A SPORTS WRITER AT THE BARRICADES

Interview by David Bacon with Jaime Medina, sportswriter for the
Oaxacan newspaper Noticias, (The News) and representative of
the Popular Assembly of the People of Oaxaca (APPO)

Matamoros, Tamaulipas, 12/10/06

While turmoil in the southern Mexican state of Oaxaca has been in
the headlines for weeks, little media coverage has noted that at
its center is a crusading newspaper, Noticias (The News.) The daily's
sportswriter is now a leading spokesperson for the teachers, doctors,
nurses, newspaper workers and others who have joined together to call
for greater democracy, and a new direction for the state's economy.
David Bacon interviewed Jaime Medina in northern Mexico, where the
writer was seeking support from the Coalition for Justice in the
Maquiladoras.

I work for the Oaxacan daily newspaper Noticias as a
sports writer. I've been there twenty-three years, covering sports
all that time. After only three years I received state recognition
for being the best sports reporter in Oaxaca.

I played pro soccer for two years after I finished school, but I
actually had to work fulltime in a film-processing lab to support
myself. I injured my knee, and when I couldn't play anymore I
decided to write about it. I love it. At Noticias,
you have to be a reporter and a photographer at the same time. I was
the first photographer in Oaxaca to use a high power telephoto to get
good action shots, and got another award for that work. Now everyone
does it.

Our newspaper has been fighting government persecution because it's
the only independent newspaper in the state. It started with former
Governor Jose Nelson Murat. We published articles regarding
corruption in his administration, so he tried buying our paper. Murat
is now one of the wealthiest men in Mexico. He was refused, and
that's when government persecution began. First they suspended
government advertisements, but we continued to function with private
ads. Then Murat ordered an invasion of the newspaper's warehouses.

The newspaper wasn't against the government; it was simply writing
about an administration that was clearly taking advantage of its
position. We just give the facts. That's why we are the best selling
newspaper in the state and also why we've been on the government's bad
side.

We belong to a union protection union [a pejorative term for a
sellout union], the Revolutionary Confederation of Workers and
Farmers. Protection unions are common in México. They protect the
employers and the government, and when an employee complains, he is
fired without the union ever getting involved. The local CROC leader
is so close to state leaders of the Party of the Institutionalized
Revolution [Mexico's former ruling party, which still governs Oaxaca]
that he was given a position as deputy in the state legislature.

In nine years we never even had a union meeting. Many workers didn't
even know who the leaders were.

The PRI is used to operating in a closed-door fashion, with little
interference from outside. After Ruiz became governor the union
contract at Noticias came up for renegotiation, and the union
announced it had made a decision to strike. No one asked for our
opinion. There was no vote. Even though we were unhappy with our
pay, we saw the game they were playing, and we didn't want any part of
it.

When the CROC struck without our support, the leaders came in with
300 military personnel dressed as civilians. I left because I was
afraid. Thirty-one of my coworkers stayed behind. They were getting
ready to print the paper, and some reporters were still finishing up
last minute stories. They were basically kidnapped. Through the
windows we could see them being assaulted. They were trapped for
thirty-one days, and finally beaten once again on their way out.

The military blocked the exit and we were no longer able to print.
That didn't stop us. We rented space for six months from another
paper in Veracruz. We worked out of internet cafes and sent our
articles in by email for two months. It was very expensive to
produce, but the paper was printed daily. The newspaper would arrive
in Oaxaca between one and three in the afternoon, and people would
form lines to buy it. The people of Oaxaca helped us survive.

During this time, the state's teachers were demanding a pay
increase. Oaxaca is a tourist state, so the cost of living here is
very high. In rural parts of Oaxaca, a school sometimes consists of
four poles and palm leaves for a roof. Students sit on rocks, logs or
anything else they can find. A typical teacher earns about 2200
pesos every two weeks (about $220). From that they have to purchase
chalk, pencils and other school supplies for the children.

Ruiz said the state didn't have anymore to give. So in May 2005, the
teachers decided to strike and took up residence in the plaza at the
center of the city. The government's denial infuriated them. They
almost didn't complete the 2005-2006 school year. But teachers have
such a love for their students, they stopped the strike, returned to
class and finished out the term.

Then government tried to force them to do the same this spring. The
teachers refused, and again struck and occupied the plaza. .

On June 14th the government sent in the military to force them out.
Two helicopters dropped tear gas and Molotov cocktails on them. All
the unions and organizations throughout the state united in one
organization, the Popular Assembly of the People of Oaxaca (APPO).
They came to the rescue of the teachers, and all agreed they wanted
Ruiz to resign. The protestors put up barricades for fear that they
would be attacked, as they had been in the past.

Noticias reported the truth, unlike other papers.
Radio stations wouldn't allow the teachers time to state the reasons
for their actions, because they were under the control of the
government. So the teachers first took over Channel 9, and then
others.

Meanwhile, they were being assaulted and shot at by police in plain
clothes. Finally a U.S. reporter was killed when demonstrators were
fired on. After that, federal police were called in.

Three thousand five hundred officers arrived to take over the plaza,
with tear gas, water, and pepper spray. When the Federal Preventative
Police reached the center of town, the confrontation turned violent.
The protesters held off tanks with rocks and sticks against the guns.
A nurse was killed. At Channel 9 another sixteen-year-old protester
was killed. Since the attack on June 14th, sixteen people have been
killed, the majority teachers. Not one government official.

Three journalists are fighting legal charges, and I've been warned
overstepping boundaries. In October two pistoleros fired guns into
our office on Independence Street and fired guns. Four workers were
injured, and one still has a bullet lodged close to her heart.

The challenge now is to stay true to our stories and maintain the
newspaper in the top spot. We have to fighting for our constitutional
rights and pressure the pro-government union to give us back our old
offices. And we are in the process of trying to form our own
independent union.

Since the days of the Revolution, Oaxaca has been in the forefront of
change and a picture of things to come. People here are not looking
to win or lose, but to improve their lives. Something has to give.
It sometimes seems like Oaxaca and southern Mexico aren't even part of
Mexico, the way they're ignored by the federal government until some
big crisis erupts.

This could definitely affect the U.S. because we are such close
neighbors. If the United States spent more money on the poorest
neighboring regions instead of for wars, we wouldn't need a fence to
divide us. What is dividing us is the economy. It's incredible that
many of our people get an education here only to spend their days
working as farmhands in the U.S.

I'm not really an activist. I'm involved in this struggle because
we're defending our paper and our rights. But I hope to eventually go
back to just writing and photography. I never stopped writing my
sports section, although I became more involved in politics. I think
I'm going to die writing sports. Nevertheless, this has been a very
memorable experience, and I wouldn't change it for the world.

See also the photodocumentary on indigenous Oaxacan migration to the
US, Communities Without Borders (Cornell University/ILR Press, 2006)

http://www.cornellpress.cornell.edu/cup_detail.taf?ti_id=4575

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The media's job is to interest the public in the public interest. -John Dewey