Oaxaca Governor Pledges Not to Quit

By Manuel Roig-Franzia
Washington Post Foreign Service
Saturday, November 4, 2006

SANTA MARIA COYOTEPEC, Mexico, Nov. 3 -- Embattled Oaxaca Gov. Ulises Ruiz vowed on Friday that he would not resign or take a leave of absence, even as demonstrators demanding his ouster were refortifying barricades torn down the day before by federal police.

Speaking to foreign reporters for the first time since police occupied the city of Oaxaca, Ruiz said he had an obligation to the narrow majority of citizens who elected him in 2004 to see out his six-year term.

"No conditions exist in which I would resign," Ruiz said as he sat beneath a large oil painting of Benito Juárez, the beloved 19th-century president who was born in the state of Oaxaca.

Ruiz also tamped down widespread speculation that he was holding on until Dec. 1 -- his two-year anniversary in office -- so he could choose a successor from his party without elections being held. Most Mexican states require new elections if a governor resigns before reaching two years in office, Ruiz said, but the law in Oaxaca sets the deadline at three years.

Ruiz met with reporters in the unassuming House of Government behind tall whitewashed walls in this small town about 30 minutes outside Oaxaca. Ruiz moved his offices here not long after taking power, saying he was hoping to avoid the distractions created by almost constant protests in front of the ornate governor's office in downtown Oaxaca.

But the protests have only grown more intense during Ruiz's troubled term, peaking over the past week with pitched battles between protesters and federal police. An umbrella citizens group created five months ago during the early days of a teachers strike has marshaled thousands of rock-throwing demonstrators and shut down much of Oaxaca's large tourist industry.

Ruiz said Friday that he is willing to negotiate with the protest group on a raft of proposed economic and social reforms, but he declined to specify what compromises he would be willing to accept. In the meantime, he dismissed the protesters as a minority made up of "violent radicals."

While acknowledging that federal police are now necessary to maintain order in Oaxaca, Ruiz said he expects that the officers "will not be needed long." He also insisted that his government is functioning normally and that much of the city of Oaxaca is under control.

His statement seemed far from the realities in Oaxaca, where hotels that normally would have been packed for Day of the Dead festivities are nearly empty, countless shops are closed, traffic is clogged by protest marches and machine-gun-toting federal police officers roam the streets in heavy trucks.

Ruiz is under increasing pressure to resign. The Mexican Congress has passed resolutions urging him to quit, and his own party, the Institutional Revolutionary Party, has abandoned him. The judiciary has also gone against him. On Friday, Mexico's Supreme Court threw out a lawsuit that Ruiz had filed to challenge the congressional resolutions.

Ruiz seems to be losing the public relations battle as well. While he has made few public appearances, protest leaders have a constant presence on Mexican radio and television, reciting a list of gripes about Ruiz, including allegations that he stole the 2004 election and cannot account for millions of dollars in government spending during his tenure.

The protesters have gained sympathy in some quarters by erecting displays during Day of the Dead commemorations that honor more than a dozen demonstrators they say have been killed by government forces. The government has not confirmed all of those deaths.

Flavio Sosa, one of the protest leaders, predicted more deaths on Friday, telling reporters that Ruiz's political party is preparing "a bloodbath."

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