Mexico News and Analysis: January 18 - February 7, 2010

1. Security forces dislocate Zapatista community
2. Juarez narco-violence reaches new levels
3. PRD aligns with PAN in some states
4. SME struggle continues


1. Security forces dislocate Zapatista community
Combined federal, state and local authorities dislocated two indigenous communities from the Selva Lacandona on Januargy 21 and 22.  The State and Federal Attorneys General, state police forces, the Federal Commission for Protected Natural Areas and the State Human Rights Commission removed families and burned homes in Laguna San Pedro, a Zapatista community, and Laguna El Suspiro.  Residents were taken away in helicopters from the remote settlements and transferred to Palenque where police conducted interrogations.  The indigenous residents were forced to sign statements without the benefit of an interpreter.  Several other communities in the region are under threat of dislocation from the Montes Azules region, where local powerbrokers want to build eco-tourist facilities.


2. Juarez narco-violence reaches new levels
Narco-violence in Ciudad Juarez reached unprecedented levels as gunmen murdered 16 teenagers at a sports party on January 31.  President Calderon and law enforcement officials claimed one of the youth was a member of Los Artistas Asesinos, a gang associated with the Sinaloa Cartel battling the Juarez Cartel for control of the city’s lucrative drug market, but parents denied the association.  The murders appear to be the result of an ongoing turf war between gangs, which increased from 300 to 900 over the past seven years according to Enrique Torres, spokesman for the federal government’s operation to control drug trafficking in Chihuahua.  Three major gangs control most of the bi-national narcotics market – Los Mexicles, Los Artistas Asesinos and Los Aztecas.  Members of Los Aztecas, affiliated with La Linea which is the armed branch of the Juarez Cartel, are accused of the mass murder.  However, La Linea denied responsibility in a series of “narco-posters” placed in strategic places around Juarez last week.  To add insult to injury, survivors of the massacre were taken into custody by masked and heavily armed troops for questioning on February 4.  Worried parents spent frantic hours searching for their children before officials returned them late in the day.

Some experts claim the Juarez Cartel has controlled the Juarez-El Paso drug corridor for decades, with as many as 85% of local police on their payroll.  With the arrival of the army and federal police in 2008, part of President Felipe Calderon’s “war on drugs,” violence skyrocketed in Ciudad Juarez as the Sinaloa Cartel battled for control of the local drug trade.  With federal officials replacing much of the local police force over the past year and the army falling increasingly under the influence of narco-dollars, loyalties are probably divided among security forces, in part accounting for a skyrocketing murder rate.  In 2007, the city recorded 190 executions associated with narco-violence.  The number jumped to 2,290 after federal troops began to arrive in 2008, and last year more than 3,400 executions were recorded.

Tacitly recognizing the failure of his war on drugs, Calderon announced a new strategy on February 4 that places less emphasis on army troops and law enforcement, and more on the reconstruction of the Juarez social fabric.  In a contradictory statement, Calderon said, “We have a plan and a strategy, but we’re not going to impose it from the federal level.  Instead, we want to dialogue with and propose to Juarez society, and implement the plan along with the people of Juarez.  Because we want to attack the insecurity at its roots, and we know that to overcome the problem is a challenge.  It’s not enough to strengthen the capacity, the weapons and the technology of security forces, which is what we’ve done, supporting the municipal police of Juarez.”

A week before the massacre, US Ambassador Carlos Pascual applauded the Calderon administration for its “new security strategy,” which changed the commander of Juarez security forces from the army to the Federal Police.  Pascual drew a parallel between US human rights problems at Abu Ghraib and increasing human rights violations by the army in Ciudad Juarez.  When large troop deployments began to arrive in 2008, Juarez residents welcomed the army with a 90% approval rating.  Today, only 10% of residents approve of the army presence, as troops regularly make arrests and invade home without warrants.


3. PRD aligns with PAN in some states
The supposedly left-leaning Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD) and the right-wing National Action Party (PAN) are forming political alliances for upcoming elections in Hidalgo, Oaxaca, Puebla, Durango and possibly other states.  This is the same PRD that refused to recognize the legitimacy of Felipe Calderon, a PANista who assumed the Presidency after a fraudulent election in 2006.  PRD leadership explains the alliance as a pragmatic attempt to limit the growing power of the PRI, which won a majority in the lower House in 2009 mid-term elections and is expected to win the presidency in 2012.  But many observers see the move as one more example of the non-ideological nature of Mexico’s political party system in which parties vie for power without regard for positions on important issues.  Perhaps the best example is the Green Party, currently aligned with the PRI and pound-for-pound Mexico’s most corrupt party, which ran on a pro-death penalty platform during 2009 elections.


4. SME struggle continues
The Electrical Workers Union (SME) continued its struggle to recover 44,000 jobs lost when the Calderon Administration closed nationally owned Central Light and Power (LFC) in a midnight police action last October.  On January 29, the SME led a march of hundreds of thousands in Mexico City that included campesino organizations, other unions and social groups.  The same day SME initiated a permanent protest camp in the Mexico City zocalo.  The march virtually shut down large parts of the city as protestors took up a range of issues, including uncontrolled inflation, federal attacks on labor unions and lack of federal programs in rural areas.

Last week, dismissed SME workers offered to help the Federal Electricity Commission (CFE), the government-owned entity that took over LFC’s operations, to repair electrical lines damaged by storms in the Mexico City area over the past few days.  Federal authorities turned down the offer, leaving hundreds of thousands of customers without electricity.  SME claims several temporary workers hired by CFE have died in recent months trying to repair aging equipment with which they are unfamiliar.  The CFE denies the charges, while Labor Secretary Javier Lozano accused SME members of sabotaging Mexico City’s electrical system.  Lozano is probably trying to draw attention away from federal authorities and the CFE, as electrical outages regularly plague hundreds of thousands of customers.  Union leaders see a plot targeting the 18,000 SME members who refused liquidation payments.  SME leaders expect targeted legal attacks against some of the more active union members.

SME leaders announced new protest plans this week, including more “visits” to the private homes of federal authorities who were responsible for the closure of LFC.  This tactic has been particularly irksome to Lozano who claims that politics are not a private matter, although the government’s decision to close LFC cost more than 44,000 families their livelihoods.  Negotiations continue between SME and the Interior Secretary, but with no significant advances aside from a promise by federal authorities to return personal belongings to SME members who were locked out of the work places last October.