Mexico News and Analysis: November 23-29, 2009

1. SME hunger strike; CFE corruption
2. article generates dispute in Zapatista communities
3. OCEZ leaders released on bail


1. SME hunger strike; CFE corruption
Eleven women members of the Electrical Workers Union of Mexico (SME) began an open-ended hunger strike on Monday to protest the Calderon administration’s closure of Central Light and Power and the loss of more than 44,000 union jobs.  Police and army troops closed the state-owned power company last month in an unexpected midnight action.  The women are camped at the corner of Insurgentes and Reforma, one of Mexico City’s busiest commercial corners and home to the Federal Electricity Commission (CFE), another state-owned electrical company that took over LFC’s six million customers after the closure.

Calderon closed LFC accusing the company of inefficiency and excessive cost over-runs.  Both claims have been widely discredited by SME data.  This week the US government charged intermediaries in Houston with bribing high level CFE executives in exchange for millions of dollars in no-bid contracts.  CFE officials accepted at least US$900,000, and possibly as much as US$3 million, in illegal bribes for contracts signed in the late 1990s but exercised in 2003 under the current CFE administration.  Alfredo Elias Ayub, Director of the CFE, claimed ignorance and called for the Federal Attorney General to investigate illegal actions within the company.

On the legal front, parliamentary groups led by the PRI and PAN refused to bring a constitutional challenge against the closure of LFC.  Apparently the PRI, which holds a majority in the lower House with its partner Green Party, reached an agreement with the PAN in exchange for alterations in the recently approved federal budget.  The SME has a legal case pending challenging the closure of LFC.  Federal Judge Guillermina Coutino Mata, who issued a temporary restraining order in favor of the union, is expected to render a final decision as early as next week.  Coutino is a new judge with relatively little experience at the federal level.  While the legal arguments in the case clearly favor the SME, Coutino’s future as a judge hangs in the balance on this historically important decision.

The Secretaries of Labor and Energy announced an extension of the controversial offer to liquidate SME workers.  The initial plan, which ran through mid November, offered workers as much as an 80% bonus if they accepted severance plans.  The new plan, which offers lower bonuses, will run through the day before Christmas.  Officials hope to attract union families suffering from lack of paychecks as the holiday season approaches.  About half of the 44,000 SME workers, including most office and salaried employees, accepted the original plan, leaving about 25,000 workers still actively involved in the struggle against the closure of LFC.  The union is planning a national strike for January, and next week the SME and allies will symbolically close Mexico City with highway and street blockades and office occupations.


2. article generates dispute in Zapatista communities
On Wednesday, La Jornada published an article authored by Angeles Mariscal claiming the Zapatista Juntas of Good Government had requested legal recognition by state and federal authorities.  Mariscal sited a PAN official who said, “state legislators visited the five Juntas to better understand their needs.”  On Friday, the five Juntas published letters disavowing the article and accusing politicians and others of trying to profit from lies.  “We don’t need the recognition by the bad government which doesn’t represent the people; we are already recognized by our own communities that elect us,” wrote the Juntas.  The Juntas haven’t had any formal contact with state or federal officials since the negotiation of the San Andres Accords in 1996.


3. OCEZ leaders released on bail
Leaders of the Emiliano Zapata Campesino Organization (OCEZ) were released from prison on bail this week after OCEZ members mounted a series of protests, including the occupation of the United Nations offices in San Cristobal de las Casas, Chiapas, since October 30.  Federal officials disguised as electrical workers took OCEZ leaders, including Jose “Chema” Hernandez, into custody in September, part of increasing repression directed against the group based in Venustiana Carranza.  Chema was held in a high security federal prison in Nayarit, far from family, friends and legal counsel.  The release resulted from negotiations designed to reduce tensions between state authorities and OCEZ.  OCEZ is demanding an end to military incursions in their communities and cancellation of arrest warrants against their members.