Local expats unhappy over Oaxaca story

This is an exact copy of the story published in the News today that originated from yesterday’s blog post, which you can read here. This version includes comments from the author of the Washington Post article in question. The News does not yet have a website. You can see reader comments on the initial post, linked above.

Local expats unhappy over Oaxaca story

An article published in this weekend’s Washington Post, called “Oaxaca: One Year Later” has prompted angry criticism from residents of the southern state. A year ago last Sunday, Oaxaca was the scene of huge civil unrest, violence and what has been described by some witnesses as ‘some of the worst human rights abuses in recent Mexican history; detaining, torturing, and raping men, women, and children who had taken to the streets demanding social and economic justice,’ by witnesses.

The Washington Post article includes interviews with a number of restaurateurs and other locals in Oaxaca City, whilst attempting to trace the political events of 2006 which culminated in the deaths of reportedly as many as 23 people.

But people living in the city now have attacked the article for its lack of insight into the problems which ravaged Oaxaca 12 months ago, during which several were killed including IndyMedia journalist Brad Will was killed, a local teacher and an unconfirmed number of other locals.

Critics said that the report was badly researched, and objected to the use of the word ‘riot’ in the article: “These “rioters”…..maintained non-violent protest encampments for months, despite regular paramilitary attacks that took the lives of over 23 people,” says Jill Freidberg of Corrugated Films, a media production company which recently produced the documentary ‘A Little Bit of So Much Truth.” The documentary focused on the way in which residents of Oaxaca used the media to their own advantage to expose the crimes allegedly committed in their city.

Although he commended the article for capturing the colour and atmosphere in Oaxaca, local writer Matt Plavnick says: “[The] use of the word “riots” throughout the article frames this struggle in such a way as to nullify efforts by the people of Oaxaca, who peacefully protested for 7 months, from May 22 to November 25, against an oppressive government with a history of human rights violations.”

The Washington Post article –a combination of travel writing and social commentary – quoted both expats and local business people. The quotes used were weighted more towards the opinions of expats living in the city than locals – but criticisms of it have also come from the expat community in Oaxaca City.

“One year later there is still not enough accurate, reliable information circulating about what has happened, and what may yet happen, in Oaxaca. [This] piece further serves to frustrate efforts to advance such information about the struggle in Oaxaca to the rest of the world. Oaxaca needs help reaching a point of comprehension and accountability regarding these events, and this will not be achieved through half-representations of recent history,” says Plavnik.

Freidberg adds: “As long as American travel writers continue to wring their hands over Oaxaca, implying that a non-violent social movement is to blame for the city’s lost charm, beauty and “authenticity,” while neglecting to educate readers about the true situation in this poorest of Mexican states, the discontent will continue to stir just below the surface, as it has done for 500 years.”

Ron Mader, however, editor of the ecotourism site Planeta.com, disagreed, saying: “The WP article took some time to review the city in terms of tourism and cited a number of local sources.”

In response to the criticisms, the reporter responsible for the story, Ceci Connolly, said: “I can certainly appreciate the strong emotions about Oaxaca and what happened there one year ago. The story I wrote … was intended to give past and potential visitors a sense of the city today. It was not an effort to re-litigate what happened in 2006 or, frankly, to delve into the deep political and socioeconomic problems there.”

Regarding objections to her use of the word ‘riots’ Connolly said she was “sensitive to people who did not like the use of the word riots,” but that the word “accurately describes the situation at times during the conflict. The story also detailed the role by heavily-armed police.”

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One Response

  1. Ms. Connolly responds to the criticisms of her article by saying that
    the word ‘riot’ “accurately describes the situation at times during the conflict.”

    Unlike Ms. Connolly, I was actually IN OAXACA throughout the six months of conflict, and I can count on two hands the days during which the people’s protests could be defined as riots (where street protests actually clashed with police).
    Those days are:

    June 14th, when police attacked the teachers strike encampment and teachers defended themselves.

    July 20th (?),when alleged APPO members vandalized the Guelaguetza auditorium.

    August 21st, when the people responded to a paramilitary attack on the Channel 9 antennas by taking over 12 commercial radio stations.

    October 27th, when plain-clothed police opened fire on numerous protest barricades.

    October 29th, when federal police occupied the city of Oaxaca.

    November 2nd, when federal police attempted to take the University radio station.

    November 20th, when protesters and police clashed in the historic center.

    November 25th, when the APPO’s human chain around the federal police encampment ended in confrontation, and over 100 people were arrested, tortured, and moved to a prison across the country.

    That is 8 days, that I can count. There may be other instances that I am forgetting. I do not include here the large-scale acts of non-violent civil disobedience carried out over the course of six months (marches, blockades, rallies, forums, encuentros, concerts, plantones). Those actions do not, by any stretch of the imagination, qualify as “riots.”

    The conflict lasted six months. That’s about 180 days. 180 days of sustained, non-violent resistance. 7 days, out of 180, might have looked like riots? I have to vehemently disagree with Ms Connolly’s claim that “riot” accurately describes the situation. If that’s the journalistic standard for describing a conflict, then our presence in Iraq is “peacekeeping” not an “occupation.”

    Ms Connolly could easily have chosen any number of other words or phrases to more accurately describe the situation in Oaxaca. Such as: political conflict, popular uprising, street mobilizations. But “riot” is a popular term in the commercial media. It’s applied to any and all acts of civil disobedience, popular mobilization, etc. The WTO protests in Seattle were “riots.” The 2007 May Day march in Los Angeles (during which children, performers, and journalists were attacked by riot police shooting tear gas and rubber bullets) was a “riot.” And apparently, Oaxaca was a “riot.” Often, this term is intentionally used to criminalize social movements. In Ms Connolly’s case, I suspect the word has become so commonplace within commercial media reporting that her intent in using the word was not to purposefully criminalize the Oaxacan people’s struggle, but that’s how it comes across.

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