FEBRUARY 25 – MARCH 2, 2008

1. INDIGENOUS CARAVAN VISITS CHIAPAS
2. UNION OF EJIDOS OF THE SELVA CALLS FOR NEGOTIATIONS
3. OPPDIC ATTACKS ZAPATISTA COMMUNITY
4. ARIZONA IMMIGRATION CRACKDOWN WILL AFFECT ECONOMY
5. BRAD WILL’S PARENTS LAUNCH INDEPENDENT INVESTIGATION
6. VIRTUAL FENCE FACES SERIOUS TECHNICAL PROBLEMS
7. CALDERON ADMINISTRATION HIT BY SCANDAL


1. INDIGENOUS CARAVAN VISITS CHIAPAS
A caravan of representatives from Nahua, Triqui and Mixtec communities visited the five Zapatista Caracoles last week.  In a press conference on Monday, they reported numerous human rights violations, including “constant attacks against the civilian population (around Morelia) by paramilitaries and the police.”  “The people suffer water shortages because the army has occupied the spring that previously was used by the community, and we are also concerned about the over-exploitation of trees.”  They condemned paramilitary efforts to displace Zapatista communities from territory around Aguas Azules, and criticized the “complicity” of the Union of Ejidos of the Selva.  The caravan demanded “an end to the impunity of paramilitary groups that enjoy the support of Governor Juan Sabines.”  The caravan experienced, “on one hand, anger and impotence after seeing the intervention of the government to dismantle the resistance, sowing pain and death; and on the other hand, our hearts were full of hope when we encountered brother and sisters who, in the midst of this scenario, get up every day and build the world that we all dream about.”


2. UNION OF EJIDOS OF THE SELVA CALLS FOR NEGOTIATIONS
The Union of Ejidos of the Selva (UES) called for dialogue with the Other Campaign this week, one year after the Other Campaign called for a boycott of the UES for their active participation in forcing Zapatista communities from their lands.  The boycott of fourteen cafes owned by the UES in Mexico City, San Luis Potosi, Guadalajara, Tuxtla Gutierrez and San Cristobal resulted in losses of 200,000 pesos over the past year.  The Other Campaign accused the UES of forcing Zapatista support bases from 595 hectares of land located on the ejido Nuevo Gracias a Dios in the municipality of Las Margaritas.  The UES claims to own the land in question, the result of a state decree issued in 2003.  Zapatista leaders asked the UES to “not bother the families” and to resolve the dispute via the Junta of Good Government.


3. OPPDIC ATTACKS ZAPATISTA COMMUNITY
The Organization for the Defense of Indigenous and Campesino Rights (Opddic), a paramilitary group aligned with local PRI leaders, attacked the Zapatista community “21 de Abril” on Monday and Tuesday, according to a report issued by the Junta of Good Government in Morelia.  The confrontation unfolded after landowners from Comitan, a nearby city, arrived at the El Nance ranch and tried to assume control of lands that were liberated during the 1994 uprising.

In related news, the state government ran several paid articles in newspapers this week claiming 2,000 members of Opddic left the paramilitary organization to join the PRI-affiliated National Campesino Confederation (CNC).  Historically, the CNC has not been involved in paramilitary operations, but given the consistently bad press around Opddic, this may be a new strategy by PRI authorities to “mainstream” dozens of land disputes in Chiapas.  The CNC is a national organization with strong links to the national PRI leadership.


4. ARIZONA IMMIGRATION CRACKDOWN WILL AFFECT ECONOMY
Arizona’s recent crackdown on undocumented workers, following passage of the most anti-immigrant law in the US, is affecting the state’s economy.  With the state already facing a recession, thousands of undocumented workers are abandoning Arizona, leaving apartment owners without tenants and construction firms and restaurants without workers. Arizona’s law punishes businesses and apartment owners that hire or rent to undocumented workers.  With undocumented workers concentrated in seasonal construction, meatpacking, fruit and vegetable harvest, domestic work, and the hotel and restaurant industry, Arizona’s new law is expected to have dramatic impacts in these sectors. 

Parents are pulling students from public schools at an alarming rate.  The Isaac school district in central Phoenix, with a student body that is 96% Latino, lost 500 students this year.  Declining enrollments will reduce federal school subsidies and disrupt that lives of thousands of students.  In many cases, the students are US citizens, while their parents are undocumented.  An estimated ten percent of Arizona’s workforce is undocumented, and business owners are challenging the law in court.  A Republican controlled Legislature and Democratic Governor Janet Napolitano passed the law late last year, the first state in the nation to take such drastic measures. 


5. BRAD WILL’S PARENTS LAUNCH INDEPENDENT INVESTIGATION
The parents of journalist Brad Will launched in independent investigation into their son’s assassination on October 27, 2006, in Oaxaca.  Kathy and Hardy Will condemned the federal Attorney General’s investigation as “illogical and irrational.”  The Attorney General claims Will was killed by a gunshot fired at short range by members of the Popular Assembly of the People of Oaxaca (APPO) in an effort to discredit Governor Ulises Ruiz.  Forensic evidence, videos, photos and dozens of firsthand testimonies discredit this line of investigation, but the Attorney General appears hesitant to implicate members of the Ruiz administration in the assassination.  Will’s parents announced that Physicians for Human Rights, a highly respected international organization, will begin an independent forensic investigation at the end of March.  Mexican law allows for family members to participate in legal investigations, and the Wills are hopeful that the results will be incorporated into the Attorney General’s investigation.  Brad Will died while covering a confrontation between members of the APPO and paramilitary groups aligned with Governor Ruiz.  Within days of Will’s murder, authorities arrested two local police closely affiliated with the Ruiz administration, but they were quickly released.  Video taken by Brad Will immediately before he died indicate that local police were most likely responsible for his murder.  Although 23 Oaxacans affiliated with the APPO were killed during confrontations or kidnappings conducted by paramilitary groups in 2006, Will’s case is the only one that remains open.  No one has been charged in any of the other cases.


6. VIRTUAL FENCE FACES SERIOUS TECHNICAL PROBLEMS
A “virtual fence” planned for the US-Mexico border faces serious technical problems, and the Bush administration has delayed construction for at least three years.  A series of tower-mounted sensors and related surveillance gear is not functioning as planned and does not meet the needs of Border Patrol agents, according to the Department of Homeland Security (DHS).  The Bush administration gave Boeing Corporation US$20.6 million to build a 28-mile pilot project south of Tucson, but the test site was beset with problems, including use of inappropriate software.  The pilot project included nine mobile towers, radar, cameras and vehicles fitted with laptops and satellite links, allowing the Border Patrol to have real-time projections of the frontier.  The DHS will give Boeing an additional US$65 million to repair the problems, including an upgrade to military style software.  The virtual fence is eventually expected to cover the entire 2,000 mile border at a cost of at least US$7.6 billion, though given recent technical problems DHS officials are unwilling to give a final budget figure.  The pilot system was developed with minimal input from the Border Patrol and was rushed through Congress as part of the Bush administration’s “comprehensive” immigration reform measures, most of which ultimately failed to pass Congress last year.


7. CALDERON ADMINISTRATION HIT BY SCANDAL
Interior Secretary Juan Camilo Mouriño, the second most powerful person in Mexico’s government and an early candidate for presidential elections in 2012, signed service contracts with Pemex for private firms owned by his family while he served under Felipe Calderon in the Energy Department in 2002 and 2003.  Mouriño signed the contracts on December 20, 2002, September 1, 2003, and December 29, 2003, during a time when he served as advisor to then Energy Secretary Felipe Calderon.  Earlier, Moriño served as President of the Energy Commission in the Lower House.  In 2004 he was named sub-secretary of Electricity.  Calderon appointed Mouriño last month as Interior Secretary largely because of his experience with the energy sector.  Calderon hopes to privatize segments of Pemex this year, which would require either constitutional amendments or creative interpretations of existing civil laws. 

Last Sunday, former PRD presidential candidate Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador released the contracts signed by Mouriño in his role as official representative of Transportes Especializados Ivan-car, a family owned business.  As one editorial from a paper generally sympathetic to the PAN claimed, “it appears inevitable to suspect that his private businesses benefited from this kind of incestuous relationship.”  Mouriño may be guilty of influence trafficking and other felonies.  He offered a weak defense early in the week, noting the integrity of his father and his commitment to “public service,” but no explanation for the contracts in question.  Mouriño was born in Madrid, making his appointment as Interior Secretary legally questionable, and his family maintains close ties with energy companies from the Iberian Peninsula.  The Calderon administration was reportedly meeting this weekend to deal with the crisis.