Mexico News and Analysis: March 26 - April 1, 2012

1 - NEWS FROM THE OTHER CAMPAIGN
2 - PRESIDENTIAL CAMPAIGN SEASON
3 - OBAMA’S CONFLICTING IMMIGRATION POLICIES
4 - CONSTITUTIONAL REFORM EXPANDS ROLE OF CATHOLIC CHURCH
5 - HUMAN RIGHTS COMMISSION CONDEMNS STUDENT MURDERS

On March 22, Francisco Santiz Lopez reached the front gate of the Chiapas prison where he had spent the past three months, charged with a murder he couldn’t have possibly committed.  Just as he was about to walk out the door a free man, prison officials pulled him back, fabricating a new set of charges.  According to the Junta of Good Government in Oventic, “The fabrication of charges against our companero comes directly from Los Pinos [Mexico’s equivalent of the White House], in an effort to destroy the resistance of the Zapatista communities.  They are trying to impede at all costs the construction of autonomy among the indigenous population.  It is part of a plan of low intensity warfare against our communities in resistance.”

Santiz’s legal problems began on December 4, 2011, when PRI affiliates from Banavil, a town in the north of Chiapas, mounted an armed attack on Zapatista support bases, with arms provided by two local PRI leaders.   “They delivered the arms that were used,” according to the Junta of Good Government, “and then sought a way to avoid responsibility for their violent acts, and they said the arms came from Francisco Santiz Lopez.”  The Junta has 12 eyewitnesses who can vouch for the innocence of Santiz.

The National Network of Civil Resistance against High Electricity Rates condemns the arrest of Adelaida Apodaca from Chihuahua, charged with stealing electricity from the federal government.  The National Network includes hundreds of thousands of members from across Mexico who refuse to pay electricity rates that can amount to nearly a month’s minimum wages for a small home.  In Chiapas, source of half of the hydro-electric power in Mexico, an estimated 70% of the population does not pay the electric bills which can total ten times the rates paid in a typical urban area in the US.

Bernardo Vasquez Sanchez was killed and two of his companeros wounded during an ambush in Oaxaca on March 15.  Vasquez was returning from a meeting about illegal mining practices by Fortuna Silver Mines of Canada at their mining operations in Oaxaca.  The mayor of San Jose del Progreso, where the mining operation is located, is widely suspected of mounting the attack.

2 - PRESIDENTIAL CAMPAIGN SEASON
Mexico’s presidential campaign formally kicked off this week, forcing millions of TV watchers to sit through a seemingly endless barrage of commercials.  The Federal Electoral Institute (IFE), which oversees the July 1 elections for President, Senators and Deputies, got started early, trying to convince Mexicans that it’s worth the effort to cast a vote.  With participation consistently declining over the past three decades, the IFE is even experimenting with a mock children’s election that presumably would instill the habit of voting at an early age.  With the current crop of presidential candidates, this may be an uphill battle.  

PANista Josefina Vasquez Mota, the country’s first female candidate from a major party, is trying to distance herself from the unpopular sitting President, Felipe Calderon, while offering to continue most of his policies – though more effectively.  

Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador kicked off his campaign by apologizing for demonstrations that shut down parts of Mexico City’s business district after the fraudulent 2006 presidential election that he “lost” by less than half a percent.  The results were ultimately upheld by an IFE stacked with PAN supporters, an action that cost the electoral institute its credibility among many Mexicans.  

Enrique Pena Nieto of the PRI leads all early polls by double digits.  A photogenic candidate married to an actress, Pena Nieto is an adman’s dream – until he opens his mouth in unscripted settings.  He has apparently never read a complete book and has few ideas, though he certainly has experience managing corruption as the former Governor of Mexico State.  His ad campaign centers around a “competence” theme that may bring the PRI back to power after 12 years of PAN governments.  The PRI governed Mexico for seven decades before losing the presidency in 2000, and the party is banking on the ineptitude of successive PAN administrations, particularly Calderon’s “war on drugs,” in their drive to return to power.  

And finally, Gabriel Quadri de la Torre, candidate of the New Alliance Party (Panal), launched his candidacy with a ten minute scuba dive to an environmentally sensitive area in the port of Veracruz.  His underwater kickoff served to underline the fact that Quadri has no chance of winning.  Panal is an electoral invention of teacher’s union “President for life” Elba Esther Gordillo, who is angling, as always, for the best deal in this campaign.  Quadri is expected to throw his support at some point to Pena Nieto, leaving Gordillo in a position to demand several high level posts in the federal government.  Gordillo stage-managed the 2006 electoral fraud and, in a hardly veiled political tit for tat, was able to control at least four important posts in the Calderon administration.  Quadri’s political positions, including a call to privatize the national petroleum monopoly PEMEX, may lay the groundwork for a Pena Nieto presidency while allowing the PRI to avoid concrete discussions of anything controversial during the campaign.

3 - OBAMA’S CONFLICTING IMMIGRATION POLICIES
In a bid for the Latino vote, the Obama administration will propose next week a new set of rules making it easier for undocumented immigrants with immediate family members who are US citizens to apply for permanent residency without leaving the country.  The regulations would affect about 9% of the estimated 11 million undocumented workers living in the US.  Currently applicants for family visas must leave the US for extended periods during the application process.  Many undocumented immigrants do not pursue legal status, even if married to a US citizen, because of the difficulty of receiving the so-called “hardship waiver” that would allow them to live with their families during the application process.  Currently immigrants without proper papers who live in the US for six months are barred from re-entering the country for three years, and those living in the US for over a year are barred for ten years.  Those applying for hardship waivers must do so in Ciudad Juarez, the murder capital of the world.

The Latino vote may not be so easily bought given Obama’s history of anti-immigrant policies.  Last year the US deported 396,906 people, the third consecutive record-setting year.  Among the deportees were 46,000 parents of US citizens.  And just this week, authorities prevented a Mexican father from entering the US after his 10-year-old son died in a tragic house fire in Pennsylvania.  Fidelmar Merlos Lopez requested a temporary visa on humanitarian grounds to bury his son, Damien Lopez.  “I told the customs officer that all I want is a permit to see my boy for one last time,” said Lopez.  “They treat me as if I am a criminal.”  He entered the US without papers in 1995 and married a US citizen who gave birth to Damien in 2002.  He later divorced and married his current wife who is also a US citizen.  Lopez was deported in 2007 when traffic police contacted immigration officials after he ran a red light.  He left the US voluntarily to begin the application process for permanent residency, a process that is nearly completed.  While Lopez had not seen his son in three years, they talked on the phone at least twice a week and shared a very close relationship.  We invite our readers to imagine, if you can, the type of bureaucratic, heartless mindset required of US immigration authorities to make a decision like this.

4 - CONSTITUTIONAL REFORM EXPANDS ROLE OF CATHOLIC CHURCH
Mexico’s Senate approved a constitutional reform this week by a 72-35 vote – barely the two-thirds majority necessary – that would open many public and political spaces to the Catholic Church.  The vote follows closely on the heels of Joseph Ratzinger’s (aka, the pope) visit to Mexico last week.  At least half of Mexico’s 31 state legislatures must still approve the change to Article 24 of the constitution.  Supporters of the bill, led by the right-wing National Action Party (PAN), immediately began discussing further legislation that would be possible under the constitutional change, including religion taught in public schools and church ownership of mass media.

5 - HUMAN RIGHTS COMMISSION CONDEMNS STUDENT MURDERS
The National Human Rights Commission (CNDH), a government agency, published a stinging condemnation this week, accusing federal and state authorities of dozens of illegalities in the recent repression of students from the Rural Normal School of Ayotzinapa.  The CNDH called for the Federal Attorney General to bring charges against 184 federal and state authorities for the December 12, 2011, incident in which two students were killed by police bullets during a demonstration.  The report accused authorities of murder, arbitrary arrest, torture, and beatings.  The report singled out Guerrero Attorney General Alberto Lopez Rosas for fabricating evidence, including two edited videos, and lying to investigators.  The CNDH has no legal power to enforce its recommendations.

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