Transition to a New Government in Oaxaca? Not so Fast!

Winning an election against a party in power for more than eighty years in Oaxaca constituted a triumph for voters and organizers, as well as for the individuals who won offices. But for Gabino Cue Monteagudo, the incoming governor, and Luis Ugartechea, the new mayor of Oaxaca’s capital city, the victory represents the entrance to a tunnel mined and undermined with a residue of corrupted services, useless offices, unqualified placeholders, and government loans which vanished into private pockets.

Added to that, the defeated governor of the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), Ulises Ruiz Ortiz (URO) refuses to depart quietly and civilly. Items: First he declines to interact with the incoming administration, claiming he is not legally obliged to do anything in advance of his term’s end, on December 1, 2010. That reluctance leaves Cue with no access to the state’s financial condition nor to the labyrinth of bureaucratic offices and incomplete works. Secondly, URO is already undermining the incoming state and city administrations in order to aid the PRI’s return to power in the next elections. Third, URO is exercising his most vindictive nature, destroying those who failed to produce adequate votes for the PRI on July 4.

The Oaxaca that Cue inherits consists of failures of every sort, including poverty, malnutrition, infant deaths, inadequate infrastructure, environmental damage, and dismal education levels. Cue learned from his tour with presidential candidate Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador a certain sympathy for the poor; but this does not imply that Cue will also renounce his inclination to support capital projects and neoliberal investments. The hope that citizen participation will prevent damage to indigenous and campesino populations remains for the future.

In Oaxaca today there are a number of the biggest and most environmentally dangerous mining projects in México. One important example is the Cuzcatlán mine “La Trinidad”, property of Fortuna Silver, Inc. and other companies, located in the Valley of Ocotlán in San Jose del Progreso. It has provoked opposition mobilization and the eventual murder of two PRI officials, in a way which may never be satisfactorily explained. The lead environmentalist, local priest Martín Octavio García Ortiz, was transferred to an unknown parish after being beaten and arrested. Mining developments abound, and Cue has not expressed opposition; however, environmental reports giving clearance to mines are said to be purchased, and government officials paid off.

Giant Spanish energy producers such as Iberdrola and Endesa invested in Oaxaca for the so-called Wind Corridor on the Isthmus of Tehuantepec. Bribery and fraud provoked opposition and denunciations on the part of communities and large social organizations, but there now a virtual fait accompli exists: the air generators function, WalMart is standing ready to use the power, and Cue will inherit unresolved complaints. The proposed highway to the coast presents an equal challenge, since it was projected to cross farm land.

The federal government backed URO with repressive force in 2006, but now Cue is the ally of the presidential party, National Action. What will happen with conflicts including Central American migration and narcotraffic, or the impunity surrounding assassinations of social activists and indigenous leaders, or other crimes related to state repression of that social movement? Cue has said “We are promoters of peace and for that we are always going to call for reconciliation”; he is not seeking vengeance, but he has not said he would stand in the way if others, such as the incoming legislator Flavio Sosa, file in the next Oaxaca legislature where the PRI will be outnumbered by the winning Coalition United for Peace and Progress.

Also, unresolved land conflicts, as well as control of the Triqui territory, loom like giant obstacles to Cue’s success.

1. Cue paid for a full-page newspaper ad entitled, “Request by the governor-elect to the governor Ulises Ruiz that he normalize the process of transition of office” (Noticias, July 26). This reflects Cue’s frustration, but also his insistence that the public know what’s going on.

2. Opinion pieces by more than one commentator point out that URO, vicious to begin with, will have four months to destroy whatever he can in advance of the new governor, creating bad will and financial disasters. As columnist Leslie Jimenez wrote, URO seems disposed to set the state on fire, and place every kind of booby-trap he can to ruin the incoming coalition. Abandonment of construction on the Azucenos Stadium on Fortin, the traditional site of the biggest tourist draw, the Guelaguetza, for example represents millions of taxpayer dollars (64 million just to buy the proposed canvas for the roof). That money is gone. On July 13, the day of the transplanted celebration, police rushed into the city zócalo and with tourists and citizens aghast, dislodged vendors who had been in the city square since July 5. The riot squads launched teargas, and beat several people to the ground with truncheons.

Then there are savings banks fraud, taxi licenses sold at random to whoever wanted to pay for them, corrupt public bus service, shoddy roads disintegrating all over the state, lack of public electric and water services, and ramshackle education infrastructure. These repairs will be made more difficult by URO’s re-negotiation of bank loans, which instead of being discharged this year, will be extended for six years. As an example, the 65 million pesos debt incurred in 2009 and increased in January of 2010 for the city of Oaxaca, has been restructured by a vote of fifteen councilors, from a duration of twenty-four months. Now it will be repaid over the next 60 months, with more than a half a million additional pesos for debt interest. The loan was taken to pay for improvements to roads, a common farce. Meanwhile theft and destruction of state records goes on, with vehicles carting away not only the files but the file cabinets, office furniture, computers and whatever else that can be lifted.

3. An article appeared in Noticias regarding the town councilor and two others from Santa Lucia, (the union attorney and the public security councilor), all scheduled to go to prison. According to the article, they were convicted of “abuse of power”, on charges brought in 2009 by a woman lawyer employed in the Judicial office of Santa Lucia. Yaira Cruz Sandoval, eight months pregnant, solicited her social security money. The three men made fun of her, and finally fired her with no payment although the SS covers every town employee. She did not accept defeat, and hired lawyers. Time passed, as it does in this state, where complaints rarely if ever are addressed. Suddenly the three PRI men stand convicted of abuse of power. Why? They are going to jail because Santa Lucia did not pull enough PRI votes. URO has punished them for not buying a win, and is also punishing people in Xoxocotlan for the same reason. URO controls the judges. It’s nice that the soon-to-be jailbirds actually are guilty.

Furthermore, regarding narco-crime, an informant told me that URO is the sole person who controls, or at least deals with, the Zeta cartel as they bring in cocaine and heroin and buy local “goma” made from Mixteca poppies. The drugs move north toward the border. Trafficking takes victims in Oaxaca, but it’s rarely reported as narcowars, it looks more like betrayals. (Who murdered the police commander in Tequio Park a couple of years ago? And another police person on Republica Avenue? and one in Llano? Those were clearly professional assassinations). How is Cue and the coalition going to cope with this?

Nevertheless committees and teams were formed by Gabino Cue to evaluate Oaxaca’s towns and infrastructure. He has insisted on citizen participation, activating committees which reflect a spectrum of academics, business people, experts and social organization activists.

In a pre-election publication of 169 pages Cue put in print his plans and his positions, leading to “a program of government that will present a path for the transition.” He refers to a collective consensus such as that achieved in 2006 with the forum “Constructing democracy and governability in Oaxaca”, plus other forums presented in 2009 and 2010. He pledges: government based on worthiness, open to criticism, respectful of human rights and constitutional guarantees, comprised of functionaries with capacity to carry out their jobs. The new governor pledges to respect the division of powers and return his office to the Government Palace; to strengthen municipal autonomy and render transparent accounts. He will call on the new legislature to offer a law of citizen participation and control, consultation prior to public works, dialogue with social organizations, freedom of expression, political pluralism, and citizen input for public radio and television.

In fact, there is no point untouched, ranging from professionalizing the bureaucracy to controlling corruption, including proposals for the African descendents and the indigenous peoples. Between now and December 1, we wait to see how Gabino Cue and his teams of citizens sidestep the destruction sowed by URO, who won’t go quietly.