While the political upheaval in Oaxaca, Mexico seems to have calmed for the moment, UCSB students and community activists have continued this past week with passionate appeals, asking for help on a foreign issue they claim needs a local discussion.
Along with attending protests and conferences on the matter, the activists – including at least 10 UCSB students – have lobbied fellow students, faculty and staff to become more involved and to pressure elected representatives to take a stand on the issue.
The cause of the recent political strife in Oaxaca began in May 2006, when a teachers’ strike spread into a protest with participants ranging from students and farmers to Indian groups and left-leaning activists. Many of the protesters claim that Oaxacan governor Ulises Ru’z Ort’z repressed his contenders for power and rigged his election, and they have therefore demanded his resignation.
Former Mexican President Vicente Fox sent federal troops into the troubled area in October. Including Monday’s arrest of Flavio Sosa, a leader of the movement, police have arrested an estimated 150 protesters since May. Participants allege that police have brutalized dissenters, and are responsible for about 15 deaths and multiple disappearances.
Police recently regained control of Oaxaca, which shares the same name as the state it is the capital of, and bulldozed multiple barricades set up by protesters. The city has since calmed considerably, allowing business to return to somewhat normalcy.
Last Friday, at the Mexican consulate in Oxnard, a group of about 10 UCSB students attended a rally organized by the International Solidarity Committee in response to the alleged murders and disappearances.
According to American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Union Representative Claude Piller, students from Santa Barbara City College, San Marcos High School and Santa Barbara High School also participated.
“The idea was to bring media attention to what was going on in Oaxaca,” Piller said.
Third-year global studies major Carleigh O’Donnell, who participated in the rally, said this was the first of many actions that she and a group of other concerned students hope to take.
“We want to set formation for activism and communication with the Oaxacan,” O’Donnell said.
O’Donnell said she and 20 other UCSB and SBCC students attended a Youth Conference in Mexicali in mid-November. At the conference, O’Donnell said attendees, which included 80 students from both the United States and Mexico, drafted a preliminary strategy to draw attention to the problems in Oaxaca.
Piller said he hopes the actions of concerned Americans and Mexicans speak to Mexican President Felipe Calder–n, who was inaugurated last Friday after months of disputed election results.
“We want to send a message to the Mexican government about the legitimacy of the new Mexican president,” Piller said.
Fourth-year global studies major Shawn Tallant said he is taking another approach toward activism in Oaxaca. As a member of the Student Labor Action Project, Tallant said he has been working with Santa Barbara community members, including several Oaxacans, to focus on the alleged abuses taking place in the state.
“We need to get all the groups on the same page, then we can work with the students on the issue,” Tallant said.
Last month, the UCSB Associated Students Legislative Council passed a resolution in support of human rights in Oaxaca.
“This affects a lot of students, since many have Latino backgrounds,” said Jeronimo Saldana, an off-campus rep. and author of the resolution. “We’re here to help in both philosophy and spirit.”
O’Donnell said her group will take its next steps based on how the new Mexican government deals with the situation.
“We are an issue-based group, and we all bring in what we can bring to help speak out against the conflict,” O’Donnell said.