Jan 19, 2008

Lessons from APPO or Strategic Fortification of Urban Areas of Primacy

In the last days of August in the summer of 2006, I found myself in the Oaxaca City. The zocalo (center square) had been occupied by teachers, APPO members and other demonstrators and (almost) all police have been driven to the periphery of the city. Nearing the end of my trip, my funds were dwindling. Fortunately I found some local youths who were converting a 50's-era abandoned police station into a squat. I never saw a single uniformed police the entire time I was there and for that reason I felt safer than in cities with cops with M-16s and MP5s on every corner. The demonstrators erected walls/barricades across the streets surrounding the Zocalo, effectively making a 3x4 block enclosed space. Below is an example of one section of the "core's" fortification.

Additionally, scattered road blocks in the form of debris and "occupied" city buses and other vehicles were assembled around the city. Within the fortified area there were hundreds of people camping out, including myself and scattered caches of rocks, bottles, sticks/bats, and Molotov cocktails. At night piles of trash and tires were burned the intersections directly outside the walls of the compound. Posses of young people lead by adults patrolled the perimeter, in particular entry points to the compound. They used bottle rockets to signal other groups. The police and other forces of repression eventually retook the zocalo but the demonstrators managed to quickly relocate to the near-by university campus. After I returned I fooled around with Google Earth and Photoshop and tried to make a map of the fortifications, as best as I could remember.

Above is a photo from a little over 3 kilometers. The L-shaped area in the middle was the main fortified area. The building is a large stone church while there are plazas to the west and south. South of the zocalo there is a large indoor market complex which can be clearly seen with the much lighter roof. The squat that a worked on was also in that area. The large building tot he northeast of the Zocalo is incredible church and botanical garden. To the south 2 blocks and west 5 blocks is the main highway in and out of the city, which goes the length of the country and the bus station and another open air market area.

The green square in the middle was the HQ, barracks, mess hall and often latrine during the occupation. The green rectangle around it is the area that was fenced in. The red circles represent all the road entry points, points where barricades and or walls had been erected. The red line to the south was a block that was impassable by car because it had been torn up for some road work that was then interrupted by the occupation. The black circles are where I specifically remember nightly bonfires being lit, but there were undoubtedly more around the city. The yellow area outside of the green zone had a dense, seemingly random scattering of debris and road blocks. The orange area outside of that had fewer road blocks, which were definitely strategically placed. It was in this area where my Mexican comrades and I smoked some mota in a city bus which had been parked perpendicular to the street so that the only passable area was the sidewalk on one side of the street. And ignore the white area, I don't remember what that means, other than that it was a particularly hilly area that I did not explore.

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