1 – FIVE DAYS OF INT’L ACTIONS ON BEHALF OF EJIDO SAN SEBASTIAN BACHAJON
The Movimiento por Justicia del Barrio in New York City is spearheading five days of international actions from April 1-5 in support of political prisoners held by Chiapas authorities in a dispute over the ancestral lands of Ejido San Sebastian Bachajon, Chiapas. The Ejido is part of the Other Campaign. A video message from San Sebastian is available at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dcTspD7NKmY.
2 – ATTORNEY GENERAL RESIGNS
Arturo Chavez, Mexico’s controversial and largely ineffective Attorney General, resigned this week. Chavez, generally seen as a bland but loyal PAN bureaucrat, held the office for only 18 months. During Senate debates over his appointment in late 2009, Chavez was widely criticized for his failure to investigate femicides while Attorney General of Chihuahua state. Ultimately, opposition parties approved his appointment, after vetoing Calderon’s first choice, largely because they were convinced he would reflect badly on Calderon and the PAN in anticipation of 2012 presidential elections. US diplomats were similarly unimpressed, calling his appointment “totally unexpected and politically inexplicable” in a leaked State Department cable that lamented the replacement of former Attorney General Eduardo Medina Mora, a favorite of Washington. Marisela Morales, current head of the Attorney General organized crime unit, will replace Chavez. Morales recently won an International Women of Courage award, presented at a Washington ceremony by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and first lady Michelle Obama.
Chavez cited “personal reasons” for his resignation, but simultaneously La Jornada reported a federal investigation of several of his closest collaborators in the Attorney General office for illegal enrichment, misuse of public funds, bribery and other crimes. The newspaper reported a network of corrupt officials closely linked to Chavez who accepted bribes for burying investigations and gave confidential information to defense attorneys.
Several high ranking officials were fired in March after failing to pass “confidence exams” that include lie detector tests, blood analysis for detection of illegal drugs and investigation into personal finances.
3 – REPUBLICANS CHARACTERIZE DRUG CARTELS AS “FOREIGN TERRORISTS”
Texas Rep. Michael McCaul’s (R) efforts to designate Mexican drug cartels as “foreign terrorist organizations” similar to al-Qaida ran into resistance from Democrats this week. Republican lawmakers, trying to use Mexican cartel violence as a political tool for the 2012 presidential elections, are characterizing Mexico as a “failed state controlled by criminals.” They are probably correct, though not in the way Republicans understand a failed state. Many Mexican politicians, judges, police and army officers are on cartel payrolls. Even without the influence of cartels, most Mexicans see their government as controlled by criminal politicians out for their own enrichment. This is part of the “crisis of democracy” debate prevalent throughout much of Latin America, but generally not applied to the criminals in charge of the US government. The big difference in many cases is that US politicians can be “legally” bought off by big money campaign contributions in tacit exchange for favorable legislation, while in Mexico these kinds of tit-for-tat payoffs are illegal, though by no means uncommon. McCaul wants to add six Mexican cartels to the worldwide list of 47 designated “foreign terrorist organizations,” thereby opening the possibility of US military involvement, even though US border cities have been largely spared the violence that is prevalent in four of the 32 Mexican states – Chihuahua, Sinaloa, Baja California Norte and Guerrero – that accounted for 84% of drug related homicides last year.
4 – UN URGES END TO ARMY INVOLVEMENT IN POLICE ACTIVITIES
Three United Nations human rights experts urged the Calderon administration to end military involvement in law enforcement activities. The recommendation is based on numerous complaints by civilians of abuses committed by military troops. “The logic of military and police officials is different and, as such, military operations in the context of public security should be restricted and properly overseen,” said the UN Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances, after a 14-day visit to Mexico. “It is not surprising that the number of complaints received by the CNDH [National Human Rights Commission] concerning the National Defense Ministry increased from 182 in 2006 to 1,230 in 2008,” said the report.
5 – MEDIA OUTLETS AGREE TO GUIDELINES ON DRUG COVERAGE
Many of Mexico’s media giants, including the television duopoly Televisa and TV Azteca, agreed this week to a set of guidelines for covering the “drug war.” The agreement includes censorship of violent images, such as decapitated bodies, and increased protection for journalists, including joint publication of some stories. The agreement comes in response to pointed criticism by the Calderon administration over sensational news coverage of drug cartels. More than 30 journalists have been killed or disappeared over the past four years, and many regions such as Tamaulipas are virtually devoid of reporting on the drug trade. Left leaning publications La Jornada and Proceso, along with right-wing La Reforma, declined to sign, claiming the accord opened the door to censorship. President Calderon called the agreement an act of “social responsibility.”
6 – POPULATION LARGER THAN EXPECTED
Mexico’s latest census reveals a population of 112.3 million, almost 4 million more than expected. Experts attribute the increase to reductions in immigration due to the economic crisis in the US. From 2001 to 2005, Mexico lost 450,000 residents a year through immigration, while those numbers decreased to 145,000 yearly from 2005 to 2010. Half the population is under 26 and the average age is 29, giving Mexico a much younger population than the US. The census revealed good news for the Televisa/TV Azteca duopoly – 92% of the population owns a television.
7 – PRD ELECTS NEW PRESIDENT
The PRD National Council chose Jesus Zambrano as party president, while Dolores Padierna got the nod as Secretary General. The choices represent an effort to balance forces within the badly divided party. Zambrano, who supports electoral alliances with the PAN, was the choice of outgoing president Jesus Ortega, who infamously voted against the San Andres Accords while serving as a Senator. Padierna opposes electoral alliances with the right wing PAN and was supported by a coalition of eight small party factions loosely aligned with Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador. The big loser appears to be presidential hopeful and current mayor of Mexico City Marcelo Ebrard, whose candidate Armando Rios Piter was left without a role.
Meanwhile, a poll conducted by Alianza Civica and other “pro democracy” NGOs in Mexico State revealed 76% support for an electoral alliance between the PRD and PAN in the upcoming gubernatorial race. Only 1.9% of the electorate participated, calling into question the results. Despite the low turnout, PRD President Jesus Zambrano and PAN President Gustavo Madero were reportedly pleased. The PRI has controlled the state of Mexico for decades, and the PAN/PRD alliance is proposed as a way to break PRI control. The state of Mexico is key in national elections, and the current Governor, Enrique Pena Nieto, is a likely PRI presidential candidate in the 2012 elections. But PRD gubernatorial candidate Alejandro Encinas is opposed to the PAN/PRD alliance and has committed to run under a PRD/PT/Convergencia alliance. Encinas is close to Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador as well as Marcelo Ebrard, who are both contending for the PRD presidential ticket in 2012. Meanwhile, the PAN is pushing hard for an alliance, though with PANista Luis Felipe Bravo Mena as the candidate.
PRD leaders will meet on April 7 to decide the issue.
8 – SECOND “RURAL CITY” INAUGURATED IN CHIAPAS
President Felipe Calderon inaugurated the second “rural city” in Santiago el Pinar, Chiapas, the state’s poorest municipality. The new “city” is scheduled to house 460 indigenous families from five nearby communities. Rural cities consist of suburban style houses clustered closely together in what appears to be a repeat of the “model villages” counter-insurgency strategy developed during the Vietnam War. Populated mostly by indigenous campesinos, residents reportedly must abandon their current lands and burn their houses before moving to the rural cities, in large part because so many inhabitants of the first “city” maintained dual residency. The new “rural city” is strategically located in the valley below Oventic, one of five Zapatista political and cultural centers. The UN Development Program characterized the project as an innovative effort to combat poverty. Each “city” costs about US$35 million. The pre-fabricated houses include indoor plumbing and tiny rooms, in stark contrast to traditional housing in the region.