Police work to restore order in Oaxaca

/ Source: The Associated Press

Police moved to expand control over the troubled tourist mecca of Oaxaca Wednesday as prosecutors announced that two people had been detained in connection with the shooting death of an American journalist.

A dramatic slowdown in tourism — the city’s lifeblood — threatened to worsen economic problems from the five-month-old takeover of the city by leftist protesters.

While the conflict has quieted somewhat three days after federal police retook the center, the dispute seemed far from resolved on Wednesday, as police wielding riot shields remained posted in Oaxaca City’s arch-ringed main square, the Zocalo, while protesters maintained barricades in other parts of the city.

Federal police also cleared away protesters’ buses that had blocked the main highway connecting the colonial city to Mexico City over the past three months, local media reported.

But many protesters stayed true to Oaxaca’s artistic roots on the Day of the Dead Wednesday, blocking some streets with huge, tapestries of skulls and skeletons — instead of the sticks, rocks and burning vehicles previously used.

At least eight people have died in the conflict since leftist protesters took over the city five months ago. Among them was activist-journalist Bradley Roland Will, 36, of New York, who died in a gunbattle Friday.

The state prosecutor’s office said Wednesday that two people were in custody and authorities were expected sometime this week to present the suspects to a judge who would decide whether to charge them in connection with Will’s death.

Demonstrators who flocked to the capital city of 275,000 are demanding the resignation of Gov. Ulises Ruiz, whom they accuse of oppressing dissent and rigging the 2004 elections.

Demonstrators in Mexico City and the southern state of Chiapas also rallied in support of the protesters’ demand for the resignation of Ruiz.

Meanwhile, carpet weavers, woodcarvers and craftspeople who have made Oaxaca famous with tourists worldwide said they fear for their livelihoods after several foreign embassies warned their citizens against visiting the protest-scarred colonial city.

“The towns where we artisans work are at peace, there are no problems here. The problems are in the capital,” said Pepe Santiago, who carves colorfully painted figures known as “alebrijes” in Arrazola, eight miles (five kilometers) southwest of Oaxaca.

“This is going to take a while to recover, until tourists regain their confidence,” he said.

In Teotitlan del Valle, 15 miles southeast of Oaxaca, Luis Lazo Mendoza said his family normally sells three or four hand-woven carpets a week. But since the crisis started in late May, the inventory has piled up and money for food and daily expenses is running out.

“We haven’t sold a single thing in about five months,” Mendoza said. “We don’t have a Web page to sell over the Internet. Besides, people like to feel the texture and quality of the carpet.”