MSN News and Analysis: April 20-26, 2009

1. Influenza hits Mexico
2. Civil mediation commission ends its work
3. Activists visit Atenco prisoners
4. Amnesty International condemns arrests in Chiapas
5. Cananea dispute is watershed for organized labor
6. Exports decline 25% in March


1. Influenza hits Mexico
Mexico education and health officials closed schools and public venues across the Mexico City valley on Friday, April 24, in response to a growing concern over influenza.  Officials are trying to break the cycle of contagion by encouraging people to avoid public places with large gatherings where the airborn illness can easily spread.   

At least 20 people have died and about 1,300 illnesses were reported in recent weeks from a new strain of influenza that includes genetic material from pigs, birds and humans.  In almost 80% of the reported cases, patients recovered and returned home.  About 30 million people live in the Mexico City valley area.  The deaths are of particular concern because the victims were generally from less vulnerable groups, including young people and adults.  President Felipe Calderon addressed the nation on Sunday afternoon and assured citizens that cures are available for this strain of influenza. Deaths appear to be the result of untreated cases of influenza that progressed to pneumonia or other complications.  

Tests show some of the Mexico victims died from the same new strain of virus that sickened eight people recently in California and Texas, and appears to be spreading to Kansas and New York.  Authorities in the US say patients in California and Texas exhibited mild symptoms and all recovered.  Symptoms resemble the regular human seasonal influenza and include fever, lethargy, lack of appetite and coughing. The US Center for Disease Control (CDC) web site says some people with swine flu experience a runny nose, sore throat, nausea, vomiting and diarrhea.  Deaths have been reported in Mexico probably in large part because much of the Mexican population is malnourished.  Poverty-stricken countries like Mexico, where more than half the population lives on less than one dollar a day, often suffer more deaths from news strains of influenza than wealthier countries. 

The CDC recommends the use of the common flu drugs Tamiflu (generic oseltamivir) and Relenza.  The CDC and Mexican health officials recommend frequent hand-washing, and avoidance of hand-shaking or the traditional kiss on the cheek as preventative measures.  US health officials have NOT issued a travel advisory for Mexico, and neither has the World Health Organization.   
 

2. Civil mediation commission ends its work
Members of the civil commission mediating the case of two disappeared members of the Popular Revolutionary Army (EPR), a guerilla group active in southern and central Mexico, ended their work on Tuesday citing "a lack of interest and political will" on the part of government officials.  The EPR initiated a unilateral ceasefire nine months ago after the civil commission agreed to act as a mediating body, trying to clarify what happened to two EPR activists who disappeared on May 24, 2007. The civil commission accused the government of being "capable of only making declarations" during the nine month investigation.  Government officials rejected direct talks with the EPR, and called on the civil commission to renew its work, but without making concrete offers to step up the investigation. 
 

3. Activists visit Atenco prisoners
Members of the Commission for Justice in Atenco were able for the first time to visit three political prisoners from the Popular Front in Defense of the Land (FPDT).  Ignacio del Valle, Hector Galindo and Felipe Alvarez are held in a maximum security prison in Altiplano, sentenced to as much as 112 years for "kidnapping."  All three activists were taken into custody during police riots in San Salvador Atenco on May 3 and 4, 2006, and have been in prison since.  They are accused of detaining government officials during a series of negotiations over land rights in Atenco, a common occurrence in rural areas, even though none of the three were present during the detention according the detained officials. Members of the Commission, which included Bishop Samuel Ruiz and human rights activist Miguel Concha, reported inhumane conditions for the three activists, who are subject to daily strip searches and denied access to books or newspapers.  The Commission called on authorities to move the three activists to a local prison while their cases are appealed. 
 

4. Amnesty International condemns arrests in Chiapas
Amnesty International (AI) criticized the recent arrests of eleven activists in Chiapas who were detained in "unofficial centers" with "restricted access to lawyers and family" and "subject to torture and threats."  Six of the activists are members of Mocri-CNPS-MN and five are members of the Otra Campaña.  Two more people were arrested since Amnesty International issued the report, including a Zapatista support base.   

"On April 7, five men were detained in Tuxtla Gutierrez after organizing a protest at the local prison where several of their family members are imprisoned.  They protested because they think their family members, who belong to the campesino organization known at Mocri-CNPS-MN, are being held on false charges.  In addition, the police searched the offices of the organization and took away computers, electronic archives, paperwork and money," according to the AI report.  "After the detention, the five men were held incommunicado for two days and taken to an unused local hotel called the Quinta Ptitiquito in the municipality of Chiapas de Corzo that the state Attorney General utilized for their detention."  Erick Bautista, one of those detained, denounced authorities: "while in custody they beat us repeatedly in the stomach and head and they pulled our hair.  When they finally allowed my sister to visit, they told her that if I didn't cooperate, something horrible would happen."  

Later six men from San Sebastian Bachajon were detained in Ocosingo and held in the same hotel.  Human rights defenders who visited the detainees reported "they were tortured by the Chiapas police that detained them, and they had visible marks from the beatings.  They were obliged to sign declarations they didn't understand" as there was no translator present.  None of the detainees speak Spanish as their first language.  AI criticized the use of "preventative detention" in which state authorities can hold anyone for up to 80 days without charges.  The current state government has made extensive use of preventative detention as a punitive action to discourage civil protests. 
 

5. Cananea dispute is watershed for organized labor
A strike by 1,300 mineworkers at the Cananea mine, owned by the powerful Grupo Mexico, has become a watershed for organized labor.  Workers declared a strike on July 30, 2007, complaining of gross violations of their collective contract.  Grupo Mexico won decisions on four separate occasions from the Federal Junta of Reconciliation and Arbitration, but in each case the decision was overturned by federal courts.  On April 14, the Junta declared the strike "inexistent" and removed formal recognition of the union, claiming the mine was no longer capable of production because of deteriorated conditions.  However, a federal court again backed the mineworkers, who maintain control of the mine.  Grupo Mexico immediately contradicted their own claims, offering to hire back most of the mineworkers, except about 300 who are identified as "radical" leaders, and restart production.  With world copper prices increasing, Grupo Mexico is anxious to resolve the strike on its own terms and begin production, but a militant and organized mineworkers union is demanding justice.  The Secretary of Labor appears to want to make an example of Cananea in anticipation of draconian labor reforms the PAN plans to introduce in the next Congress.  Organized labor is united in support of the Cananea strikers. 
 

6. Exports decline 25% in March
Mexican exports declined by 25% in March in comparison to the same month last year, due largely to decreasing petroleum prices and decreasing demand for manufactured goods resulting from the economic crisis.