Reporter From Besieged Mexican Newspaper Describes Union Attack By EDUARDO STANLEY Pacific News Service
One of Oaxaca, Mexico’s two major newspapers suffered a violent attack by a group of union enforcers in what some say is a part of the state government’s attempt to shut the paper down.
Just after 8 p.m. on July 18, about 100 members of a union known as the Revolutionary Confederation of Workers and Laborers (CROC) stormed the Noticias newspaper’s building and dragged out 31 employees who had been in the building since June 17, when the same group barricaded them in.
The conflict first erupted in June when David Aguilar—president of the CROC union and a member of the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI)—claimed he was representing the newspaper’s workers and initiated a strike. His group surrounded the building June 17 and trapped 31 of the paper’s employees.
Noticias staff said none of the newspaper’s 102 unionized employees were involved in the union raid. They have denied any affiliation with the group and say they do not support what CROC has done.
But Aguilar told the New York Times that 56 Noticias employees had joined his union’s strike, although he would not identify any of them. “They are afraid,” he said. “They have been threatened.”
CROC was created in 1952 by the PRI, which, after 71 years of reign, was ousted by President Fox’s party in 2000. In Oaxaca, where the state government is still dominated by the PRI, the party retains its presence and some unions are still used by politicians. Historically, the CROC has only supported candidates who belong to the PRI, and CROC has been used by the PRI as a forceful intimidator in the past. The union has about half a million members at the national level, though membership numbers vary.
“What happened on Monday was savagery,” Raciel Martinez, a veteran reporter who has been with Noticias for 13 years, said by phone. “They went in violently, and not only did they hurt our colleagues, they stole their things and destroyed part of the paper’s operating system. But despite it all, we have continued and will continue to publish the newspaper. A lot of people have supported us.”
Martinez was not trapped inside when the paper was first taken over in June and has been working with other employees to ensure Noticias’ ongoing publication.
According to Martinez, who is from Oaxaca, the mob arrived Monday with police cars and local police who were dressed in civilian clothes. Soon after the attack, state police arrived to “see what was happening.”
Oaxaca’s state government—which is composed mostly of PRI party members—has never hidden its disdain for Noticias, one of the only large, independent media organizations in the state and a longtime government watchdog. The PRI’s old guard—known as the “dinosaurs” in Mexico—is notorious for its intolerance of any opposition and using any means necessary to eliminate it.
“Now the state government says that we’re committing a state offense because the paper is on strike. But none of the Noticias employees belong to the group of supposed strikers,” said Martinez. “The incongruent part of all this is that the Council of Reconciliation and Arbitration, which is supposed to reconcile disputing parties, has declared that the strike is legal.”
Employees of the newspaper haven’t been the only victims in the ordeal. Newspaper vendors have also been attacked. Last week the vendors union in Oaxaca denounced members who continue to sell the newspaper. “We have an actual recording from the governor [Ulises Ruiz], who declared during his electoral campaign that Noticias would not survive six months while he was in office,” Martinez said. But despite the pressure, many advertisers continue to buy ads in the paper, and this has allowed Noticias to keep publishing, Martinez said.
The newspaper is 29 years old and prints 15,000 copies daily. Numerous international organizations—including Amnesty International, the Inter-American Press Association, and Journalists Without Borders—have expressed concern and outrage over the situation in Oaxaca.
“This attack is a desperate attempt by the government, which is irate because we continue to publish and because it is now being scorned by the national and international community,” Martinez said. “Gov. Ulises Ruiz has five years and four months left to complete the threat he made to finish us off. But we have an entire lifetime to continue to do what we believe is right.”
Eduardo Stanley hosts the bilingual “Nuestro Foro” weekly radio program on KFCF in Fresno.›