The Effect of Political Unrest on Migration Decisions: New Evidence and Preliminary Findings from Oaxaca, Mexico (Working Paper #154)

Jeffrey H. Cohen, The Ohio State University

Abstract: Strikes, violence and economic crisis characterized life in Oaxaca City, Oaxaca, Mexico from the spring through late fall of 2006. Demonstrations began around the efforts of striking teachers from section 22 of the teacher’s union (Sindicato Nacional de Trabajadores de la Educación or the SNTE) and grew throughout the summer and into the fall. In response to the state’s intransigence and in part to resolve the stand-off between protestors and the state, the APPO (Asamblea Popular del Pueblo Oaxaqueño) was organized. The APPO, a nonviolent group including support from many local human rights organizations, formed largely to oppose the administration of the state’s governor Ulises Ruiz Ortiz (Vergara, et al. 2006; Waterbury 2007). The confrontation between protestors and the state led to street blockades, violence and several acts of murder along with the cancellation of the important Guelaguetza festival by the governor. In response Oaxaca’s economy suffered and tourism in the city collapsed (Maciel 2006; Matias 2007; Rivas 2007).

Throughout these events little has been said about the rural villages that surround the city and the impact of last year’s events on rural Oaxacans remains poorly understood (although see Gutierrez-Najera 2007; Hernández Díaz 2007). In this paper we present preliminary results of 192 interviews in three rural villages.2 The communities include a town that depends upon tourism and the export of crafts for much of its income, El Arbol del Valle; a semi-urban community that is linked to Oaxaca City through jobs and serves as a bedroom community for a growing number of relocated urban Oaxacans, Vista del Rio; and a rural, agrarian, Zapotec community that has seen much migration to the US over the last decade called La Milpa. Following standard anthropological practices, we have renamed each community and given all informants new identities to protect them from any repercussions as opinions in the three communities ranged from those that were highly critical of both APPO and the governor, to supportive of either the governor or APPO.

Working Paper #154 »