November 22-28, 2006

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The Byrne Report

Tribal Business

By Peter Byrne

On Nov. 12, I attended a forum on the "situation in Oaxaca" held at the Carpenters Union Hall in Santa Rosa. The well-attended program was sponsored by CAMPPO, a committee in support of the people's movement in the state of Oaxaca in southern Mexico. Rufino Dominguez of the Frente Indigena de Organizaciones Binacionales delivered a first-hand account of the repression of the teachers strike that began in May.

"The people are tired," Dominguez reported. "They do not have time to sleep, to do laundry. They feel isolated. The media is not informing people in Mexico or elsewhere about what is really happening. They portray everybody as rebels." Indeed, American and Mexican media tend to portray Oaxaca as being held hostage by violent anarchists, as opposed to being rocked by a democratic movement of ordinary people fed up with a corrupt regional government. The Wall Street Journal is incensed that the Zucolo in the capital city, Oaxaca, is covered with political graffiti, thereby ruining its much-vaunted tourist appeal.

Actually, the Zucolo is painted with the blood of indigenous organizers murdered by police agents. Dominguez reports that 35 leaders of the strike and allied support groups have been disappeared; so have many press accounts. The police assassination of Indymedia journalist Brad Will in late October propelled Oaxaca to the top of the corporate news for a day or two. But when it is "just" indigenous people being beaten, tortured and killed by the local and federal Mexican police, Oaxaca is of little interest to our American tribes.

In his landmark work, Sociobiology, E. O. Wilson defines "tribe" as "any group of people that perceives itself as a distinct group, and which is so perceived by the outside world. . . . The group may be a race, as ordinarily defined. . . . [I]t can be a religious sect, a political group or an occupational group. The essential characteristic of a tribe is that it should follow a double standard of morality--one kind of behavior for in-group relations, another for out-group." Sounds like us, eh?

At the present time, it is unlikely that the majority of California tribes would tolerate Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger ordering the murder of our own teachers, but, hey, if it is in Mexico, who cares? They must have been terrorists, right? Wrong. The teachers went on strike last spring because the governor of Oaxaca, Ulises Ruiz Ortiz, expropriated state funds budgeted for education to fund the presidential campaign of right-wing candidate Felipe CalderŪn, says a CAMPPO spokesperson.

Eighty percent of Oaxacans are indigenous, many of them struggling in extreme poverty. But Oaxacans have a proud history of resisting oppression from Montezuma's Aztec armies 600 years ago to the federales of Mexican president Vicente Fox, who is the U.S.-backed enforcer for NAFTA.

The website for the Oaxacan tourism bureau praises the historic conquest of the mountainous region by Spanish mercenary Hernando Cortes, a genuine psychopath. "Living in Oaxaca is an aesthetic experience," says the conquistadorean-postive bureau. True enough for legions of American tourists and retirees armed with foreign exchange that enable them to wallow amidst Oaxaca's natural beauties. Fortunately, according to the bureau, the indigenous people are "happy, at peace, willing to work and eat. Their eyes are luminous and [they] live harmoniously with their family, neighbors or authorities."

Until those damn teachers got uppity! You'd think that if NAFTA is bringing an economic miracle to Mexico, Oaxacan kids would have pencils. But NAFTA is a one-way street. Oaxacan farmers, said a native Oaxacan at the forum, export tasty white corn to American dinner tables, while they eat animal-feed corn imported from America. Typical Oaxacan workers make 17 pesos a day; a kilo of meat costs 80 pesos.

The list of trade and income inequities goes on. The rich natural resources of Mexico are being stripped away by American corporations, even as the Fox and Ruiz governments use Mexican taxpayers' pesos to "modernize" corporate-positive infrastructure and to defenestrate labor laws in service to the needs of multinational companies for cheap electricity and docile labor. Violent corporate toadyism has become so obvious that the United Nations High Commission for Human Rights recently criticized the Fox regime for torturing prisoners and undermining the legal rights of defendants. (Gee, does that sound familiar?)

Meanwhile, according to the CIA World Factbook, Mexico is grossly polluted by sewage and industrial wastes, suffering from deforestation and desertification, and afflicted by an ever-increasing deficit of clean water and air--not to mention, the CIA helpfully adds, "low wages, underemployment for a large segment of the population, inequitable income distribution and few advancement opportunities for the largely Amerindian population in the impoverished southern states" of Oaxaca and Chiapas.

The meltdown of Mexico's system of protective tariffs began with a massive devaluation of the peso in 1994 engineered by the United States from which the artificially cheapened Mexican economy has yet to recover. Devaluation greased the skids for NAFTA, which has caused U.S. trade with Mexico to more than triple, from $81 billion in 1993 to $266 billion in 2004.

In 2003, U.S. corporations held an incredible $61 billion in direct ownership investment in Mexican business firms, and Wall Street is salivating at the prospect of eating up the rest of the privatized oil and telecommunications sectors. Pre-NAFTA restrictions on foreign ownership of Mexican industrial infrastructure, land and resources are almost gone, as America neo-colonizes Mexico, reserving it for the production of cheap labor and as a dumping ground for toxic wastes and such excess commodities as sugar substitutes manufactured by Archer Daniels Midland.

At the forum, workers from Oaxaca, many of them day laborers in the North Bay, testified to the correlations between NAFTA, increasing poverty and political repression. They urged American supporters of La Asamblea Popular de los Pueblos de Oaxaca to ask Mexican consulates and local politicians to put pressure on Fox to stop the political murders in Oaxaca.

The good news is that Oaxacans are standing up. As are millions of people in Bolivia, Brazil and Nicaragua. All over the world, people and governments are starting to reject the poisoned loans and investment packages offered by American-dominated financial institutions, such as the World Bank and International Monetary Fund. With the resounding defeat of the U.S. military by the Iraqi people, the New World Order declared by President Bush's father in 1989 has turned into a nightmare for the Skull and Bones gang.

In the end, the people of Oaxaca, Chiapas and everywhere in Mexico and the nations to its south will expel their economic invaders. They must do this or expire of poverty and preventable diseases. Along the way, they will, of necessity, relax traditional tribal boundaries and organize as a united people. Of course, America might decide to invade a democratizing Mexico with troops under control of the U.S. Northern Command based in Colorado. It is a fact that when the Mexican military holds war exercises, it is to practice repelling an American invasion.

Sadly, tribalized Americans, charged up now with anti-immigrant propaganda, will probably support their militaristic leaders in yet another invasion to squash freedom and democracy. Back to Dr. Wilson and his tribes. He notes that modern people are still cursed with Stone Age mentalities. "[F]earful of the hostile groups around them, the 'tribe' refuses to concede to the common good. . . . Resources are sequestered. Justice and liberty decline. Xenophobia becomes a political virtue. The treatment of nonconformists within the group grows harsher. History is replete with the escalation of this process to the point that the society breaks down or goes to war. No nation has been completely immune."

We can do better than this. Call CAMPPO at 707.318.2818 for more information.

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