Mexico News and Analysis: February 8-14, 2010

1. Zapatistas clash with paramilitary group
2. Popular mobilizations in Ciudad Juarez
3. Army assassinates youth in Guerrero
4. SME calls for general strike and civil disobedience


1. Zapatistas clash with paramilitary group
Zapatista base communities and members of the paramilitary group Opddic clashed on February 6 over possession of Bolon Ajaw, part of the Comandante Ramona autonomous municipality and an ecological reserve where the Agua Azul waterfall is located.  Opddic reported 12 of their members wounded during the confrontation.  The Junta de Buen Gobierno clarified the incident several days later in a communiqué that accused Opdicc of attacking residents of Bolon Ajaw with guns and destroying part of the local church and a private home.  Uncontrolled shooting by Opddic left one of their own members dead and several others wounded, plus one injured Zapatista who suffered a bullet wound in the stomach.  None of the Zapatistas carried arms during the confrontation.  The Zapatistas took seven members of Opddic into custody, but they were released unharmed several days later.  The Junta de Buen Gobierno has requested a dialogue on several occasions with government officials and Opddic to resolve the ongoing dispute, but so far the requests have fallen on deaf ears.


2. Popular mobilizations in Ciudad Juarez
Thousands joined a march in Ciudad Juarez on Sunday demanding the removal of President Felipe Calderon, Governor Jose Reyes Baeza and Mayor Jose Reyes Ferriz, plus a popular referendum on the presence of the army.  Anger and desperation continued to grow in light of the murder of 15 teenagers two weeks ago by gunmen affiliated with drug cartels.  Initially Calderon accused the youth of links to organized crime, but quickly retracted his statements, leaving the families distressed.  Luz Maria Davila, mother of two students killed on January 31, led the animated march, one of the first large public demonstrations against government efforts to control violence in this beleaguered border city.  Perhaps the most popular chant was, “Juarez is not a military base, remove the army from the city!”  Despite the presence of nearly 10,000 federal troops, violence is spiraling out of control.  The army has come under increasingly harsh criticism for ineptitude, apparent links with some cartels, house searches without warrants and brutal treatment of innocent civilians.

Earlier in the week, Davila refused to shake the President’s hand during a brief appearance in Juarez to announce new security strategies.  Calderon requested the participation of Juarez residents in fighting crime, but then laid out detailed plans developed by the army and members of his cabinet that include 2,500 new troops and federal agents.

Governor Beaza inexplicably called for moving the State government from Chihuahua City to Ciudad Juarez, a purely symbolic act.  His proposal was defeated by the State Congress.


3. Army assassinates youth in Guerrero
Army troops murdered an 18-year-old boy, Juan Alberto Rodriguez, on Saturday in the Sierra region of Guerrero after demanding 50,000 pesos so they could continue a drunken binge.  Francisco Javier Martinez was also beaten by troops, led by Lieutenant N. Manzanares, but survived to tell the story.  About 8:30 in the evening, troops forced the young men into a Hummer where they were severely beaten until they lost consciousness.  The troops stole their money and cell phones, them dumped them on the side of the road, where Martinez died.  After the incident, Lieutenant Manzanares threatened community members in the area, saying he was well connected in the army and was the ruler of the region.  Unfortunately, this was not an isolated incident.  Community members in the Sierra region of Guerrero regularly report army abuse and human rights violations.


4. SME calls for general strike and civil disobedience
On Saturday, the Electrical Workers Union (SME) in conjunction with striking mineworkers called for a general strike and civil disobedience in response to the Calderon administration’s labor policies.  SME is struggling to recover 44,000 jobs lost when Calderon closed the government-owned Central Light and Power (LFC) last October, while the mineworkers suffered a blow from the courts this week after striking at the Cananea mines for two and a half years.  The situation at Cananea is particularly tense after a federal court supported a move by Grupo Mexico, owner of the mine, to end its relationship with the union.  Mineworkers braced for army or police intervention at the mine entrance.  Labor attorney Arturo Alcalde called the court decision, “brutal.  We are witnessing a cleansing operation by the federal government in support of Grupo Mexico, but the most depressing thing is that the Federal Courts supported this monstrosity.  I have been a labor attorney for 40 years and I’ve never seen such a grotesque decision from a judicial point of view.  It’s a gross maneuver that will do away with the union, the collective contract and the strike and, as if this wasn’t enough, it will dismiss the workers with only minimal indemnification.”

Meanwhile, the Federal Electrical Commission (CFE), another government-owned entity that took over LFC operations, began to install new electrical meters that would force consumers to pre-pay for electricity, much like pre-paid cell phone cards.  The move is apparently an effort by the Calderon administration to head off an expected consumer boycott of electrical bills to protest rapidly rising charges and in support of SME.

In related news, the wall of a canal crumbled in the southwest part of Mexico City leaving thousands of homes drenched in sewer water.  Officials blamed the break on excessive rainfall, but many experts noted the canal is emptied by massive pumps that have been sporadically without electricity since the closure of LFC.  Flooding also forced officials to shut down the Mexico City-Puebla highway for nearly a week.