MARCH 3-9, 2008

1. MOURIÑO SCANDAL ENGULFS GOVERNMENT
2. ATENCO PRISONERS RELEASED
3. INDIGENOUS PRISONERS ON HUNGER STRIKE
4. ENVIRONMENTALISTS ARRESTED IN TAMPICO


1. MOURIÑO SCANDAL ENGULFS GOVERNMENT
The scandal over influence pedaling and improper use of elected office by Interior Secretary Juan Camilo Mouriño engulfed the Calderon administration and Mexico’s political class this week.  On Friday, Mouriño confirmed during six radio interviews that he signed contracts with Pemex as a representative of his family’s business while he served as a PAN Deputy and as assistant to then Energy Secretary Felipe Calderon.  There is little doubt that this is a violation of several federal laws, but the political class couldn’t decide how to deal with the issue.  The PRD is calling for a Congressional investigation, and initially the PRI leadership agreed, but then backtracked after a meeting with Mouriño. 

Mouriño spent more than a week dodging the issue, making public statements about his father’s dignity and his own “selfless public service” record, before mounting a concerted public defense campaign in coordination with PAN leaders this week.  Numerous PAN leaders, joined by some from the PRI, called the scandal a “distraction” from the debate over reform of Pemex and accused Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, the former PRD presidential candidate who first released the illegal contracts, of opposing “the advance of the country.  They want the government of Felipe Calderon to fail and they want the country to suffer,” according to Cesar Nava Vazquez, Caderon’s personal secretary who was also caught up in the scandal this week.  A chorus of accusations against Lopez Obrador filled the major daily papers aligned with the PAN, as PAN leaders took the line that, “We are not going to dedicate time and fall into the game of this group of people who want to distract us from our work and stop the advance of the country.”

Mexican laws are clear about political conflicts of interest, and Mouriño plainly took part in activities that led to his family’s enrichment while serving as a public official.  Public opinion is clearly against Mouriño, though most Mexicans are hardly surprised by yet another government scandal involving illicit enrichment by elected officials.  The question is, who will investigate the case – if anyone.  PAN officials and many PRI leaders are opposed to a Congressional investigation, though the minority PRD and its allies may be able to force an inquiry in any case.  The federal Attorney General is part of the Calderon administration and hardly impartial, especially since Calderon has decided to protect Mouriño at all costs, in part because Calderon himself may eventually be embroiled in the scandal.  This week, information surfaced that Nava Vazquez, his personal secretary, may have participated in businesses along side Mouriño, and Calderon was Energy Secretary during the time that some of the contracts were signed.


2. ATENCO PRISONERS RELEASED
Three members of the People’s Front in Defense of the Land (FPDT) were released from prison this week after serving 22 months on fabricated charges related to the police riots in San Salvador Atenco on May 3 and 4, 2006.  “There is a lack of responsibility on the part of the government, and negligence by the judges, because we were in prison for 22 months before they finally exonerated us - as if nothing happened,” said Cesar del Valle Ramirez, the son of FPDT leader Ignacio del Valle, who was recently sentenced to 67 years.  “Our freedom is not due to the government, but rather is the result of pressure from support organizations.  What we want to say now is that we will continue organizing and resisting, because in this struggle to change things we are not alone, we are also with Chiapas and Oaxaca.”  Thirteen FPDT supporters remain in prison in Molina de Flores and El Altiplano.


3. INDIGENOUS PRISONERS ON HUNGER STRIKE
At least 25 indigenous inmates in three Chiapas state prisons are on hunger strike, demanding immediate release.  The prisoners are members of Pueblo Creyente (a Catholic based organization), the Zapatista movement, and CIOAC.  All are political prisoners incarcerated on trumped up charges.  Zacario Hernandez began the hunger strike more than three weeks ago and is reportedly in delicate health.  In a series of rather odd paid newspaper articles published over the past week, Governor Juan Sabines claimed the inmates “are not prisoners of this government.  All of the prisoners were jailed during previous administrations, and because of this we find it strange that they are protesting in this manner now.  Why didn’t they do it before?  It would appear that they are involved in a campaign to defame the state of Chiapas.”  Nevertheless, Sabines ordered a review of each case by State officials and the federal and state Human Rights Commissions.  He called on the prisoners to have patience and to call off their hunger strikes.  Meanwhile, members of the Other Campaign and family members supported a rapidly growing movement to release all political prisoners in Chiapas.


4. ENVIRONMENTALISTS ARRESTED IN TAMPICO
Five environmentalists protecting the Laguna del Carpintero from development were arrested this week in the northern Gulf city of Tampico.  Victor Zenon, a well known international activist who worked with Cuba solidarity committees from the US, was among the prisoners.  The five immediately declared a hunger strike.  All five were blindfolded and beaten by police during the arrests.  Since the arrests, dozens of volunteers and civic organizations have taken up protests at the Laguna del Carpintero.