Mexico News and Analysis, Nov 24-30, 2008

1. World Festival of Dignified Rage
Subcomandante Marcos and Lieutenant Colonel Moises reported Friday on the progress of the First World Festival of Dignified Rage.  The Festival is scheduled for Mexico City December 26-29, Oventic December 30-January 1, and San Cristobal de las Casas January 2-5.  The Mexico City festival will include hundreds of booths set up by political organizations, collectives and solidarity groups.  Presentations in Mexico City are organized around the four “wheels” of capitalism (exploitation, dislocation, repression and contempt) with the mornings dedicated to the impacts of capitalism and the afternoons dedicated to alternatives.  Comandantas Susana, Miriam, Florencia, Hortensia and Everilda, Capitana Elena, Comandantes David, Tacho, Zebedeo and Guillermo, Lieutenant Colonel Moises, and two children – Lupita and Tonita – are scheduled to be present in Oventic.  A Zapatista communiqué said, “Entrance to all of the activities of the festival are free and open for anyone who wants to come and find out about the dignified rage that is organized in Mexico and the world.”

2. Plans to drill for oil in Chiapas
Energy Secretary Georgina Kessel announced plans this week to begin drilling for oil in the Lacandon rainforest.  Citing a study conducted by Pemex, Kessel estimated by 2021 Chiapas fields could be producing 500,000 barrels a day from 17,000 new wells.  Kessel also announced the construction of a bio-energy plant to produce biodiesel from the jatrofa curcus, a hardy plant that can be grown in marginal soils.  Experts predict the facility will require at least 7,500 acres of mono-culture production.  The plant uses technology developed in Colombia and is financed by at least US$800,000 in federal and state funds.  Two previously funded bio-energy plants in Cintalapa and Huehuetan consumed about US$500,000 in state investment, but both plants are now abandoned, due in part to the lack of a market for the relatively expensive bio-diesel.  Some communities participating in the federal ProArbol (Pro-Tree) program are reportedly receiving seeds to plant jatrofa curcus instead of trees.

Kessel’s announcement is part of an ambitious resurgence of Plan Puebla Panama, now renamed the Mesoamerica Project, that contemplates four regional development engines: tourism, minerals, oil and bio-energy.  Plans include construction of a controversial highway linking San Cristobal de las Casas and Palenque.  Canadian mining companies have been particularly active in the Sierra Madre de Chiapas region.  The plans are generating substantial community-based opposition from indigenous communities and environmentalists.

3. Noose tightens around Garcia Luna
The law enforcement noose tightened around Security Secretary Genaro Garcia Luna this week as the Federal Attorney General (PGR) interviewed his former personal secretary, Mario Velarde, for possible links to drug cartels.  Velarde’s name surfaced during interviews with a protected witness code-named Felipe who accused several high ranking officials of selling information to the Beltran Leyva cartel.  Velarde is the only official questioned as a result of Felipe’s testimony who is not currently under arrest, though he remains under investigation.  President Felipe Calderon went out of his way to publicly defend his Security Secretary.  The President’s speech was heavily criticized across the political spectrum, including by Manuel Espino, former President of the PAN and a rival of Calderon.

In related news, about half of Mexico’s federal, state and local police have failed evaluations this year that include psychological, toxicological, socio-economic and medical exams plus a lie-detector test.  The highest failure rates, between 60 and 89%, were registered in states where drug cartels are particularly active, including Baja California, Sinaloa, Zacatecas, Tamaulipas and Nuevo Leon.  The evaluations included 56,000 police, of which only 42% received a passing grade.

4. First official break with ACE
Following increasingly militant demonstrations by teachers and supporters, the State Institute of Public Education of Oaxaca announced plans on Friday to work with Section 22 of the National Union of Education Workers (SNTE) to produce an alternative to the Alliance for Quality Education (ACE).  The agreement to open negotiations followed a mass demonstration by Section 22 and the Popular Assembly of the People of Oaxaca (APPO) commemorating the second anniversary of police repression in the state capitol during the 2006 popular uprising. 

Meanwhile, dissident teachers in Guerrero reported modest progress in negotiations with state education authorities, including the controversial question of inherited teaching posts.  And more than 800 teachers in Morelia blocked state office buildings on Tuesday.  Opposition to the ACE, approved earlier this year by President Felipe Calderon and SNTE “President for life” Elba Esther Gordillo, has been increasing since the opening of the school year in August with strikes and demonstrations centered in Michoacan, Guerrero, Oaxaca and at least ten other states.  The position taken by Oaxaca state authorities represents the first break in official government support for the controversial ACE.