JUNE 2-8, 2008

1. ZAPATISTAS UNDER INCREASING ATTACK
2. FEDS CLOSE TWO COMMUNITY RADIO STATIONS
3. FORMER PRI GOVERNOR SENTENCED TO 36 YEARS
4. US PROSECUTIONS OF UNDOCUMENTED WORKERS INCREASE
5. TEACHERS SETTLE STRIKE, BUT CONTINUE PROTESTS IN OAXACA


1. ZAPATISTAS UNDER INCREASING ATTACK
Zapatista communities throughout Chiapas are coming under increasing attack from paramilitary groups, local PRI and PRD affiliates, the police and the army.  On Monday, Zapatista communities in the highlands around Zinacantan complained when local PRD officials prevented access to critical community water supplies.  The Junta de Buen Gobierno in Oventic said, “Our support bases cannot continue without access to water… We have always had the peaceful will to reach an agreement,” but the PRD “does not have the will.  They try to impose and humiliate those who aren’t part of their party.”

On Wednesday, the Junta de Ben Gobierno in Oventic criticized the Federal Electrical Commission for allowing a group of 800 PRI affiliates to cut service to the ejido Huaquitepec.  Also on Wednesday, a military caravan including more than 200 troops tried to enter the Zapatista communities of Hermenejildo Galeana and San Alejandro, located a stones throw from La Garrucha, one of the five caracoles that house the Juntas de Buen Gobierno.  The convoy included a small tank and officials from state and local police forces as well as the Federal Attorney’s General office.  They tried to enter the communities under the pretext of searching for marijuana.  Cultivation of marijuana and the use or sale of illegal drugs are strictly prohibited in Zapatista communities, which don’t even allow the consumption or sale of alcohol.  A tense confrontation ensued in which military authorities insisted on entering the communities while hundreds of Zapatistas armed only with sticks, stones and machetes blocked their passage.

The invasion of La Garrucha is not an isolated incident in the canyon region of Chiapas.  On May 19, the federal army surprised Zapatista families in San Geronimo Tulija, part of the autonomous municipality of Flores Magon, and destroyed two houses without explanation.  On May 23, a huge convoy of troops traveled through a number of Zapatista communities, supposedly looking for marijuana plants.  On May 29, the army accompanied by state police, local police, officials from the Public Ministry and members of the state Human Rights Commission tried to enter El Carrizal, a community in which the Campesino Organization Emiliano Zapata (OCEZ) has a strong presence.  Military authorities claimed they were looking for an illegal marijuana plantation.  Members of OCEZ blocked the incursion and denied the presence of marijuana in their communities.

The stepped up provocations appear to be part of a “law and order” strategy handed down by federal authorities.  In a recent meeting with the International Civil Commission for the Observation of Human Rights, Chiapas Governor Juan Sabines reported that Calderon recently sent a mandate to governors throughout the country – “during my administration there will be no Zapatistas and no machetes.”  Machetes are a reference to the People’s Front in Defense of the Land (FPDT) which was famous for brandishing machetes in public demonstrations.  Under the guise of the war on drugs, Calderon is attacking organized civil society in an effort to reduce political opposition.  FPDT leaders were recently sentenced to 67 year prison terms, and the army would not initiate public movements like the recent events near La Garrucha without the approval of Calderon.  In this context, the crackdown on community radio stations (see article below) is worrisome, especially given the number of unauthorized stations in Zapatista communities.

Perhaps in recognition of the increasingly tense situation in Chiapas, Governor Sabines released two Zapatista political prisoners this week after serving twelve years of their sentences.  These were the last political prisoners remaining from the 1998 military campaign to dismantle Zapatista autonomous communities.

The Mexico Solidarity Network calls on Zapatista supporters to serve as emergency human rights observers in indigenous communities in Chiapas.  For more information, please refer to the two principle organizations that coordinate human rights observation in Chiapas: CAPISE at capise.org.mx or the Fray Bartolome Human Rights Center at frayba.org.mx/observadores.php.


2. FEDS CLOSE TWO COMMUNITY RADIO STATIONS
The federal government abruptly closed two long-standing community radio stations this week in Nuevo Laredo and Monterrey.   Friday night at least 250 federal police surrounded a small station located in a private home in Colonia Tierra y Libertad on the outskirts of Monterrey that has operated for the past six years without a formal license.  Police arrested one disk jockey, Hector Camero, one of the historic leaders of the colonia and a former activist in the Labor Party.  Police arrived with high powered weapons in a seven vehicle convoy about the same time that three children were leaving the radio station after broadcasting their weekly program “Pequeños Locutores,” which features discussions of children’s rights.  The 100-watt station broadcast at 90.9 on the FM dial.  The station focused most of its programming on labor rights and political analysis.

On Wednesday afternoon, agents from the elite Federal Preventative Police (PFP) and the Federal Investigative Agency (AFI) violently broke into Radio La Tremenda in Nuevo Laredo.  The sounds of breaking glass and screaming employees could be heard live at about 1:55pm.  Officials held four employees and dismantled the broadcast equipment.  The arrestees could face prison terms of up to 12 years for broadcasting without a license.

The closures are part of a law and order campaign by the Calderon administration that initially unfolded as a “war on drugs.”  But it quickly became clear that Calderon was targeting political dissent as well.  There are hundreds of community-based radio stations throughout Mexico, especially in Chiapas, Oaxaca and Guerrero, that may be under threat of closure.  Community radio is often the only alternative source of news and analysis in a country where a handful of elites control the two television empires, TV Azteca and Telemundo, and daily newspapers can often cost a quarter of a day’s wages.


3. FORMER PRI GOVERNOR SENTENCED TO 36 YEARS
Mario Villanueva was sentenced this week to 36 years in prison for his links with drug cartels while he served as Governor of Quintana Roo.  Villanueva, a leader in the PRI, turned the state into a transfer point for cocaine from South America, ordering state police and other officials to assist the cartel lead by Amado Carrillo Fuentes, also known as Lord of the Skies for his use of large jet aircraft to transport drugs.  Villanueva opened the Chetumal airport for drug transfers and ordered local police chiefs to assist the criminal operations.  Villaneuva maintained large bank accounts in Mexico, the United States, and Switzerland that far exceeded his earning capacity as governor.

In related news, a majority of Mexicans believe the government is losing its battle against drug cartels.  According to a poll published by the conservative newspaper La Reforma, 53% of Mexicans say the cartels are defeating security forces, while only 24% see the government winning.  Violence has soared since President Calderon launched his “war on drugs” a year and a half ago.  With more than 25,000 army troops stationed in cities throughout the country, drug-related homicides jumped 47% this year to 1,378 as cartels struggle for control of lucrative markets and local police alliances shift from one cartel to another.  Calderon’s strategy has come under increasing criticism from both the right and the left.  Manuel Espino, former president of the PAN and current leader of the Democratic Christian Organization of America, accused the federal government of a failed strategy organized “for political reasons.”  And human rights groups, most recently Amnesty International, have criticized the army for repeated abuses.  In the face of increasing criticism, Calderon convened an unprecedented cabinet meeting on Friday in which he exhorted federal officials to publicly “defend” his security operations.


4. US PROSECUTIONS OF UNDOCUMENTED WORKERS INCREASE
Federal law enforcement agencies in the US have increased criminal prosecutions of undocumented workers to record levels by filing charges against virtually every person caught crossing the border without documents along some stretches of the US-Mexico border.  The new policy replaces “catch and release” in which undocumented migrants were generally deported within hours of being arrested.  Officials say the threat of jail time and a criminal record act as deterrents, but critics note that the strategy is not sustainable as border prisons are quickly filling and border police find little time for other law enforcement tasks like drug smuggling.  The new program, dubbed Operation Streamline, is currently in effect along the border in parts of Texas and Arizona, but Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff wants to expand it to the entire border because “it has a great deterrent effect.”  Sen. Edward Kennedy’s office criticized the program as “straining the capabilities of the law enforcement system past the breaking point.” 

T. J. Bonner, president of the National Border Patrol Council doesn’t like the plan: “It’s going after desperate people who are crossing the border in search of a better way of life.”  Officials credit the program with a 20% drop in apprehension rates along the border in 2007, and an expected 15% drop this year.  But critics note that the slumping US economy is most likely responsible for decreasing immigration.  Family remittances to Mexico declined by 2.4% between January and April, a strong indication that undocumented workers are having a hard time finding jobs.  In any case, the limited extent of the program simply encourages undocumented migrants to cross in more dangerous desert areas that are less patrolled.  Operation Streamline currently covers only 500 miles of the 2,000 mile border, mostly in relatively low traffic areas. 

Criminal immigration cases filed by the US Justice Department doubled this year to 13,500, outnumbering all white-collar, civil rights, environmental and other crimes combined.  It’s estimated that nearly a million undocumented migrants enter the US each year in search of work, and less than 2% face criminal prosecutions under Operation Streamline.  Despite the low percentage of prosecutions, border officials are overwhelmed with the logistical and legal demands.  Last year, federal officials in Arizona were so short on resources that they decided not to prosecute a number of marijuana seizures of less than 500 pounds.  Some critics are also concerned about issues of justice.  “If a US citizen were placed in any other country on the planet and had to resolve a case in a day that could result in being deported and having a criminal record, we would be outraged, and so would our government,” notes Heather Williams, the first assistant to the federal public defender in Arizona.


5. TEACHERS SETTLE STRIKE, BUT CONTINUE PROTESTS IN OAXACA
Concerned about a reinvigorated round of protests in Oaxaca that may have escalated into a replay of 2006, Interior Secretary Juan Mouriño and union president Elba Esther Gordillo signed a settlement this week ending weeks of road blockages and marches by Section 22 of the National Union of Education Workers (SNTE).  Gordillo agreed to allow state union elections on September 25 and 26 after Section 22 leaders ceded to most of the her conditions.  But members of the dissident union faction disagreed with their leadership and objected to including representatives of Section 59 in the election process.  Section 59 is a small competing branch of the SNTE formed in Oaxaca during the 2006 APPO led demonstrations as a challenge to the more radical Section 22.  Section 22 leaders agreed to end their permanent presence in the center of Oaxaca City and return to classes on Monday, but the rank and file decided to continue the protests until at least June 14.  One of the principal demands of Section 22 is the removal of Governor Ulises Ruiz.