MAY 19-25, 2008

1. EPR/GOVERNMENT NEGOTIATIONS OPEN
2. PROTESTS RETURN TO OAXACA
3. MERIDA INITIATIVE IN TROUBLE
4. UNPRECEDENTED KANGAROO COURT CONVICTS MIGRANT WORKERS


1. EPR/GOVERNMENT NEGOTIATIONS OPEN
The federal government opened mediated negotiations with the Popular Revolutionary Army (EPR) this week over the release of Edmundo Reyes and Gabriel Alberto Cruz, EPR members who disappeared on May 25, 2007.  The EPR agreed to a ceasefire as long as negotiations proceed.  Federal officials claim no knowledge of the two disappeared EPR members, but agreed to negotiations in hopes of reaching a permanent ceasefire.  The EPR caused US$600 million in damage and lost economic activity after bombing Pemex pipelines on June 5, July 10 and September 10, 2007, demanding the release of their colleagues.


2. PROTESTS RETURN TO OAXACA
At least 10,000 Oaxacan teachers affiliated with Section 22 of the National Union of Education Workers (SNTE) occupied the center of Oaxaca City on Monday in a virtual replay of 2006 demonstrations that paralyzed the city for months.  The occupation followed a 25,000 strong demonstration by teachers and supporters demanding the removal of Governor Ulises Ruiz and freedom for ten jailed members of the Popular Assembly of the Peoples of Oaxaca (APPO).  The majority of the state’s 70,000 teachers stopped work in support of the occupation.  On Saturday, the sixth day of mobilizations, teachers blocked the highway to Benito Juarez International Airport and occupied toll gates on the federal highway between Oaxaca and Mexico City.  Protests are scheduled to last three weeks until June 14, the second anniversary of violent police actions against the APPO in Oaxaca City.


3. MERIDA INITIATIVE IN TROUBLE
Mexico may not accept the Merida Initiative, a Bush administration proposal for US$1.6 billion of high tech surveillance gear and weapons ostensibly to fight the drug war, if the US Congress attaches conditions, according to Mexican lawmakers and members of the Calderon administration.  Jose Santiago, a high-ranking official in the federal Attorney’s General Office, warned that human rights conditions may be unacceptable to Mexico, and suggested the US spend the funds on their own customs agents and Border Patrol to impede the flow of weapons into Mexico.  The US is the source of 97% of the heavy weapons used by Mexican drug cartels, who have killed nearly 4,000 people over the past 18 months in a war over lucrative markets.  Lawmakers from the PRD, PAN and PRI all considered the conditions imposed by the US Senate unacceptable, characterizing the initiative as an “illegal intervention” in the internal affairs of Mexico.  Last week, the US Senate approved a version of the Merida Initiative that prohibits funds for army or police units that have violated human rights or are corrupt.  Federal Deputy Diodoro Carrasco of the ruling National Action Party (PAN) warned that the conditions returned US-Mexico relations to the era of “certification” when Mexico was subject to a degrading annual review of its human rights record by US officials, who coincidentally were themselves involved in such international actions as the Iraq war and the torture of prisoners in secret jails.

The Merida Initiative also faced withering criticism in the US Congress.  As many as 200 US-trained members of elite anti-narcotics teams trained at the School of the Americas at Fort Benning, Georgia, have defected to drug cartels, according to Rep. Ted Poe (R-TX).  The renegade trainees carry out assassinations on both sides of the US-Mexico border.  “It seems as though the United States has a history in some cases of giving support (to Mexico) and that support turns around and is used against the very people we’re trying to protect, in this case, us,” Poe said. “We have no assurance that the equipment we’re sending to Mexico won’t be turned over to the drug cartels and used against us.”


4. UNPRECEDENTED KANGAROO COURT CONVICTS MIGRANT WORKERS
At least 270 undocumented workers rounded up last week in the largest workplace raid in US history were hurriedly processed this week through temporary courtrooms at the Waterloo, Iowa, fairgrounds.  Most were sentenced on federal charges to five months in prison followed by immediate deportation for working at the Agriprocessors Inc. meatpacking plant in Postville, Iowa, with false identification documents.  The prosecutions signal a draconian legal escalation against undocumented workers by the Bush administration in anticipation of Fall presidential elections.  Until now, undocumented workers detained with false identification papers faced civil charges and were rapidly deported.  Overworked defense lawyers appointed by the court barely had time to meet their clients and quickly explain the federal government’s offer – plead guilty or face a mandatory two-year minimum jail sentence for felony identity theft.  All but a handful of the migrant workers had no previous criminal record.  The American Immigration Lawyers Association protested that the workers were denied meetings with immigration lawyers and that their claims under immigration law were swept aside in unusual and speedy plea agreements.  Juliet Stumpf, an immigration law professor and formerly a senior civil rights lawyer at the Justice Department, characterized the legal proceedings as “a startling intensification of the criminalization of immigration law.”  To date, no charges have been brought against managers or owners of Agriprocessors.  Many of the workers complained inhumane working conditions, with forced overtime, 14-hour work days, and extensive use of child labor.  One defense attorney, David Nadler, called the workers, mostly from Guatemala, “the kings of family values,” and claimed he was “honored to represent such good and brave people.”  Judge Bennet, who oversaw the sentencing, discarded the lawyer’s comments: “I don’t doubt for a moment that you are good, hardworking people who have done what you did to help you families.  Unfortunately for you, you committed a violation of federal law.”  Kathleen Campbell Walker, president of the American Immigration Lawyers Association, said important issues were probably overlooked in many cases, for example, where workers had children or spouses who were legal residents or US citizens.  These issues “could not be even cursorily addressed in the time frame being forced upon these individuals and their overburdened counsel.”