Mexico News and Analysis, October 6-12, 2008

1. MEXICO FEELS ECONOMIC CRISIS
2. TEACHER MOVEMENT SPREAD
3. STATE OFFICIALS TRY TO BUY OFF CHINKULTIK SURVIVORS
4. JUSTICE IN ATENCO?
5. MSN PROGRAM HIGHLIGHTS (Contact MSN [at] MexicoSolidarity [dot] org)


1. MEXICO FEELS ECONOMIC CRISIS
Despite months of wildly optimistic pronouncements by President Felipe Calderon boasting the economy was immune to US credit problems, the worldwide crisis hit Mexico this week with a vengeance.  The peso declined 17% in five days, trading as high as 14 per dollar before settling just above 13 at the interbank rate on Friday.  The Bank of Mexico auctioned 10% of its dollar reserves in three days in an effort to stem the fall, but to no avail as investors fled Mexico for US Treasury bonds.  Meanwhile, Mexican crude oil, the country’s most important source of hard currency, sank to US$65.89 a barrel, the lowest price in more than a year. 

On Wednesday, Calderon announced an emergency plan after admitting publicly for the first time that the crisis might provoke “negative impacts” in the Mexican economy.  The five point plan includes increased public expenditures on infrastructure projects, construction of a new petroleum refinery, assistance for small and medium seized businesses, tax cuts, and an increase in the federal deficit from 2% of GNP to 2.8%.  The President expects the plan to increase GNP by at least 1% next year, although federal incomes will decrease by at least US$2.5 billion due to lower taxes and oil prices.  In the midst of a global meltdown, Treasury Secretary Agustin Carstens called this “an opportune moment to invest” and he encouraged “patience and confidence in the national economy.”  Despite the Calderon administration’s generally optimistic prognostications, the World Bank predicted that 100 million people living in the global South would sink into poverty by the end of this year.  Mexico’s bleak outlook for 2009 includes high inflation, increasing unemployment and reduced credit, leaving many Mexicans wondering how they will survive.


2. TEACHER MOVEMENT SPREADS
Teachers unhappy with a federal plan to reform Mexico’s public schools blocked highways, took over offices, continued a permanent “planton” in front of the Secretary of Education offices in Mexico City, and challenged the leadership of “President for life” Elba Esther Gordillo of the National Union of Education Workers (SNTE).  Protests against the Alliance for Quality Education (ACE), signed by Gordillo and President Felipe Calderon this summer, increased throughout the country, despite pressure from federal authorities to stem the growing movement.  Police and army troops cleared three highway blockades in Morelia, the center of the teacher’s movement, leaving dozens injured and at least 49 people arrested.  The most violent repression occurred Thursday in the largely indigenous community of Xoxocotla, where 2,000 army troops joined hundreds of Federal Preventative Police to violently break up an 11-day blockade of the federal highway that passes through the town.  Police attacked “padres de familia” (the rough equivalent of an attack on a PTA in the US) with tear gas and night sticks while protestors sang the national anthem.  Protestors fled the highway blockade after a brief encounter, but police chased them into town, arresting at least 49 people and leaving dozens injured.  The CNTE reported at least 200 serious injuries suffered by teachers and supporters at the hands of police during the week’s actions. 

The Secretary of Education, Josefina Vázquez Mota, began cutting off paychecks and hiring substitutes in Morelos this week, while federal officials promised to apply the “full force of the State” when demonstrators block highways.  The Calderon administration called for continuing negotiations but refused to discuss the ACE, the removal of Gordillo as union president, or last year’s widely unpopular social security reform.  Since these are the three main points on the teachers’ agenda, it appears that federal officials are simply buying time with negotiations, hoping education workers will tire of the demonstrations.

Opposition is centered in the dissident National Coordinator of Education Workers (CNTE) in Morelos, Michoacan, Guerrero, Zacatecas, Coahuila, Puebla, Veracruz, Quintana Roo, Oaxaca, Chiapas and the Federal District.  Even union leadership in Guanajuato, traditionally a stronghold for Gordillo, is challenged by the dissident CNTE, which includes 10,000 of the 72,000 teachers statewide.  Teachers in the normally conservative Guanajuato shut down the center of the capitol on October 8 during the International Festival of Cervantino.  In Veracruz, 36 dissident teachers registered the Veracruz Autonomous Union of Workers in Service to Education (Satev), a potential alternative for the 70,000 active members of Section 32 of the SNTE.  Leaders predicted that 15% of the state’s teachers would join the new union if it manages to defend itself from expected legal challenges by the SNTE.  There is an ongoing debate within the dissident factions of the SNTE over creating a new union versus working within the existing structures.  Apparently some Veracruz teachers have decided that the SNTE is not worth the trouble.  At least 300 teachers took over nine highway toll booths for two days this week in Michoacan in support of their counterparts in Morelos.  This is a particularly popular protest technique as drivers don’t have to pay tolls.  The CNTE called for a march in Mexico City on October 17, at which time they will announce the date of a nationwide general strike.  The CNTE was founded in 1979 and today includes about 300,000 of the 1.5 million members who make up the SNTE.

Meanwhile, Gordillo called for unity in support of the ACE at the 26th extraordinary session of the National Council of the SNTE in Hermosillo, Sonora.  Gordillo may have chosen the conservative northern state for the meeting in part because she could count on a friendly Governor and strong police support in case of dissident actions.  In the face of increasing opposition, even within the National Council, Gordillo called on the union to define its position in support of ACE.  The ACE would concentrate even more power in the hands of Gordillo and a small cabal of family members and union officials who control the SNTE.  Gordillo called for national protests in support of more federal education spending, an apparent effort to show her own strength in the face of the rapidly growing dissident movement against the ACE. 

The ACE would prevent teachers from selling their positions or passing them on to family members, allowing the SNTE leadership to replace dissident teachers with allies.  Since many teachers paid for their positions, they would be unable to recoup their initial (and sometimes substantial) investment.  The ACE would subject teachers to regular testing and ignore seniority rights, giving even more control to the SNTE leadership.  Teacher tests would be administered by private companies, a step toward privatization of public education that has been a dream of the ruling National Action Party (PAN).


3. STATE OFFICIALS TRY TO BUY OFF CHINKULTIK SURVIVORS
State officials led by Governor Juan Sabines lavished payments on the survivors of last week’s police massacre in Chinkultik, Chiapas, in which six campesinos were killed.  Sabines visited the community in person Monday night, only two days after the massacre, offering lifelong pensions and scholarships for the victims’ families, and development aid, including an “eco-tourism facility,” for the community.  State officials accused six state police officers of killing four of the victims with gunshots at close range.

Meanwhile, the Junta of Good Government in Oventic complained that state officials were sowing the seeds of violence in the Chiapas highlands by incorrectly awarding contested property in the municipality of Chenalho.  Thirty-one Zapatista families and 84 families affiliated with the PRI from the community of Aldama have occupied the 70 acres in question for generations, yet state authorities awarded the land to a group from the neighboring community of Santa Marta, setting up a dispute that could lead to violence.  “We are ready to fight for this land,” said the Junta of Good Government in a communiqué issued on Thursday.  “If the bad government wants blood without dirtying its own hands, it’s too late, because we already know that the hands of Felipe Calderon and Juan Sabines are deeply involved in this counterinsurgency plan.”


4. JUSTICE IN ATENCO?
A Mexico State court upheld light sentences for police convicted of sexual assault against women in the May 3rd and 4th, 2006, police riots in San Salvador Atenco.  A state police officer sentenced to three years and two months for forcing a prisoner to perform oral sex will be able to avoid jail time by paying a fine of US$750.  At least 26 women were sexually assaulted by police after their arrests, and two young men were murdered by police, yet it appears that not a single officer will serve time for the offenses.  Meanwhile, authorities sentenced leaders of the People’s Front in Defense of the Land (FPDT), a group that prevented the construction of an airport on communal lands in Atenco, to 112 years and 67 years in prison for crimes they did not commit.


5. MSN PROGRAM HIGHLIGHTS (Contact MSN [at] MexicoSolidarity [dot] org)

STUDY ABROAD PROGRAM:
All Mexico Solidarity Network study abroad programs are accredited at the undergraduate and masters level by the Universidad Autonoma Metropolitana, one of Mexico’s most prestigious public universities.  Hampshire College is the US school of record and provides official transcripts.

Fall 2008, September 7 – December 13: Study in Chiapas, Tlaxcala, Mexico City and Ciudad Juarez, focusing on the theory and practice of Mexican social movements, including indigenous movements, campesino organizations, and urban movements.  The 14-week, 16-credit program includes intensive Spanish language courses and alternative study options for native Spanish speakers.

Spring 2009, January 25 – May 2: Study in Chiapas, Tlaxcala, Mexico City and Ciudad Juarez, focusing on the theory and practice of Mexican social movements, including indigenous movements, campesino organizations, and urban movements.  The 14-week, 16-credit program includes intensive Spanish language courses and alternative study options for native Spanish speakers.

Summer 2009, June 7 – August 1: Study Mexico’s most important social movements in Chiapas, Mexico City and Tlaxcala.  The eight-week, 11-credit program includes intensive Spanish classes and alternative study options for native Spanish speakers.

Summer 2009, June 14 – July 25: The Border Dynamics program focuses on US-Mexico border dynamics viewed through a third world feminist lens.  The six-week, 8-credit program is Spanish immersion.

Fall 2009, September 6 – December 12: Study in Chiapas, Tlaxcala, Mexico City and Ciudad Juarez, focusing on the theory and practice of Mexican social movements, including indigenous movements, campesino organizations, and urban movements.  The 14-week, 16-credit program includes intensive Spanish language courses and alternative study options for native Spanish speakers.


CHICAGO AUTONOMOUS CENTER (3460 W. LAWRENCE AVE.)
ESL and Spanish Literacy classes: Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday evenings, and Saturday mornings.  Classes utilize popular education strategies to increase conversational English capacity and basic reading and writing skills in Spanish.

Cultural events and political workshops:
For a full schedule of cultural events and political workshops, contact the Mexico Solidarity Network at 773-583-7728 or visit http://mexicosolidarity.prometdevelopment.com/communityforum


SPEAKING TOURS:
Contact MSN [at] MexicoSolidarity [dot] org to schedule an event in your city.

October 19-31, 2008 (Northwest): Plan Mexico.  Carlos Euceda will discuss Plan Mexico (aka the Merida Initiative), a bilateral security initiative that will provide $1.5 billion in US military financing for Mexico’s army and intelligence forces.

October 12-24, 2008 (New England): Border dynamics.  Veronica Leyva, a native of Ciudad Juarez, will speak about maquiladoras, immigration and struggles for land along the border, with particular emphasis on the Lomas de Poleo struggle.  Veronia is the MSN staff person in Ciudad Juarez.  She worked for seven years in maquiladoras and six years as a labor/community organizer before joining the MSN staff in 2004.

November 9-21, 2008 (Midwest): Immigration dynamics and Braceros.  A representative of the National Assembly of ex-Braceros from Tlaxcala will discuss current struggles by Braceros and the lessons of the Bracero program for the debate on immigration reform.  Braceros were Mexican guest workers who came to the US under a post-World War II treaty.

November 9-21, 2008 (California): Immigration dynamics and Braceros.  A representative of the National Assembly of ex-Braceros from Tlaxcala will discuss current struggles by Braceros and the lessons of the Bracero program for the debate on immigration reform.  Braceros were Mexican guest workers who came to the US under a post-World War II treaty.  Macrina Cardenas, President of the MSN board of directors, will accompany the tour.

February 8-21, 2009 (Southeast): Border dynamics.  Veronica Leyva, a native of Ciudad Juarez, will speak about maquiladoras, immigration and struggles for land along the border, with particular emphasis on the Lomas de Poleo struggle.  Veronia is the MSN staff person in Ciudad Juarez.  She worked for seven years in maquiladoras and six years as a labor/community organizer before joining the MSN staff in 2004.

February 15-28, 2009 (Mid Atlantic): Immigration dynamics and Braceros.  A representative of the National Assembly of ex-Braceros from Tlaxcala will discuss current struggles by Braceros and the lessons of the Bracero program for the debate on immigration reform.  Braceros were Mexican guest workers who came to the US under a post-World War II treaty.

March 15-28, 2009 (New York state): Free trade, fair trade and the dynamics of alternative economies. 

March 22 – April 4, 2009 (Midwest): Immigration dynamics, featuring migrant workers from the Midwest.

March 29 – April 11, 2009 (New England): Urban housing struggles and the war against popular organizations in Mexico.

April 5-18, 2009 (West Coast): The Other Campaign and campesino organizing, featuring an organizer from the Concejo Nacional Urbano Campesino.


ALTERNATIVE ECONOMY INTERNSHIPS:
Develop markets for artisanry produced by women's cooperatives in Chiapas and make public presentations on the struggle for justice and dignity in Zapatista communities.

Interns are currently active in:  New York City; El Paso, TX; Salt Lake City, UT; Rochester, NY; Albuquerque, NM; Washington, DC; Chico, CA; Stonington, ME; Minneapolis, MN; Berkeley, CA; Grand Rapids, MI; Salem, OR; Santa Cruz, CA; Chatham, NJ; Rutland, MA; Chicago, IL; Corpus Christi, TX; and Houston, TX

   

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