously broadcasted the movement's movement, analysis and updates throughout the city and surrounding areas. The same music repeats over and over. As you approach the University the march music starts to fade as the Radio Universidad signal become stronger.

The Cinco Senores barricade is independent from guards closer to the radio and from APPO, and this barricade seems to play a complicated political role here. University officials had announced that the two barricades at university entrances, Cinco Senores and Soriana, would be removed today with the re-commencement of classes, but the Cinco Senores barricade remains in place to protect the radio, and probably for other reasons I am unaware of.

The barricade is made of buses and trucks, some burned, some turned on their sides; barbed wire; bricks; sand bags; large pieces of concrete and other materials, all blocking a large intersection at the entrance to the university. The barricadistas (guards) are mostly young people, from the city and surrounding areas, though when I have been there I have seen several demonstrations of local community support. One day, as dark was approaching, a barricadista went into a small store which faces the intersection, asking if they had matches in case they needed to light molotov cocktails. Someone called to him from outside, and he started to leave before getting matches, but was stopped by the shopkeeper, who threw him a lighter. On other occasions I have seen neighborhood people cooking food at the small barricade kitchen, or bringing it from their home. Food is cooked over large barrels filled with burning wood, or open fires with grates.

Today, at around 2 pm, according to eye witnesses who I later treated at the first aid station, a small truck approached the barricade from inside the university community, with the men inside shooting pistols. They attacked and after a fight which wounded several of the barricadistas, the men grabbed two of the barricade guards, beating them and pistol whipping them as they drove away. The kidnapped barricadistas have not been seen since, and they may be dead.

At times I am troubled by the molotov cocktails and homemade rockets at the Cinco Senores and Radio Universidad barricades, but they are generally used for defense. Occasionally, what I perceive as people interested in inciting violence, or provocateurs (possibly people in the employ of the state or federal government, possibly not), use these weapons offensively against the police. And these people are often condemned by others in the movement for heightening the conflict, and for using violence in anything other than defense. I must say, though, that as I lay on a cot last night at the Radio Universidad first aid station, I was really happy to know that there were people who were prepared to defend the area against any incursion by the police.

After hearing about the attack and kidnapping at Cinco Senores I went out to the kitchen area to see how folks were doing. Tension had increased a bit, but people still laughed, told stories, and ate good food. Several were sick with colds and other common infections that take advantage of a lack of sleep and high stress. I went back to the first aid stationto prepare herbal remedies for them, then delivered them to companeros at the Radio Universidad gate and kitchen.

When I returned to the first aid station there was a crowd around the door, and inside a young man who had fallen and possibly broken his leg. He was about 12 years old, climbing and playing with friends. He needed to go to the hospital for xrays and casting, if he did in fact have a fracture. La Doctora Berta was deeply concerned about what would happen to him at the hospital, since his parents were nowhere to be found. So she arranged for a companera to accompany him, and promise to stay until he was released. After he left, she commented, "These children, where are their parents? Why are they here? They want to play revolutionary, but it is too dangerous here."

Moments later another man came in, with a laceration of his hand from when he had punched one of the attackers at the Cinco Senores barricade. We soaked his hand in some essential oils to help prevent infection, then bandaged him up and sent him off with more medicine.

Another young man came in with a dislocated shoulder from the same attack. We gave him a shot of antinflammatory medicine (the first aid station here is quite well supplied, with materials brought from all over the countryside to aid in the struggle), then put him face down on a gurney. We suspended 2 bottles of soda, one of pepsi and of coke, from his hand hanging over the gurney, and waited. He moaned and groaned with the pain, and we still waited. Just as I started to rub an antinflammatory cream (made with arnica, chamomile and aloe) into his shoulder, he suddenly said "Ya! Esta hecho" (yes, it is done). As I untied the soda bottles he sat up and repeated over and over again, "gracias, gracias, gracias"

As we splinted his shoulder, we talked about the importance of staying inside for at least a day, to prevent a repeat dislocation. "But I have to go back to the barricade. They took my friends, I have to go back,"he said. We again exhorted him to take it easy for just a night and a day, but knowing that he would probably return to the barricade, we wrapped another few layers of ace bandage around his arm and shoulder.

After he left I tried to figure out what to do next. Although I intended to spend the night at Radio Universidad, I had planned to go back to our hostel to gather clothes and say hello to friends before it got dark. But given the attack at the nearby Cinco Senores barricade, it was not safe to travel. So I was stuck at Radio Universidad, not knowing what would happen during the night.

That's when I started this entry -- feeling lonely and a bit scared. I speak Spanish, but when I am tired or stressed I sometimes have trouble. So as people around me discussed politics, the events of the day, and the current situation throughout the city, I felt a bit lost.

Several of us went to sleep early, to be prepared for the night, should we need to be awake. At 8 pm I got up and got some food, then started another first aid class for the group of medical students who work at the first aid station. Like medical students in the US, they hadn't learned much basic first aid, though their curriculum does include a great deal of trauma care. Many of them will do their obligatory 1 year of social service in small pueblos where there is no other medical care available, and the closest hospital is hours and hours away so they do learn the basics of trauma evaluation and management. But this group of mostly 1st and 2nd year students were still learning basic physiology and anatomy, rather than trauma, so we started once again with the basics of street medic philosophy and initial assessment.

They asked a million questions -- delving into every complication of different life threatening injuries. And they were the first group that jumped up and practiced everything we talked about. Fortunately, I had two Oaxacan doctors who were helping me, so they could help me explain things, and provided insight into the differences of first aid treatment in the US and Oaxaca.

During a break in the class I talked with several of the medical students. Their campus is on the other side of the city, where things have been relatively quiet in the last 3 weeks. Their fellow students are largely unaware of the events in the cento district and the university campus, and when they learn about the conflicts, they don't really seem to care. They ask their activist medical students why they are wasting time at Radio Universidad planton when they could be studying. Well, they did study, after midnight!

At 11:30 we wrapped up the basic of initial assessment, and despite glazed-over eyes and heavy eyelids, they asked question after question about different aspects of first aid.

I promised them that we would return to first aid another night, and wandered over to the kitchen area, where barricadistas were gathered, discussing the latest news: a caravan of police vehicles where approaching the city, presumably heading towards the university. The guards were making plans for defense of the area. A 11 year old boy wandered around, playing with a sling shot. Several companeros tried to get him to go home, explaining that it was just too dangerous and too late for him to be out.

When I returned to the first aid station I found many of the students still up studying. Where do I sleep? I asked, and was showed to a cot. Others slept on pallets and cushions on the floor. It looked like the doctors, there were 4 of us at that time, got the cots and the students slept on the floor. Though that felt a weird, I slept where I was told.

I woke up periodically when I heard loud noises outside, but I was reassured by the radio, which is always on in the first aid station. They were broadcasting a discussion of environmental degradation and economic justice. I figured that if there were any problems outside, the radio would be broadcasting constant updates.

At 2:30 am there was a volley of pop pop pops and boom booms. Everyone in the first aid station woke up, and we were told to put our shoes on and turn out the lights. This time the radio was broadcasting live information from the Cinco Senores barricade, where 15 trucks of local police had arrived and were trying to break through. We waited anxiously for about an hour, then things quieted down. The police had retreated, and the area was safe once again.

Today there was another march, more discussion of politics, and more general merriment at Radio Universidad. No major violence that I know of, and the struggle continues. There does seem to be a great deal of division within the city about APPO, the situation at the University, and all the marches and demonstrations. People who depend on the tourist trade are resentful of losing business, though some do state that they support the movement and understand the need for sacrifice.

It is impossible to know what the real truth is, and doubtful that one even exists. But I do know that this fight is being waged by groups of indigenous and low-income people throughout the state of Oaxaca, demanding the departure of a corrupt and repressive governor, and a change in the economics of the state.

What next? More first aid classes tomorrow, hopefully no more violence for at least a few days, though no one knows.

And now I must go to sleep.

Please hold the people of Oaxaca, and all those struggling for justice and dignity, in your hearts.



If you would like to donate money or medical supplies, we are working on a way to make this work. Please contact me about that too.

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