Mexico News and Analysis: July 5 - August 1, 2010

1. Violence continues unabated in Chiapas
2. AMLO launches presidential campaign
3. July 4 election results
4. Calderon names new Interior Minister
5. Atenco Prisoners released
6. Supreme Court rules against SME workers
7. US closes Ciudad Juarez Consulate

1. Violence continues unabated in Chiapas
On July 30, members of CIOAC-I, a coffee producer’s union aligned with the PRD, invaded Campo Alegre, farmland liberated by the Zapatistas in 1994 and worked by three autonomous communities.  CIOAC-I was loosely aligned with the Zapatistas before 2000.  After the election of a PRD governor in 2000, CIOAC-I leaders were offered government posts and members were offered aid packages in exchange for accepting private land titles in an effort to replace the collective land ownership agreed to with the Zapatistas.  Land disputes ensued, just one example of localized unrest instigated and often supported by State authorities, political parties and police that threatens dozens of Zapatista communities.  A synopsis of several additional incidents in July was recently published by the Chiapas Support Committee and is available at http://www.chiapas-support.org.

2. AMLO launches presidential campaign
Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador (AMLO) launched his second run for President with a meeting on Sunday, July 25, that filled Mexico City’s Zocalo.  Presidential elections aren’t scheduled until July of 2012, but to no one’s surprise, AMLO was the first to announce in what’s expected to be a crowded field.  Mexico City Mayor Marcelo Ebrard, another potential candidate from AMLO’s Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD), tried to dampen enthusiasm by predicting historic rainfall and flooding, though the biblical waters never materialized.  Current President Felipe Calderon defeated AMLO in the 2006 race, a contest that was widely considered fraudulent.  Since then, Lopez Obrador has been on a virtual permanent campaign, visiting all 31 states on numerous occasions and holding rallies at least three days a week.  AMLO enjoys the support of at least one small left-leaning party, the PT, but his own PRD may have other ideas.  The PRD is badly divided among at least eight “tribes.”  Current party president Jesus Ortega, leader of the Chucho faction, built alliances with Calderon’s National Action Party in mid term elections held earlier in July.  Lopez Obrador does not formally recognize Calderon as legitimate president and he was especially critical of the PRD-PAN electoral alliances.

3. July 4 election results
A PAN-PRD alliance won gubernatorial races in the traditional PRI strongholds of Oaxaca, Puebla and Sinaloa, while the PRI won the other nine races, displacing a PRD governor in Zacatecas but mostly holding states already controlled by the party.  The mixed results paint a complicated picture for the 2012 presidential election.  While the PAN-PRD efforts have been described as an “unholy alliance” between the ultra-conservative PAN and the ostensibly left-leaning PRD, many observers simply see politics as usual as elites vie for power without regard to ideology. 

4. Calderon names new Interior Minister
President Felipe Calderon appointed Jose Francisco Blake as Interior Minister, the second most powerful federal position, replacing Fernando Gomez Mont, who resigned to return to private law practice.  The change was long rumored after Gomez Mont renounced his membership in the National Action Party (PAN) to protest mid term election alliances between the PAN and PRD.  Blake was the General Secretary of Baja California, a state wracked with narco violence and full of corrupt officials.  He has maintained a close relationship with Calderon since they served together from the 2000-2003 in the House of Deputies.  The position of Interior Secretary is often seen as a launching pad for a presidential nomination.  Gomez Mont, an elder figure in the right wing of the PAN, had no presidential ambitions, but it is unclear what Blake’s political trajectory might be.  Since assuming the position, Blake has tried to portray a moderate public presence while maintaining the positions of his predecessor, including the closure of Luz y Fuerza del Centro and the sacking of 45,000 electrical workers from the SME.

5. Atenco Prisoners released
Three leaders of the Frente del Pueblo en Defensa de la Tierra (FPDT) were released from prison on July 1 after more than four years of incarceration.  The Supreme Court ordered the release of Ignacio del Valle, Hector Galindo and Felipe Alvarez, jailed on May 4, 2006, after a police riot in San Salvador Atenco involving hundreds of local, Mexico State and federal security forces.  Police arrested and beat over 200 people, sexually assaulted at least 30 women and killed two people, but no police officer has spent time in jail.  The three FPDT leaders were accused of kidnapping and other federal offenses in what was widely recognized as payback by politicians embarrassed by FPDT protests that led to cancellation of a new airport to be constructed on Atenco farmland.  Amnesty International called on the government to pay damages to the three.  Mexico State Governor Enrique Pena Nieto, the likely PRI presidential candidate in 2012 and one of the intellectual authors of the May 4 police riots, delayed the release, forcing federal authorities to intervene and force compliance with the Supreme Court orders.

6. Supreme Court rules against SME workers
On July 6, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of President Felipe Calderon’s decision to close Luz y Fuerza del Centro (LFC), a state-owned electric company in the central valley region that serviced about a quarter of Mexico’s population.  The Electrical Workers Union (SME) was banking on the Court for a favorable decision, but ended up with only a confirmation from the Court that the union could represent the interests of workers before federal authorities.  On July 22, several SME members ended a 90 day hunger strike in exchange for a vague promise of formal negotiations with federal authorities.  SME leaders are hoping the Federal Labor Junta for Conciliation and Arbitration (JFCA) will order the Federal Electrical Commission (CFE), the para-state corporation that took over operations from LFC, to essentially hire all SME workers and allow the current union to represent them.  The JFCA is controlled by Labor Secretary Javier Lozano, an implacable foe of the SME who is certain to reject the union’s proposal.  Nevertheless, negotiations began in late July between SME leaders, who are not formally recognized by the Labor Secretary, and a federal commission headed by newly appointed Interior Secretary Jose Blake.  About 17,000 of the original 45,000 SME workers who were fired have refused to accept liquidation payments from federal authorities and continue a very public struggle to regain their jobs.

7. US closes Ciudad Juarez Consulate
On July 29, the State Department announced the temporary closure of the Ciudad Juarez Consulate.  Authorities cited unspecified security threats and the need for a security evaluation after a July 20th car bomb exploded near downtown Juarez killing four people.  The Consulate reopened on Tuesday, August 2.  The State Department maintains a travel advisory for six Mexican border cities, including Juarez, yet the Consulate serves as many as 5,000 visa applicants each week.  Applicants normally have to spend five to seven days in Juarez for interviews and medical exams before visas are issued.