DECEMBER 31 – JANUARY 6, 2008

1. ZAPATISTAS CELEBRATE WOMEN’S ENCOUNTER, 14TH ANNIVERSARY
2. ARIZONA LAWS THREATEN MIGRANTS
3. ANTI NAFTA DEMONSTRATIONS OPEN THE NEW YEAR


1. ZAPATISTAS CELEBRATE WOMEN’S ENCOUNTER, 14TH ANNIVERSARY
More than 2,000 participants from 30 countries celebrated the Comandante Ramona Women’s Encounter in La Garrucha, one of five centers of indigenous culture and resistance in Chiapas, from January 29-31.  Women led dozens of workshops on the history of the Zapatista movement, the role of women in the rebellion, and the future of women’s participation, while men were assigned housekeeping tasks.  The Revolutionary Women’s Law, first promulgated in Zapatista communities in 1992, was the unstated foundation of the encounter, which celebrated the rapidly changing roles of women in indigenous communities in Zapatista communities.  By the evening of January 31, the official anniversary celebration of the Zapatista uprising, more than 5,000 participants crowded La Garrucha, enjoying speeches, songs and dancing.

The international Encounter unfolded amidst precarious security conditions in Zapatista communities, especially in the North and Selva regions.  Paramilitary groups aligned with the PRI, the army and State officials from the Office of Agrarian Reform have mounted a series of actions recently, some armed, attacking Zapatista villages located on lands that were liberated during the 1994 uprising.  The attacks are of such intensity that the Zapatista National Liberation Army recently postponed its ambitious plans for participation in the Other Campaign.  Subcomandante Marcos announced in mid December the EZLN leadership would not appear in public for at least several months as the rebel army prepares for expected increases in paramilitary activity.  Solidarity activists are encouraged to participate in Peace Camps organized by the Fray Bartolome Human Rights Center and CAPISE. 


2. ARIZONA LAWS THREATEN MIGRANTS
A new Arizona law that threatens serious sanctions against employers who hire undocumented immigrants took effect on January 1.  The law mandates all 150,000 businesses registered in Arizona to utilize E-Verify, a federal program that verifies the immigration status of employees.  Businesses found with undocumented employees face losing their license for two weeks for the first offense and three years for the second.  To date, only 6% of Arizona businesses are registered with E-Verify, which is a costly and time-consuming bureaucratic procedure that will likely lower wages for all Arizona workers in the medium term.

Arizona approved seven anti-immigrant laws during the past year, two of which are currently being implemented, and another eight laws are either pending approval or are facing judicial review.  One law allows officials to confiscate remittances if there is suspicion of money-laundering.  To date, 11,000 immigrants have been affected and more than US$17 million has been confiscated.  While narco-traffickers generally enjoy access to legal venues to challenge the confiscations, undocumented workers do not.  Another law prohibits selling an automobile without checking the legal status of the purchaser.  In addition, Arizona police are enforcing federal immigration laws.  The federal government offers training for local police that choose to enforce federal immigration laws, but few law enforcement agencies have been willing to assume the added costs and ruin relationships built up over years with immigrant communities.  With many immigrants leaving the inhospitable state, one wonders who will do all of the landscaping, janitorial and home construction services that prevail in Arizona’s retirement communities.

In related news, the Bush administration recently contracted a photographic service to take pictures of secondary and high school students who cross the border daily at Imperial to attend schools in southern California.  Federal agents will provide the photos to local school officials, who will presumably expel the students.


3. ANTI NAFTA DEMONSTRATIONS OPEN THE NEW YEAR
Anti-NAFTA demonstrators blocked the commercial bridge linking El Paso and Ciudad Juarez for 36 hours staring January 1, searching trucks for imported corn and beans.  The demonstrators were part of a national coalition dubbed “Sin Maiz no Hay Pais, Sin Frijol Tempoco” (Without Corn and Beans there is no Country).  On January 1, the full provisions of NAFTA took effect, abolishing protective tariffs on corn, beans, powdered milk and sugar.  The impact in the Mexican countryside, already reeling from subsidized imports of US agricultural grains, is expected to be devastating.  The national coalition, mostly groups aligned with the PRD, include the Central Campesino Cardenista (CCC), the National Association of Rural Merchants and Producers (ANEC), El Barzon, the National Council of Campesino Organizations, the National Coordinator Plan of Ayala, and the Mexican Alliance for the Self-Determination of the People.  The coalition is in talks with PRI affiliated groups, including the National Campesino Congress (CNC), and labor organizations, including the National Workers Union (UNT). 

Campesinos united with independent labor organizations in 2004 and mounted a series of actions, including a march of over 100,000 in Mexico City in late January.  The actions lead to a loosely worded agreement with the Fox administration that accomplished little more than a temporary buy-off of some campesino leaders.  However, the situation in rural areas is getting worse rapidly, and this time may be different.  Some party leaders sympathetic to the rural dilemma called for a renegotiation of NAFTA this week, but quickly compromised with the Calderon administration on a formal “table for dialogue.”  From the perspective of the political parties, the “table for dialogue” is a technique to demobilize increasingly restive campesinos who are demanding an end to NAFTA and increased aid for rural areas that will make Mexican producers competitive with highly subsidized US corporate producers.  Calderon is unlikely to respond positively.  For the time being, he seems to be content to allow his widely unpopular Secretary of Agriculture, Alberto Cardenas, to take the heat.  Look for Calderon to jettison Cardenas at a strategic moment in coming months in an effort to take the steam out of the movement (and for Calderon to land a cushy, though less public, government post).