- OAXACA, Mexico (AP) -- Protesters
have taken over the center of folkloric Oaxaca,
- making tourists show identification at makeshift checkpoints,
smashing the windows of quaint hotels and spray-painting revolutionary
slogans. Police are nowhere in sight.
- It's not the tranquil cultural gem beloved by tourists
from the United States and Europe. A month of protests to try to oust the
governor have forced authorities to cancel many events, including the Guelaguetza
- Most tourists are staying away, costing the city millions
- The protests follow other eruptions of civil unrest and
class conflict that have plagued President Vicente Fox as his term winds
to a close.
- Supporters of leftist presidential candidate Andres Manuel
Lopez Obrador are holding nationwide demonstrations to demand a ballot-by-ballot
recount in the disputed July 2 presidential election. Federal and state
police clashed with striking miners in April and farm protesters in May,
leaving four people dead.
- But the clashes in Oaxaca have paralyzed one of Mexico's
top cultural tourist attractions, where visitors normally browse traditional
markets for Indian handicrafts, hike ancient pyramids and stroll along
cobblestone streets to sample mole dishes.
- The protests have reduced tourism by 75 percent, costing
the city more than $45 million, according to the Mexican Employers Federation,
a business lobby.
- "Most of the tourists have been scared off. It doesn't
look safe when you have to go through a barricade and everybody is standing
there with sticks and stones," said Chris Schroers, a German who manages
a restaurant in the central plaza. "The police are not here. They
don't dare to come into town."
- While there have been no reports of protesters attacking
tourists, many visitors, including Lorena Valles, a 43-year-old from El
Paso, Texas, have felt intimidated.
- Valles and a group of friends went to the city's main
theater to see a play last weekend, only to find the event canceled and
hundreds of protesters wrecking the auditorium.
- "There were people with masks and sticks and slingshots
breaking the auditorium windows and setting the building on fire. That
was kind of scary," Valles said. "The people here are normally
- The protest leaders, a mix of trade unionists and leftists,
say their fight is not with the tourists but with Gov. Ulises Ruiz, whom
they accuse of rigging the state election in 2004 and using force to repress
dissent. Ruiz belongs to the Institutional Revolutionary Party, which has
governed the state since 1929.
- The movement exploded in late June when police fired
tear gas and attacked a demonstration of striking teachers demanding wage
increases of about 20 percent.
- "We respect and welcome tourists, but it is important
they understand that there is a climate of instability and the government
is not meeting the demands of the people," said union leader Enrique
- However, posters around the city declare the movement
is also against the Guelaguetza dance festival because "only the rich
and foreigners" can afford the $42 entrance fee.
- "We have seen the festival of our people become
a circus that is just for whites and gringos and Europeans," said
Rosendo Ramirez, 51, a spokesman for the Oaxaca People's Assembly, formed
to coordinate the protests.
- Ramirez says the checkpoints were set up to weed out
agitators. But he concedes the group has no control over many protesters,
including some anarchists and communists who have come to Oaxaca to join
- Thousands have camped out in the city center, sleeping
under tarpaulins. Speakers declare the revolution has arrived, while dozens
hold political debates.
- Business leaders have called on the state to intervene,
but state Interior Secretary Heliodoro Diaz says authorities have to tread
carefully to avoid antagonizing the protesters.
- Hotel and restaurant owners are lobbying the Fox administration
to help resolve the crisis. They also want the government to declare Oaxaca
a disaster area and release federal funds normally reserved for areas hit
by earthquakes and hurricanes.
- Fox's spokesman, Ruben Aguilar, has played down the problem,
saying "it is annoying, but no more."
- Some analysts say Fox is hesitant to get involved because
he himself is under fire from supporters of Lopez Obrador who claim the
presidential election was tainted by fraud. Lopez Obrador lost to conservative
Felipe Calderon of Fox's National Action Party by less than 0.6 percent,
according to official vote tallies.
- Some fear the tensions might explode if federal troops
are sent in.
- "There is rising social conflict in Mexico and the
government appears impotent and unable to confront it," historian
Lorenzo Meyer said. "If the government doesn't learn how to control
these conflicts, they will only get worse as time goes on."