Friday, July 20, 2007

Unrest in Oaxaca

Well, just when I thought things were going along rather well this year in Oaxaca, there has been some more unrest. On the bright side, the annual teacher strikes, which I assume happened, didn't escalate into anything big. Starting in a few days, though, is the Guelaguetza. This is a major cultural event featuring traditional dancing, music, and handicrafts. Some groups of people in Oaxaca are upset that the main part of the festival has become a relatively expensive event that is more for tourists. Of course, there might be other motives (such as the removal of the governor), but this is what they are saying. If they really mean it, they do have a point, as the Guelaguetza is a tradition dating back to the 18th century. On the other hand, protests disrupt tourism, one of the main sources of income in Oaxaca. Besides that, the state needs all the extra money it can get from ticket sales, even if that means selling $40 tickets that most Oaxacans can't afford.

Anyway, this past Monday, protesters marched to the large amphitheater, where the main event of the Guelaguetza is held. The crowd included people wearing masks and carrying rocks and bottle rockets as weapons. In light of the violence before the Guelaguetza last year, federal police had been sent in to ensure peace this year. The protest march turned into a clash with these police, who used water cannons and tear gas to disperse the protesters. Since then, the federal police have made their presence felt much more. From what I've been able to find out, there are police installations of some sort, possibly checkpoints, at the four main entrances to the city. Besides this, there are just more police vehicles and officers in the city, especially around the Zocalo (the center square) and the amphitheater.

So far, this one police/protester confrontation is very tame compared with last year. Let's hope and pray that it doesn't get worse, and that the protesters don't try to seriously disrupt the Guelaguetza.

*The picture above is of one of the dances performed during the Guelaguetza, the Feather Dance. We did attend the Guelaguetza one year, but our seats were too high to get a good picture, so I'm using this one that I took in a small village near Oaxaca. For a video of the dancers in action, please go to this post.*

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