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Portrait of a March on Sunday

by Archives November 22, 2006

Flyers were being passed out Sunday afternoon at the corner of Guy and de Maisonneuve, advertising faux-vacation packages for the Oaxaca region in southern Mexico. The irony? On the backside of the flyer was printed information about Oaxaca’s volatile situation. The flyers were passing hands just minutes before a large group gathered with picket signs and descended on the downtown core’s sidewalks in support of the people of Oaxaca.

The sarcastic faux-package deals included reception and accommodation by the military police, and even allowed one to upgrade to the ‘adventure package’ which would have tourists visit one of hundreds of barricades in the area, complete with involuntary imprisonment, or a trip to the cemetery chaperoned by a Mexican death squad.

A mix of Montreal activist groups and concerned individuals met in the downtown Norman Bethune Park. Everyone chose a painted picket sign and sipped coffee and hot chocolate to warm up in the barely-above-freezing weather while they waited for the march to start, which would wind its way to its destination point in front of the American and Israeli consulates,

Pedro Gonzales, from an organization called The Other Campaign Montreal, said the people of Oaxaca “are in a struggle for justice, for education, for freedom, for land.”

“It is a struggle for basic rights that are not being fulfilled by the government,” he said. “The teachers were asking for simple things, like better education, a better health care system, for access to the land.”

Oaxaca is both a state and capital city in Mexico’s southern tip. In May 2006, a teacher’s strike asking for basic reform policies set in motion a disastrous chain of events in the already unstable region. By June, the teachers were evicted, and supporters of the strike and local social activist groups joined them, eventually growing to tens of thousands of people chanting for change and the resignation of Oaxaca’s governor.

The civil disobedience even led to a takeover of the area’s state-run television station. Paramilitary forces – not technically responsible to the government – fired on a crowd of protestors in October, killing two demonstrating locals and an American journalist videotaping the protests. The city has since been bulldozed, barricaded and is still being terrorized by the fear-campaign and violent control-tactics of the paramilitary forces, which is not recognized as the Republic’s official government-supported army.

Montreal’s Sunday March for Oaxaca became part of a growing global list of bodies and voices in the streets with a firm focus on pacifism. Marches have been organized in cities across Latin America, South America and in major cities in North America and Europe. However, in some instances these peaceful awareness-protests, like a recent one in Barcelona, have been met with police violence and arrests.

“There are two groups here that work in Montreal, the APPO and Section 22 of the Teacher’s Union, and then there are a lot of individuals like me that are appalled by current conditions. It is hard to bring out information as we are being misinformed by our governments. The news that is being let out in Mexico is not the truth, but many covered-up lies. One of our main purposes here today is to inform our communities of the reality of Oaxaca,” stated Pamela Flores, who identified herself as a concerned individual.

Luiza Ramos, of Brazilian descent, stood close-by and spoke in the microphones to the students and activists of many faiths and backgrounds surrounding her. Ramos gave the press gruesome details about the area’s rapidly increasing drug and prostitution problems. She listed contributing factors that have further deepened the distrust of Oaxaca’s people with its government, such as the North American Free Trade Agreement, privatization and land ownership disputes.

The crowd grew larger as Flores, armed with a megaphone, woke them up with a practice chant. They set off down Guy St., chanting loudly and waving signs, with sights set on Ste. Catherine St.

Two students walked over to the park and watched the crowd disappear around the corner. One student asked me, “So what was that all about?’ I quickly turned my intensive Oaxaca crash-course from those-in-the-know at Norman Bethune Park into a quick statement stringing together “Mexico,” “military” and “demonstration march.” He rubs his chin and says. “Right, right, there is a war down there, right?”

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