Oaxaca, in southeastern Mexico, is a state of many contradictions: Economically, it is the poorest state in Mexico (with Chiapas running a close second), yet it has abundant resources, human and geographical diversity, and tourist attractions such as pristine Pacific beaches, world class cuisine, a vibrant art scene, and important archaeological sites. Natural resources include water, minerals, oil, timber and some of the richest biodiversity in the world.
Much of the land and resources are still controlled collectively by indigenous campesinos or the state, but in recent years multinational corporations have taken a keener interest in the region, as water, oil, hydro-electric and wind power are becoming increasingly strategic resources globally.
Oaxaca’s population is diverse as well—as the only Mexican state with an indigenous majority, it boasts sixteen different indigenous groups who speak twenty-eight distinct languages.
Fewer than 40% of Oaxaca’s 3.5 million people complete schooling beyond the elementary grades and the schools they do attend are abysmally underfunded.
According to data released by the National Council for Evaluation of Policy and Development (Coneval), 38.1% of the state’s population suffer undernourishment, and 68% lack resources such as homes or land. Poverty affects more than two-thirds of the population and a mere half of the people have access to basic services such as electricity, running water, and rudimentary medical care.
Oaxaca also has a long history as a haven for supporting and nurturing artists. The legacy of twentieth century Oaxacan painters such as Rufino Tamayo, Rudolfo Morales and Rodolfo Nieto and the contemporary graphic artist Francisco Toledo form the basis of the ‘Oaxacan school’ of art, and the region is known for its vibrant art scene.
The PRI (Revolutionary Institutional Party) has dominated Oaxacan politics for 81 years, but in a remarkable upset, this era came to an end on July 4, 2010. A massive voter turnout in Oaxaca, 2.5 million voters, ushered in a coalition government: CUPP (Coalition for Peace and Progress) won more than 90% of the mayoral and state legislator posts as well as the governor’s seat. No single party had the power to defeat the PRI in Oaxaca, but the coalition, including the two other major Mexican parties, PAN and PRD, as well as the Convergencia and Workers’ Party (PT), managed the victory.
Oaxaca’s newly elected governor is Gavino Monteagudo of the Convergencia Party, the man from whom the current governor (Ulises Ruiz Ortiz or URO) allegedly stole the 2004 election by fraud. Monteagudo will take office in December of this year. Thousands of electoral observers were present throughout the state during this year's election.
When the CUPP victory was declared on the evening of July 4th, thousands of supporters marched to the city’s main square “so that the PRI would find itself in the eye of a popular uprising if they tried to wrest away the victory by fraud” (Davies 7/6/10). Earlier in the day, the Oaxacan teachers union (Section 22 of the National Education Workers Union) had issued a call for a social insurrection in the event of PRI fraud. By 8pm, a celebration was in full swing in the city, complete with fireworks, car horns, music, and masses of people. As one Oaxaca resident put it, “We went out to see if we needed to join an anti-PRI fraud brigade and instead we found a celebration” (quoted in Davies, 7/610).