By Patrick J. McDonnell / LAT
With its towering cathedral, stately trees and many cafes, the central plaza of Oaxaca City usually exudes a sense of peace and elegance — a place to dine, reflect or listen to the marimba bands that perform on the ornate, wrought-iron bandstand.
But sit-ins, roadblocks and violence linked to Mexico’s roiling conflict between teachers and the federal government have cast a pall over Oaxaca City and the Guelaguetza, the signature annual celebration of the indigenous and mestizo heritage of this culturally rich state.
The plaza, or zocalo, has become a desolate eyesore, a tent city of sleeping bags and plastic mats topped with a jagged array of plastic tarps thrown up as protection against daily thunderstorms.
Teachers enraged at federal education reforms have occupied the plaza since May, stranding thousands of pupils and transforming one of Mexico’s most alluring public spaces into something resembling a ramshackle refugee camp.
The Guelaguetza starts Monday and hotel bookings are down 50 percent or more in the heavily tourism-reliant capital of the state also called Oaxaca. Key routes to town remain shut or subject to long delays after protesting teachers, many wearing masks, erected barricades of earth, tree trunks and assorted debris.
“We won’t leave until our demands are met,” vowed Nelly Ruth Vicente, one of a number of teachers posted at a blockade at the crossroads town of Asuncion Nochixtlan, on the main federal toll road linking Oaxaca City and Mexico City.