Oaxaca Protest Organizer Arrested in Mexico City
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In Mexico City, police have arrested a left wing activist who was the leader of an uprising in the Mexican state of Oaxaca. Flavio Sosa is a leader of the Popular Assembly of the Oaxacan People, or APO. His arrest marks the first attempt by new President Felipe Calderon to bring the situation in Oaxaca under control. Human rights groups are outraged, saying it's a heavy handed tactic to crush dissent.
From Mexico City, NPR's Lourdes Garcia-Navarro reports.
LOURDES GARCIA-NAVARRO: At the press conference yesterday afternoon in Mexico City, the portly and bearded Flavio Sosa said he knew he had several arrest warrants against him.
Mr. FLAVIO SOSA (Popular Assembly of the Oaxacan People): (Speaking foreign language)
GARCIA-NAVARRO: But he said he had left Oaxaca for the capital to negotiate with the new government of Felipe Calderon.
Mr. SOSA: (Through translator) We have come here to confirm our will to dialogue, to find at the negotiating table a solution to the problem of Oaxaca.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Instead, after leaving that press conference, he was arrested with several other leaders of the movement. Sosa is now in a maximum security prison facing accusations of kidnapping, violent robbery and arson brought by the very Oaxacan government that he and his movement have been trying to oust for months.
The Oaxacan conflict began this summer as a peaceful strike by teachers seeking a pay rise. After the governor, Ulises Ruiz, sent in troops to eject the protestors by force, the movement became radicalized and evolved into a broad group of leftists seeking Ruiz's ouster. They had control of the city until federal troops sent in by the former president, Vicente Fox, took control in October.
At yesterday's press conference, the APO announced that 220 people have been detained in Oaxaca so far. There have also been reports of disappearances. Flavio Sosa said the federal police were arresting people arbitrarily.
Mr. SOSA: (Through translator) They are arresting young people with long hair and casual clothing that they don't like the look of. They detain them and say they are with the APO.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Yesica Sanchez is with the Oaxacan chapter of the Mexican League for the Defense of Human Rights.
Ms. YESICA SANCHEZ (Mexican League for the Defense of Human Rights): (Through translator) We are seeing the criminalization of social protest with political persecution. We're very worried about the signal sent by yesterday's arrest. It's not the one we had hoped for, and it's a very worrying sign from the presidency of Felipe Calderon.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: NPR called the state prosecutor's office in Oaxaca. They declined to comment to us. In the past, the state prosecutor there has called the APO a terrorist group. Since the protest began, there have been incidents of vigilante justice, damage to property, but no reports of deaths at the hands of APO.
So far, though, no one has been brought to justice by the Oaxacan government for any of the murders of activists committed there by paramilitary groups allegedly allied to the governor. Among those killed by them was an American journalist, Brad Will.
Lourdes Garcia-Navarro, NPR News, Mexico City.
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