AUGUST 18-31, 2008

1. Venezuela nationalizes CEMEX
2. Atenco leaders sentenced to additional prison terms
3. PRI alters party platform
4. Supreme Court upholds Abortion rights
5. Demonstrations condemn political class
 1. Venezuela nationalizes CEMEXThe Venezuelan government completed nationalization of the country’s major cement producers this week, including CEMEX, the Mexican owned transnational and the largest producer in Venezuela with an annual capacity of 4.6 million tons.  Venezuela’s National Guard occupied four CEMEX plants after the company made unreasonably high demands for compensation.  President Hugo Chavez signed compensation agreements on Monday with two other cement companies from France and Holland.  CEMEX reportedly demanded more than US$1.3 billion for a controlling interest in their Venezuelan operations, well above the current value of the business.  A Venezuelan judge will now determine fair compensation.  Chavez nationalized the cement industry in large part because the transnational companies were using cheap energy for cement production that was then exported to other countries, leaving national development projects short of building materials. 2. Atenco leaders sentenced to additional prison terms

A state judge sentenced eleven members of the People’s Front in Defense of the Land (FPDT) from San Salvador Atenco for kidnapping and protest actions.  Ignacio del Valle, the most recognized leader of the FPDT, received a 45 year sentence on top of a 67 year sentence he is already serving.  The other ten defendants received terms of 32 years.  Barbara Zamora, attorney for del Valle, characterized the sentences as “unjustified” because “it has already been demonstrated that he was never present in the place where supposedly government functionaries were detained.  The sentence was handed down on instructions from [Mexico state] Governor Enrique Peña Nieto.  It’s not a coincidence that the sentences were announced today, while the President and Governors meet about [the national problem] of kidnappings.  For sure Peña Nieto chose this date for the sentencing to use it politically in his favor, saying that the State is prosecuting kidnappers, although del Valle and the members of the Frente are not kidnappers.”  The eleven defendants were sentenced for supposedly detaining two government officials over a 24-hour period during negotiations between the FPDT and the federal government.  These kinds of “detentions” are common during negotiations in Mexico, especially when the federal government refuses to negotiate in good faith.  Even the affected officials admit that del Valle was not present during the negotiations.  The FPDT has come under increasing attack from federal officials since they turned back plans by former President Vicente Fox to build a new airport on communally owned lands in Atenco.  On May 3 and 4, 2006, more than 3,000 police invaded Atenco, searching dozens of homes without warrants, killing two civilians, raping more than 30 women after they were arrested, and beating more than 200 arrestees.  To date, not a single police officer has been charged or prosecuted for their actions.

3. PRI alters party platform

The Institutional Revolutionary Party took only 25 minutes to alter its historic party platform during its 20th National Assembly, leaving behind a rhetoric commitment to the Mexican revolution and adopting a social democratic position.  The “new” PRI outlined a platform based on fear and designed to regain control of the Senate and Lower House during mid-term elections in 2009.  PRI President Beatriz Paredes, a notorious party functionary from the state of Tlaxcala, declared, “We run the risk of an ungovernable democracy … because of increasing delinquency and public insecurity.”  Directing her comments at President Felipe Calderon and the PAN, she said, “Lamentably, we have not confronted with sufficient capacity the grave spiral of violence that was previously unknown in our national territory…  Neither the present nor the immediate future offers hope for progress in Mexico under the direction of the PAN.” 

Given the social impact of narco murders throughout the country – almost 1,000 so far this year in Ciudad Juarez alone – and increasingly public kidnappings of wealthy family members, fear will be dominating the 2009 election agenda.  It appears that Mexico’s leading parties are taking a page out of the US post 9/11 political playbook.  While high profile narco wars and kidnappings are discussed daily in the mainstream media, Calderon’s highly publicized militarization of major urban areas is directed as much at quelling dissent in a country suffering from rising prices, high unemployment, rampant government corruption, and a general feeling shared by many Mexicans that the centennial of the Mexican revolution in 2010 will result in some kind of dramatic social uprising.

4. Supreme Court upholds Abortion rights

Despite months of lobbying by several Supreme Court justices and the Catholic Church, the Supreme Court upheld the right of Mexico City to depenalize abortion.  The surprise 8 to 3 decision gives women the right to abort up to the twelfth week of pregnancy, and instructs Mexico City authorities to provide free and safe medical services for abortion.  The court found that neither the Constitution nor international treaties prohibit abortions, and that it’s up to local Congresses to legislate abortion regulations.

5. Demonstrations condemn political class

A series of demonstrations held on August 30 through December 1 by different sectors of Mexican society condemned an already shaky and largely inept political class.  On Saturday, tens of thousands marched to the Mexico City Zocalo to protest public insecurity.  The ad hoc Iluminemos Mexico convoked the demonstration after a series of high profile kidnappings captured the attention of the nation.  Originally planned as a silent, largely middle class march reminiscent of the 2004 anti-crime demonstration organized, for all intents and purposes, by the National Action Party (PAN), this time participants took more active roles in defining the message.  The most popular chant, directed at the entire political class, was “If you can’t, then retire.”  On Sunday, the National Movement in Defense of Petroleum, led by former PRD presidential candidate Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, began the third phase of the struggle against privatization of PEMEX as thousands of activists gathered in the Zocalo.  And on Monday, tens of thousands of workers, campesinos, popular organizations and teachers, under the banner of the National Civil Strike, took to the streets, blocking highways, stopping work and marching in various states as well as the capitol.

While President Calderon continues to militarize large parts of Mexico, supposedly in a war on drugs, the cartels themselves are involved in a publicity war to define the Calderon program.  Recent billboards erected in northern cities, most likely by criminal elements, accuse Calderon of supporting Chapo Guzman and Mayo Zambada, two of Mexico’s most notorious and powerful drug dealers, while trying to do away with the other cartels.

Luis Hernandez Navarro, editorial page director for La Jornada, finds, “The organized expression of social anger is unfolding in a particularly adverse climate for the federal government.  The Mexican economy is almost stagnant, even while petroleum prices continue to rise.  According to CEPAL, Mexico has the lowest GNP growth in Latin America.  Inflation is increasing, as well as unemployment.  Foreign investment has fallen dramatically at the same time that migrant remittances from the US are decreasing.  And the immediate future will be even worse…  Mexico is in an unprecedented political situation.  The three recent mobilizations are expressions of the situation.  We haven’t had a similar climate since March of 1994.”


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