Tourism and Social Movements Don´t Mix

July 14, 2007 - Oaxaca City, Mexico

I came to Mexico expecting to find a country exploding with powerful
social movements, but instead I found a simmering pot. And here I am
thinking to myself that this place is nothing like the place I had in my
mind of Zapatista-land, bottle-rocket street-fighting in Oaxaca, and
millions of people taking to the zocalo in Mexico City. No, none of the
above. Or not now, at least. In fact, I just had a conversation with a
friend of a friend in Oaxaca city who describes this place as tranquil
now, and I can´t disagree. However, it´s clear that there´s more to this
place than what meets the eye, and it´s what´s beneath the surface which
might be slowly boiling over.

Just 2 days before I arrived in Mexico, on July 1, there were large
demonstrations in the center of Mexico City to mark the one-year
anniversary of the presidential elections – elections that many Mexicans
see as being soaked in electoral fraud. While the PAN party leader Filipe
Calderon emerged victorious as the new President, banners still hang
around the city center which read: Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador - the
legitimate President of Mexico. It is important to remember than millions
of Obrador´s supporters were camped out in the city center (Zocalo) for
months after last July´s elections with the demand of ´vote by vote´,
protesting for a full recount and an end to electoral fraud.

I came down to Mexico partly because of Calderon. Himself, George W.
Bush, and Stephen Harper – ´the 3 amigos´- will be meeting in Montebello,
Quebec this August to discuss the Security and Prosperity Partnership
(SPP, aka. NAFTA on steroids). And as social movements in Mexico are
showing their resistance to Calderon and everything he represents, groups
and movements in eastern Canada and Quebec will be doing their best to
bring that resistance to our front.

A friend of mine who works with the Centro de Medios Libres in Mexico City
began to describe the Mexico he sees under Calderon. Even in this very
cosmopolitan city, the effects are evident. He noted the increased
militarization of police forces all around the country, and how the police
in Mexico City carry out massive daily raids in poor areas of the city,
clearing buildings and often leaving many people homeless. The Mexico
through his eyes is one of intensely opposing forces. In a country where
there exists both the world´s second richest man (Carlos Slim) and intense
poverty, he is predicting that this pressure-cooker is going to over-boil
and explode in the next few years.

Here in Oaxaca, these opposing forces are even more evident. The pictures
I had seen of Oaxaca from the popular uprising last summer were of streets
lined with revolutionary graffiti. However, driving into this city, one
quickly begins to realize that most of this graffiti has been done away
with, swept under the rug like a lot of the resistance. And walking
around the streets in the evening, one notices an awkward contradiction
between the drunk American and European tourists dancing in the street (no
joke) and the few radical posters which cling to the old stone walls for
dear life.

While Oaxaca is one of the poorest states in Mexico, one thing that it
thrives on is a strong tourist industry. But it seems that tourism and
popular uprisings don´t mix, so one had to go, and hence Ulises Ruiz (the
state governor who rules with an iron fist) brought in the Federal Police
and all the armaments they could handle.

So now the zocalo of Oaxaca City, which last summer served as the central
convergence point for the general strike here, is now back to being a safe
tourist haven. However, the presence that the APPO (the Popular Assembly
of the Peoples of Oaxaca) is maintaining is very interesting. It could be
described as a presence of reappropriation.

During an interview with a teacher who is a member of the APPO, we asked
him his feelings on the tourism here. He explained that many people
welcomed tourists here, but that the APPO expects people to understand and
respect the local struggle. Indeed, one APPO poster found throughout the
town reads, ´Tourist, come to Oaxaca, and know about our resistance and
struggle tradition.´ The APPO has organized many info kiosks throughout
the center of the city, some with TV sets showing footage from last year´s
actions in order to inform outsiders of the city´s struggle – a story
which will never be told in a travel brochure or a Lonely Planet guide.

Other posters announce the Popular Guelaguetza, a large indigenous
festival which is set to commence today. The official Guelaguetza draws
many tourists to Oaxaca to gawk at the customs of indigenous people down
here. However, last year´s festival was cancelled due to the uprising.
In the tradition of expriopriation and self-management, the APPO are
calling for a boycott of the official Guelaguetza this year, and have
organized a whole counter-festival (the Popular Guelaguetza). Another
poster says it all: ´The traditions of my people are not sources of wealth
for businessmen.´

Back up north, on other indigenous land, campaner@s are organizing
vigourously against the landing of the 3 amigos. Down in Mexico, a
country whose people have already suffered so much of the brunt of free
trade, storms are bewing everywhere and seemingly pushing towards a lid
which will have to pop off. In Montebello this summer, I really hope we
can make that lid explode.

Aaron Lakoff