Mexico News and Analysis: Sept 28 - Oct 4, 2009

1. Militant October 2 demonstrations across the country
2. Popular leader KIDNAPPED/arrested in Chiapas
3. Arrest in bank explosions
4. Narcotics generate billions each year
5. Atenco police retain immunity from prosecution
6. Poverty increases under Calderon
7. Armed thugs attack teachers in Morelos


1. Militant October 2 demonstrations across the country
Tens of thousands of demonstrators in more than a dozen cities turned out for the 41st anniversary of the Tlatelolco Massacre, where paramilitaries and troops attacked hundreds of students and civilians in the Plaza of Three Cultures in Mexico City.  The largest and most militant demonstration was in Mexico City, where police cordoned off young people with tear gas and nightsticks, arresting 26 demonstrators, including eleven minors.  Demonstrations were also held in Chiapas, Oaxaca, Michoacan, Guerrero, Tlaxcala, Veracruz, Sinaloa, and Chihuahua.  Evidence that surfaced for the first time this week shows that paramilitary groups organized and trained by PRI leaders were responsible for the massacre.  Historian Angeles Cardenas unearthed documents from the General Archive of the Nation (AGN) last Friday, proving for the first time that PRI leader Alfonso Corona del Rosal organized a paramilitary group, known informally as the PRI police, that infiltrated opposition groups and provided the sharpshooters that assassinated at least 300 peaceful demonstrators just six weeks before the 1968 Olympics.  The Tlatelolco Massacre is often sited as the beginning of more than a decade of intense guerilla warfare involving more than 30 insurgent groups, and the government’s response known as the Dirty War.


2. Popular leader KIDNAPPED/arrested in Chiapas
Police posing as federal electrical workers arrested Jose Manuel Hernandez, a leader of the Emiliano Zapata Campesino Organization (OCEZ), on Wednesday.  Officials, who had no arrest warrant, spirited Hernandez from the community in a Federal Electricity Commission truck and turned him over to unidentified masked men for hours of interrogation.  He is currently in El Amate prison.  Hernandez, affectionately known as Don Chema in his community Venustiano Carranza, is charged with a series of infractions going back to 2003, including land takeovers, property damage, robbery, and abuse of patriotic symbols.  Hernandez is the latest in a series of important leaders from Venustiano Carranza affiliated with the historic Casa del Pueblo who have been arrested or murdered by federal and state officials working closely with local powerbrokers.  OCEZ is demanding his immediate release from prison.  The kidnapping/arrest comes in the midst of negotiations between Chiapas state officials and OCEZ.  In the context of increasing tensions throughout the state, Don Chema’s kidnapping/arrest is likely to increase the gaping distance between government officials and popular organizations.

In related news, the Fray Bartolome Human Rights Center condemned a series of recent attacks against OCEZ, the National Front for Socialist Struggle (FNLS), Kinal Antsetik, an NGO dedicated to indigenous women’s empowerment, and other popular organizations.  On September 26, a masked intruder tried to set fire to the offices of Kinal Antsetik.  In recent months, Yolanda Castro and Daniel Luna, co-founders of Kinal and leaders of the FNLS, have been under constant police vigilance.  State officials recently threatened to cut federal anti-poverty programs to communities aligned with the Otra Campaña who are struggling against the construction of a freeway linking San Cristobal de las Casas and Palenque that would dislocate hundreds of families from their lands.  The Fray Bartolome Center sees these actions as part of a federal and state-directed counter-insurgency strategy that targets popular organizations.


3. Arrest in bank explosions
Police arrested and then released a university student on suspicion of placing explosive devises at banks, a car dealership and an upscale clothing store in Mexico City.  The devices, known as petards, broke windows but caused no human injuries.  On the basis of a blurred surveillance photo taken at one of the bank branches, police arrested Ramses Villareal, a 27-year-old married student, on Thursday.  A judge ordered his immediate release, calling the arrest illegal.  His lawyer pointed to several inconsistencies in the case, including wide discrepancies between the facial characteristics of Villareal and the surveillance photo, and the fact that police accused the student of setting explosives at two different sites miles apart in Mexico City at virtually the same time.  At least ten “cristalazos” (late night attacks using small explosive devices that break windows but cause little other damage) in Mexico City, Guanajuato, Nayarit and Jalisco are generally attributed to anarchists carrying out “propaganda by deed” actions.


4. Narcotics generate billions each year
Illegal narcotics generate between US$25 and $40 billion yearly in Mexico, according to estimates by Miami-based Kroll Associates, one of the world’s most important private security firms.  As much as a third of this money ends up corrupting police, the military and government officials.  The staggering quantities of cash represent Mexico’s most important source of foreign exchange, exceeding petroleum sales, immigrant remittances or tourist income.  This may account for the fact that President Calderon’s “war on drugs” has focused mainly on interrupting transportation routes rather than targeting money laundering.  Disruption of drug-generated income could send the peso plummeting and leave the country short of foreign exchange to pay off dollar-denominated debts.


5. Atenco police retain immunity from prosecution
Mexico State police who sexually abused dozens of women during the May 3 and 4 police riots in San Salvador Atenco will likely never face criminal sanctions.  Despite a report published last week by the Special Investigator for Violent Crimes against Women naming 34 state police officers for abusing women detainees, the Mexico State Attorney General, Alberto Bazbaz Sacal, refuses to open an investigation.  On Tuesday, he announced there were no grounds for penal action against the police, despite eyewitness testimony from at least two dozen women who were raped or sexually assaulted on a police bus while in custody.  To date, only one officer has been convicted in the case.  His original sentence of four years in prison was commuted to a fine of 4,000 pesos (about US$275).


6. Poverty increases under Calderon
In 2008, almost 20 million Mexicans, six million more than the previous year, lived in extreme poverty, defined as income of less than US$2 per day.  Almost half are children under the age of 18.  While this data has been available for the past two months, President Calderon publicly recognized it for the first time this week while defending his 2010 budget, which calls for a 2% tax on food and medicines.  Calderon is trying to sell his tax increase as a poverty reduction program, despite that fact that it would disproportionately impact poor families who spend high percentages of their incomes as basics.  While PRI leaders, who control a majority of the lower house, initially rejected the new tax, they are now discussing a 2% tax on all food and medicines except a “basic basket” of perhaps forty or fifty widely consumed food items.


7. Armed thugs attack teachers in Morelos
At least 200 thugs armed with nail-studded bats and paid by Elba Esther Gordillo’s National Education Workers Union (SNTE) attacked dissident teachers in Morelos on Monday, dislodging dozens of members of the Teacher’s Base Movement (MMB) from the Section 19 union offices.  Dissident teachers had occupied the Section 19 offices since August, protesting Calderon’s widely unpopular Alliance for Quality Education (ACE).  Five professors and a twelve-year-old girl were hospitalized after the attack.  Teachers responded with a mass demonstration on Saturday that forced state authorities to negotiate with MMB representatives, resulting in the reinstatement of at least 18 dissident teachers who were fired in August.