Rights Histories in Oaxaca

rightshistoriesinoaxacaOaxaca has historically been one of the poorest states in Mexico and continues to rank first or second to Chiapas in extreme poverty, depending on the year and data source. Home to more than sixteen different indigenous ethnic groups, each with a distinctive identity, language, and self-identified traditions, Oaxaca often seems to belong to a different country than the central and northern parts of Mexico because of its strong indigenous cultures and greater level of poverty. Some estimates calculate the number of people living in extreme poverty (defined as living on less than $1.25 per day) as high as 78 percent. About 33 percent of its 3.5 million inhabitants are indigenous according to the 2005 population counts of National Institute for Statistics, Geography, and Information Technology (INEGI). The capital city of Oaxaca had an estimated population of 256,270 in 2008. Oaxaca City grew rapidly in the 1980s and 1990s due to immigration from the countryside to the city. Mixtec and Zapotec-speaking populations make up significant portions of the city today. The maps in this section offer a close-up look at regions focused on in this website and the accompanying book. Illustrations and links for videoclips from book chapters 2 and 3 are here as well.

While it is true that in 2000 Mexico ousted the Revolutionary Institutional Party (PRI) from presidential power after an uninterrupted 70-year rule, the state of Oaxaca has remained rooted in an authoritarian political model in which the PRI—and other parties—use selective and at times widespread repression, manipulation of the justice system, and political corruption to perpetuate control. The Mexican constitution provides for freedom of speech, the protection of women´s rights and racial equality with specific mention of indigenous peoples, yet these ideological principles expressed in the letter of the law are juxtaposed with a contradictory reality. The powerful elite of Oaxaca has maintained control of political and economic processes through a regional culture that speaks the discourse of equality while denying the very people whose rights the constitution is meant to defend—women, indigenous, poor and other marginalized peoples—access to the resources, public spaces and legitimacy that would be necessary to exercise such rights.

Yet these same marginalized groups have continued to gain awareness of their rights due to exposure to the discourse of organizations like the Mexican National Human Rights Commission, the Oaxaca Human Rights Commission, and most importantly from their strong social movements and the work of the NGO sector.

The Oaxaca social movement of 2006 was born out of a complex history of prior movements and rights discourses in Oaxaca from the 1970s to the present. This chapter includes six background video-testimonials of leaders familiar with the histories of the different rights movements that preceded and became unified in the 2006 movement.

The rights movements and organizing efforts discussed include indigenous rights, women’s rights and women’s movements, human rights, popular media organizing, and teacher’s union Local 22 (Sección 22) of the National Union for Education Workers (Sindicato Nacional de Trabajadores de la Educación, SNTE). Local 22 joined other union locals in forming a dissident federation within the SNTE, known as the Coordinadora Nacional de Trabajadores de la Educación (National Coordinator of Education Workers or CNTE). The mission of the CNTE is to democratize the SNTE, to democratize educational practices at the national level, and ultimately the entire country.

This section also includes a photo archive of artistic expressions of the movement found in public places—stencils, murals, graffiti and other forms—as well as an archive of Local 22 posters from different time periods.