Wednesday, November 15, 2006

July 17, 2006: Striking Mexican teachers force suspension of popular festival

The governor of Mexico's Oaxaca state said Monday that he was suspending a centuries-old, internationally popular cultural festival because of fears that thousands of striking teachers will threaten tourists.

"I made the decision to reschedule the Guelaguetza to avoid the risk of tourist aggression by radical groups," Gov. Ulises Ruiz said over state radio and television.

He did not say when the festival, which had been scheduled to start Monday, would begin.

Hotels in Oaxaca city, a colorful state capital popular with both Mexican and foreign tourists about 520 kilometers (325 miles) southeast of Mexico City, planned to offer alternative recreation plans to guests who came to attend the festival, government officials said.

The Guelaguetza is a weeklong folkloric event celebrating the music, artisanship and cuisine of local Indian cultures and it dates back to 1700. It draws more than 20,000 people each year.

Striking teachers impeded access to the Guelaguetza theater on the Fortin hill overlooking the city.

The teacher's union also has taken over parts of the city's main central plaza and last weekend blocked the entrances to popular hotels as part of a protest launched on May 22 for a large, one-time salary increase.

The protests have developed into a widespread call by teachers and their sympathizers for Ruiz's resignation. Ruiz has refused.

Union leader Enrique Rueda said Sunday that the teachers' "good will" had disappeared because the federal and state government lacked interest in resolving the problem.

Catholic Archbishop Jose Luis Chavez has called on both sides to find a solution, but acknowledged that chances for quickly resolving the situation are slim.

"Social peace in Oaxaca is in danger because of the refusal to negotiate from both sides," Chavez said.

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