Mexico News & Analysis: Dec 14, 2009 - Jan 10, 2010

1. SME struggle continues
2. Citizens grab THIEVES
3. Calderon administration raises gas prices sparking inflation
4. Meeting of academics in memory of Andres Aubry
5. Director of CISEN calls Mexico ungovernable
6. Gay marriage legalized in Mexico City
7. Congress contemplates immigrant reform bill

8. MSN PROGRAM HIGHLIGHTS (Contact MSN [at] MexicoSolidarity [dot] org)

1. SME struggle continues

On Friday, January 8, mediators proposed a series of actions to be taken by the Electrical Workers Union (SME) and the Calderon administration to reduce tensions in the ongoing struggle over the closure of Central Light and Power (LFC).  The panel set a Tuesday night deadline for both sides to accept the measures.  The following day, thousands of SME members gathered in a special assembly to approve a three day treaty with the government in hopes that the panel of mediators can move forward negotiations to resolve the three-month conflict.  The SME committed to stop public protests and hunger strikes during this period.  More than 44,000 SME members lost their jobs when the Calderon administration closed the state-owned Central Light and Power (LFC) in late October in a midnight police action.  About 18,000 of the union’s membership have mounted an increasingly militant struggle to regain their jobs, while the rest accepted final indemnity payments from the government.  The SME leadership called on Labor Secretary Javier Lozano to tone down his harsh, and often unwarranted, criticism of the union during the three day truce.  Lozano is particularly upset because SME members are organizing regular protests in front of his home.  The Labor Secretary claims this is a policy struggle and shouldn’t be made personal, while workers maintain that losing their jobs is extremely personal. 

The mediation panel includes National Autonomous University Rector Jose Narro, former Director of the National Polytechnic Institute Jose Villa, and the heads of the PAN, PRI and PRD in the Senate.  The most recent statement issued by the panel includes a clear recognition of the SME and its collective contract, and of LFC as an existing, rather then “extinct,” public entity. 

On January 3, members of SME confronted workers from the Federal Electrical Commission (CFE), the state-owned agency that is trying to assume control of LFC, in the town of Teotihuacan in Mexico State.  Federal police intervened after about 150 SME members blocked the entrance to an electrical substation.  The unionists also attacked a TV Azteca cameraman.  TV Azteca and Televisa have been particularly adamant in defending the Calderon administration’s decision to close LFC, broadcasting a series of reports criticizing SME members as lazy and corrupt.  There were no arrests.  The actions mark an increasingly militant struggle waged by SME members.

2. Citizens grab THIEVES

Passengers on a bus in Lerma in the State of Mexico grabbed five robbers who moments earlier stole their personal belongings at knifepoint.  Assisted by dozens of Lerma citizens, the crowd tied up the thieves and beat them until local police arrived and negotiated their release.  It was the fifth time in the last 50 days that a group of civilians has taken the law into their own hands and nearly lynched a group of criminals.  Vigilante actions are increasing throughout central and southern Mexico as citizens lose confidence in the capacity of police and elected officials to maintain order.  

3. Calderon administration raises gas prices sparking inflation

The Calderon administration offered a special holiday present to Mexico – increased gas prices, which will inevitably spark an inflationary spiral throughout the economy.  Gas prices went up three times between December 19 and January 2, including a rise attributed to new value added tax that took effect on January 1.  The administration promised regular monthly price increases throughout the year.  Bottled gas, used for cooking in many urban areas, also rose in early January.  The State holds a monopoly on petroleum production and sales throughout Mexico, and sets prices.

The rest of the market responded quickly, with prices of basic consumer goods increasing by as much as 40% in some areas over the past month.  Tortillas, which provide about 40% of the caloric intake of a typical diet, increased by 10% in Mexico City, even though the price of corn has remained stable in recent months.

4. Meeting of academics in memory of Andres Aubry

A four day meeting of academics and intellectuals on anti-systemic movements was held in San Cristobal de las Casas from December 29 to January 2.  Hundreds of Leftists gathered for presentations by some of the world’s most noted theorists, including Immanuel Wallerstein, John Berger, Pablo Gonzalez Casanova and Francois Houtart.  The meeting, held at the Universidad de la Tierra, honored Andres Aubry, an anthropologist who worked closely with Zapatista communities and who died in a tragic car accident in 2007.

Meanwhile, the Zapatistas closed their five Caracoles from December 29 to January 2.  They re-opened on January 3.  The Zapatistas offered no public explanation for the closures.

5. Director of CISEN calls Mexico ungovernable

Guillermo Valdes, Director of the Center for Research and National Security (Cisen) characterizes Mexico as “ungovernable” in a recently published book.  Valdes notes that “narco-traffickers reign in Baja California, Baja California Sur, Sonora, Sinaloa, Nayarit, Chihuahua, Coahuila, Nuevo Leon, Tamaulipas, etc.”  Cisen is Mexico’s political police in charge of national intelligence.  As if to underline the point, authorities reported at least 44 assassinations related to organized crime the second Friday and Saturday of January, one of the highest two-day totals in recent years.

6. Gay marriage legalized in Mexico City

On December 21, Mexico City’s assembly legalized gay marriages by a 39-20 margin. The bill includes the right to adopt children.  The bill passed with the support of the PRD and PT, while the PAN, PRI and Green Party opposed the measure.  The PAN promised to challenge the constitutionality of the new law, but most experts expect it to withstand a legal test.

7. Congress contemplates immigrant reform bill

Democratic lawmakers led by Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-IL) introduced an immigration reform bill that would step up border security while offering a path to normalized legal status for most of the 12 million undocumented workers currently living in the US.  The bill drew fire from both left and right, with anti-immigrant groups opposing the “amnesty” provisions while pro-immigrant groups criticized draconian enforcement measures.  The measure would allow normalization of legal status without forcing immigrants to return to home countries, prohibit separation of families, offer more visas for workers and relatives, and eliminate local enforcement of federal immigration laws.  The bill would also increase border security and provide for better treatment of detained undocumented immigrants.  The bill is considered more pro-immigrant than one defeated in the House two years ago.  Though it is unlikely to pass during an election year, Democrats can claim they tried, allowing the party to possibly maintain its substantial majority among Latino voters while, in effect, doing nothing.