Mexico News and Analysis: Nov 30 - Dec 6, 2009

1. SME “occupies” Mexico City
2. PRD attempts to renew itself
3. Violence increasing in Ciudad Juarez
4. Mexico City unveils world’s largest Christmas tree


1. SME “occupies” Mexico City
Tens of thousands of union members, students and campesinos occupied Mexico City on Friday in a symbolic replay of the historic arrival of revolutionaries Emiliano Zapata and Francsico Villa on the same date in 1914.  The Electrical Workers Union (SME) led the mass mobilization to protest the closure last month of the state-owned Central Light and Power (LFC) which left more than 44,000 union members unemployed.  The occupation closed many major highways, overwhelming the 5,000 federal police assembled to inhibit the demonstration.  Contingents arrived from all four points of the compass to converge at the Monument of the Revolution.  SME President Martin Esparza called for renewed negotiations with federal authorities, proposing Jose Narro, rector of the National Autonomous University (UNAM), as mediator.


2. PRD attempts to renew itself
The badly divided Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD) met this week in an effort to reconcile battling internal currents that have left the party with virtually no hope for electoral successes in 2010 mid term or 2012 presidential elections.  The ostensibly leftist party faces a fundamental contradiction as it struggles for political power within a system based on corruption, clientelism and support for neoliberal policies. The Zapatistas and many other political currents in Mexico are (re)defining the Left as anti-capitalist, autonomous, and based on direct democracy, while the PRD finds itself in an untenable position, spewing vague leftist rhetoric while locating itself within institutional politics that no longer have relevance for most Mexicans.  The “crisis of democracy,” much discussed throughout Latin America, recognizes the incompatibility of power concentrated in the hands of elites – a natural result of capitalist dynamics - within allegedly democratic States in which people are increasingly removed from decisions that affect their daily lives.  Mexico’s major rival parties, the PRI and PAN, find no similar contradictions as they are clearly aligned with elites and unhindered by leftist rhetoric.

A recent internal analysis admits the PRD faces the most serious crisis in its history, blaming internal party divisions, lack of unity, political agreements made by leaders behind closed doors, and the civil resistance of Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador after the 2006 electoral fraud.  Yet a party organized historically around top-down, clientelist relationships while espousing leftist rhetoric can hardly expect anything different.  The internal contradictions leave party leaders separated by a wide gulf from party militants.  The expectations created by vague leftist rhetoric can never be realized within a party committed to the current institutional framework, leaving party leaders increasingly isolated from rank and file members.  The party’s analysis characterizes these contradictions as the difference between rupturistas and gradualistas (the classic revolution versus reform argument).  In the party context, this argument plays itself out, in part, around the question of whether or not to make electoral alliances with the PRI and/or PAN.  But this overly simplistic characterization largely misses the point.  Reform (the small daily struggles of millions of social actors) and revolution (the overarching vision) may mean the same thing when organized around a clear anti-capitalist ideology.  The problem arises when party leaders simply want to maintain a variation of the status quo that allows them to defend their jobs, salaries and power relations, while at the same time hiding behind progressive rhetorical flourishes.


3. Violence increasing in Ciudad Juarez
This year, about 2,500 murders are expected in Ciudad Juarez, a border town of 1.4 million just south of El Paso.  In the last 18 months, more than 4,000 people have been killed, while almost no one is serving time or even under investigation for the crimes.  The majority of the murders are attributed to organized crime as the Juarez and Sinaloa cartels fight for control of valuable narcotics transit routes.  There are about 175 murder victims per 100,000 inhabitants, numbers more typical of a war zone than a city built on maquiladoras and illegal drugs.  But of even greater concern to the general population are kidnappings and extortion.  Even small taco stands are now subject to extortion by organized crime, and some criminals go door to door demanding payments.  The city has seen a recent rash of restaurant and corner store arsons directed at non-compliant owners.  It’s estimated that six out of every ten businesses pay protection money, according to Eduardo Guereque, president of the local Citizen’s Medical Committee.  Organized crime is increasing its hold on the city despite, or perhaps because, of the presence of more than 6,000 army troops and federal police.  Initially, the population generally welcomed the presence of federal forces, with 90% approving their presence last March when the first massive troops arrived.  Nineteen months later, less than 10% approve of their presence, and many local businesses report local and federal police as well as the military are responsible for much of the extortion.  Extortion in combination with massive job losses in the maquiladora sector results in hundreds of businesses closing and a declining population as civilians simply leave the city.


4. Mexico City unveils world’s largest Christmas tree
In the midst of Mexico’s worst economic downturn since the Great Depression, Mexico City Mayor Marcelo Ebrard ordered the construction of the world’s largest Christmas tree in the city center.  The 350 foot giant is decorated with more than a million lights.  Ebrard also had an ice-skating rink built alongside the tree.  Due to the uncertainty of the electrical supply in the city center after the closure of Central Light and Power (LFC), the attractions draw on special generators shipped in semi trucks.