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Tentative Deal Is Reached in Oaxaca Teachers Strike

Federal authorities would take control of state police and several officials would resign.

October 11, 2006|Hector Tobar | Times Staff Writer

MEXICO CITY — Striking teachers and leftist activists have reached a tentative agreement with the federal government to end a five-month teachers strike in the state of Oaxaca and lift the blockades that have paralyzed the state capital and shut down much of the region's tourist industry.

The agreement, negotiated late Monday by federal Interior Minister Carlos Abascal, still must be submitted to rank-and-file teachers and activists for their approval. Under the terms of the agreement, federal authorities would take control of the state police force and several top state security officials would resign.

The protesters dropped their demand for the immediate resignation of state Gov. Ulises Ruiz. The striking teachers and the activists say Ruiz is a corrupt leader who has used armed thugs and police to intimidate his opponents.

A federal Senate committee was scheduled to meet Tuesday evening to debate a resolution to dissolve Ruiz's government and remove him from office.

"We will continue to seek the departure of Mr. Ruiz by institutional means," Enrique Rueda, a leader of the teachers union, told reporters in Mexico City after the negotiations with Abascal ended.

On Tuesday, leaders of the Popular Assembly of the People of Oaxaca, or the APPO, the umbrella group of anti-Ruiz activists, met with senators to discuss the governor's removal.

The protests have seen Oaxaca city, the state's quaint capital, transformed into the scene of ugly battles, with activists meting out street justice against perceived enemies and gunmen opening fire on activists. The dispute began in May with striking teachers demanding pay increases and evolved into a mass movement clamoring for Ruiz to step down.

When Ruiz ordered police to clear the city center of protesters in June, public opinion turned sharply against him. Farmers and leftist activists joined the teachers' protest. Many government buildings were shut down, including City Hall, where the APPO raised its homemade flag.

On Sept. 24, the U.S. Embassy issued the latest in a series of travel advisories to American tourists, warning of "increasingly violent demonstrations" in Oaxaca that had led to at least two fatalities. The demonstrators occupied Oaxaca city's central square and periodically closed off the airport.

Abascal, the federal interior minister, reached the agreement with the protesters after an eight-hour meeting. State authorities agreed to release several arrested activists and to withdraw arrest warrants issued against others.

"I made it clear [in the negotiations] that we're running out of time to solve the problems in Oaxaca," Abascal said late Monday. "We need to quickly restore order and peace, and save jobs and save the school year."

Under the proposed agreement, 18 arrested teachers and activists would be released and arrest warrants against 300 more activists would be rescinded.

Reyes Tamez, the federal minister of public education, said the state's 1.2 million students could return to classes as early as Monday.

Oaxaca teachers are among the lowest-paid in Mexico, earning $400 to $600 a month. State officials have agreed to grant them a pay increase significantly larger than the 7% nationwide increase given Mexico's public school teachers this year.

Negotiators for the teachers union and the APPO said the agreement might be presented to the organizations' rank and file as early as Saturday. If approved, the blockades could be lifted next week.

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