Mexico: guerillas bomb pipelines

Honda, Nissan, Hershey’s, Kellogg, Grupo Modelo and other multinational companies temporarily shut their plants in western Mexico after rebels attacked a key natural gas pipeline. The Popular Revolutionary Army (EPR) guerrillas claimed responsibility for the explosions. The government ordered an increase in security at “strategic installations” across Mexico. The state monopoly Pemex said an explosion July 10 and two more last week affected different sections of the same pipeline linking Mexico City to Guadalajara. The explosions forced the evacuation of some communities but caused no injuries. In a statement July 10, the EPR said it was waging a “prolonged people’s war” against “the anti-popular government.”

The left-opposition Democratic Revolution Party (PRD) issued a statement July 11 casting doubt on the EPR’s involvement, saying it “wasn’t ruling out” the government’s own involvement “to distract people from the grave problems that afflict the country.”

Pamela K. Starr, a Latin America analyst at the Eurasia Group in Washington, called the attacks “mostly symbolic, limited by the small size and logistical capacity of the group.” George Baker, a Houston-based energy analyst, also dismissed the attacks: “As long as we’re talking about just some pipelines in the desert someplace, we don’t have to worry about it too much,” Baker said. (AP, July 10)

A Bloomberg report painted a grimmer picture, noting that more than 100 companies reduced or suspended production after the blasts, which took place in the central state of Queretaro, cutting supplies to the cities of Guadalajara, Queretaro, Aguascalientes and Leon. In Queretaro alone, 90 factories were left without natural gas as well as 1,000 retail businesses and 58,000 households. Pedro Ruiz, head of the state’s industrial chamber (CANACINTRA) said: “This will be a big cost for the companies. This will cause setbacks in production and sales will drop.” (Bloomberg, July 11)

The Prosecutor General of the Republic (PGR) said there was no record of the arrest of two supposed EPR supporters reported “disappeared” since May 25, Raymundo Rivera Bravo and Edmundo Reyes Amaya. The state of Oaxaca, where they disappeared, has also denied holding the men. (La Jornada, July 11)

Meanwhile, an apparent accidental leak in a Pemex gasoline pipeline in the Mexico City district of Iztapalapa caused a road accident that left one youth dead. (El Universal, July 11)

See our last posts on Mexico and the guerilla movement.

  1. NYT garbles Mexico coverage
    James C. McKinely Jr. writes for the New York Times, July 12. We have highlighted his embarrassing errors in bold:

    Mexico Plants Still Shut; Army Patrols Pipelines After Blasts

    MEXICO CITY, July 11 — Dozens of factories remained shut down and soldiers patrolled pipelines on Wednesday, a day after leftist rebels announced that they were behind the explosions that crippled the flow of natural gas to several large Mexican cities.

    The country’s airwaves were filled with news about the attacks. Leaders in Congress criticized President Felipe CalderĂłn for not informing the public of the bombings until after the rebel group, the Popular Revolutionary Army, took responsibility on Tuesday for the unexplained explosions that day and on July 5.

    Mr. CalderĂłn again denounced the violence. “What we should do is set aside differences and attend to social needs through dialogue,” he said in a speech on Wednesday morning at a signing ceremony for the first stage of a commuter railroad project. “There are others that dedicate themselves to destroying what we have all built.”

    The rebel group said in its communiquĂ© that it had blown up two 36-inch natural gas pipelines supplying QuerĂ©taro, Salamanca and Guanajuato as part of a campaign “against the interests of the oligarchy and of this illegitimate government.”

    The group also demanded the release of two of its members, who it maintains disappeared on May 25 in Oaxaca, the scene of many violent antigovernment protests last year. State and federal officials insist that the men are not in custody.

    The attacks have added to public jitters in Mexico, which has had an unprecedented wave of drug-related violence in the last two years and a close, polarizing presidential election last year in which the leftist candidate never conceded defeat.

    “What these types of actions show is how easy it is to paralyze the country with a few people and get a lot of attention,” Ana MarĂ­a Salazar, an author and radio host who has written about security threats in Mexico, said in an interview.

    Why the Popular Revolutionary Army, a Marxist rebel group with roots in Guerrero State in the south, chose to attack now and whether it signaled the start of a long campaign remained a mystery, security analysts said.

    More than a dozen smaller rebel groups united to form the Popular Revolutionary Army in 1996. They announced themselves to the world at Aguas Blancas in Guerrero State, a spot where the police killed 17 people the year before in a crackdown on a movement for the rights of poor farmers.

    Espousing a Leninist view, the group called in its founding remarks for the “restitution of sovereignty by the people” and the punishment of those behind the “repression, corruption, misery and hunger” afflicting the poor.

    Since then, however, the rebel group has carried out few acts of sabotage or terrorism, according to the Center for the Documentation of Armed Groups, which tracks rebels throughout Latin America. Like the Zapatista rebels in Chiapas, the Popular Revolutionary Army’s main weapon has been a propaganda campaign on the Internet.

    But the rebel group is widely believed to be behind the kidnappings of at least three well-known businessmen to raise money for its cause, among them Alfredo Harp Helú, the former owner of Banamex bank. All were eventually released. The rebels maintain in their communiqués that they have had more than 30 gun battles with the army in the last decade.

    In 1999, Mexican authorities arrested Jacobo Silva Nogales and charged him with being a founder of the rebel faction. He remains in prison, along with three others accused of being leaders of the group.

    A splinter group, known as the Popular Army of the Insurgent Revolution claimed responsibility for a series of minor bombings in Mexico City during the election campaign last year. The pipe bombs exploded at the headquarters of the former governing party, in the basement of the electoral tribunal and outside a bank.

    But it was not until July 5 that the main rebel group built bombs powerful enough to blow apart a steel pipeline for natural gas, prosecutors said. Three bombs exploded that day, two of them along the main 36-inch pipe between Mexico City and Salamanca in Guanajuato State [NOTE: In the print edition, this read “Guatemala State”], said officials of Pemex, the state oil monopoly.

    Though Pemex officials informed the federal government of the bombings, the Calderón administration kept the information secret. Then a fourth bomb went off Tuesday at 1:10 a.m., severing another 36-inch steel pipeline near Querétaro. Because of the use of powerful bombs, investigators are still not entirely convinced that the rebel group is behind the blasts, even though that remains a main line of investigation, said an official in the attorney general’s office, speaking on the condition of anonymity because the investigation is not over. What is known, he said, is that a relatively sophisticated explosive was used. He would not say which one.

    Carlos RamĂ­rez, the spokesman for Pemex, said it would take at least two days to repair the pipeline and resume supplying gas to QuerĂ©taro, Guadalajara, Aguascalientes and LeĂłn. More than 90 factories were forced to reduce or suspend production, among them the glassmaker Vitro and the cereal maker the Kellogg Company, QuerĂ©taro State’s industrial trade group said.

    We write:

    To the Editor:

    Your July 12 coverage of the guerilla attacks in Mexico is riddled with errors.

    Business magnate Alfredo Harp Helu was not kidnapped by the group that carried out the recent attacks, the Popular Revolutionary Army (EPR). He was kidnapped in 1994—two years before the emergence of the EPR—by a pre-existing cell known as PROCUP. There may be organizational links between the two groups, but they are not the same.

    Imprisoned militant Jacobo Silva Nogales is not a leader of the EPR, but of a splinter group which broke with the EPR leadership, the Revolutionary Army of the Insurgent People (ERPI).

    The November bombings in Mexico City were not carried out by the “Popular Army of the Insurgent Revolution,” as no such group exists. A coalition of six armed factions, none thusly named, claimed responsibility. The lead group was the Democratic Revolutionary Tendency-Army of the People (TDR-EP).

    Finally, the city of Salamanca is not in “Guatemala State,” because there is no “Guatemala State” anywhere in Mexico. Guatemala is a neighboring country. Your writer presumably meant Guanajuato.


    Bill Weinberg

    Will the Times have the courage (or principles) to print this letter? Watch this spot.

  2. More errors in NYT coverage
    From David Wilson of Weekly News Update on the Americas:

    Wow, that’s even more mistakes than I realized. I just caught Silva Nogales and the “Popular Army of the Insurgent Revolution.” But looking at the article again, I found a new one: the bombings took place “during the election campaign last year”? They were in November. Maybe he means the US elections?

    What caught my eye, though, wasn’t a factual error: it was the way he said the EPR was mainly active on the internet. Recently, yes, but they got like 15 people killed in August 1996, which is pretty serious.

  3. Mexico: more details on guerilla attacks
    From Weekly News Update on the Americas, July 15:

    Between 1:15 AM and 2:20 AM on July 5 there was an explosion in the valves of the Guanajuato-Guadalajara gas pipeline, owned and operated by Mexico’s giant state oil company, Petroleos Mexicanos (PEMEX), in Salamanca and Celaya in the central state of Guanajuato. Some 5,000 people had to be evacuated from 20 communities in the region; there was also a gas leakage in Vall de Santiago, in the same region. At about the same time five days later, on July 10, there was an explosion in a gas pipeline near the Queretaro-Coroneo highway at Presa de Bravo, Corregidora municipality, Queretaro state; flames shot up 300 meters, although the authorities said the situation was under control. No injuries were reported in either explosion.

    At around noon on July 10, a communique signed by the rebel Popular Revolutionary Army (EPR) claimed responsibility for the attacks. Three squads from the EPR’s “Francisco Javier Mina detachment…relying on the support of popular militias from the whole state, carried out surgical operations of harassment” in Guanajuato and Queretaro, the communique said, to “initiate the national campaign of harassment against the interests of the oligarchy and this illegitimate government” [of President Felipe Calderon Hinojosa]. The communique noted that the government had blamed the explosions on the age of the pipelines, lack of maintenance and a sudden drop in pressure.

    The communique demanded that the federal government and the government of the southern state of Oaxaca “present, alive, our companeros Edmundo Reyes Amaya and Raymundo Rivera Bravo or Gabriel Alberto Cruz Sanchez, detained-disappeared since May 25 in Oaxaca.” (La Jornada, July 11)

    The explosions cut off or reduced natural gas supplies to the cities of Guadalajara, Aguascalientes, Queretaro, Leon and Celaya. On July 11 the National Chamber of the Assembly Industry (Canacintra) reported that 800 industrial companies were affected, including Nissan, Honda, the glass manufacturer Vitro and the bathroom fixture manufacturer Ideal Standard. Canacintra estimated the losses at between $5 million and $10 million a day. (LJ, July 12)

    The EPR emerged in the southern state of Guerrero in the summer of 1996. On the night of Aug. 28-29, 1996, the group carried out military operations in Guerrero and western Oaxaca that led to the deaths of 15 people. They also claimed other operations that year that caused the deaths of dozens of soldiers and police agents. (LJ, July 11) The EPR has been comparatively quiet since September 1997, when it indicated it didn’t have plans for new attacks; afterwards, a number of factions split away to form separate groups. In August 2006 the EPR warned that it might resume attacks.

    As of July 13 the federal Attorney General’s Office (PGR) had not officially ruled that the explosions were acts of sabotage by the EPR. Military sources said off the record that they were sure the EPR had caused the explosions but expressed surprise at the operation, since the EPR has always been based in southern states like Guerrero and Oaxaca, not in central states like Guanajuato. The military sources also noted that in the past the EPR carried out armed confrontations with the police or military, not sabotage operations; also, previously they never showed the expertise required for causing so much damage to pipelines. The military is speculating that dissident PEMEX workers helped the rebels. (LJ, July 13, 14)

    On July 11 the PGR said it had no records of prisoners named Edmundo Reyes Amaya and Raymundo Rivera Bravo detained in Oaxaca on May 25. (LJ, July 12) Three human rights groups had sent out a note dated June 20 about the alleged disappearances; the groups said formal complaints had been filed with the Red Cross and the Mexican government’s National Human Rights Commission (CNDH). (Note from Limeddh, AFADEM and Fundacion Diego Lucero, June 20 via Comite Cerezo)

    According to Oaxaca columnist Pedro Ansotegui, several rebels were captured in Oaxaca city during a police-military joint operation on May 24. These reportedly included Gabriel Cruz Sanchez, an EPR leader also known as Raymundo Rivera Bravo. According to stories circulating in Oaxaca, Cruz Sanchez and Reyes Amaya were last seen on May 25, in the “dungeons” of the Oaxaca state Attorney General’s Office; they reportedly required serious medical attention and were taken to Mexico City in an ambulance. As historian Carlos Montemayor noted, this would be consistent with Mexican military operations during the “dirty war” against leftists during the 1970s. (LJ, July 13)

    In other news, on July 12 a federal tribunal granted former president Luis Echeverria Alvarez (1970-1976) an injunction freeing him from charges that he was responsible for the massacre of dozens, at least, of students and their supporters at a plaza in Tlatelolco in Mexico City on Oct. 2, 1968. Echeverria, 84, had been under house arrest since November on the charges. (El Diario-La Prensa, July 13 from EFE)

  4. NYT further garbles Mexico coverage
    24 July 2007

    To the Editor:

    Your July 23 “correction” of the errors in your July 12 coverage of the Mexican guerilla attacks is itself again riddled with errors.

    You note, accurately, that you had mis-identified the Revolutionary Army of the Insurgent People (ERPI) as the “Popular Army of the Insurgent Revolution.” However, you incorrectly state that the ERPI claimed responsibility for the November bombings in Mexico City. As I stated in my last letter, responsibility was claimed by a coalition of six armed factions, led by the Democratic Revolutionary Tendency-Army of the People (TDR-EP) and not including the ERPI. The ERPI is a peasant self-defense force in the mountains of Guerrero, and has carried out no bombings or urban actions. If you have evidence to the contrary, I urge you share it.

    As for “correcting” the year of the Popular Revolutionary Army’s emergence from 1996 to 1994, you should have left well enough alone. Since the EPR is a clandestine organization, we may never know the year they were “formed,” but the world certainly became aware of their existence in 1996. This was marked by their dramatic appearance at the one-year anniversary commemoration of the June 28, 1995 Aguas Blancas massacre in Guerrero, at which they seized the stage and read a communique. Once again, if you have facts which contradict this, please share them.

    This casual attitude towards the facts seems indicative of how Latin America coverage has been relegated to second-class status by the Times and the US media generally.


    Bill Weinberg

    Author of Homage to Chiapas: The New Indigenous Struggles in Mexico (Verso, 2000)

    Editor of the online journal World War 4 Report,

  5. NYT Mexico coverage: correction to correction
    The New York Times ran the following correction Aug. 1:

    An article on July 12 about bombings of natural gas pipelines in Mexico, and a correction in this space on July 23, referred incorrectly to the cause of minor bombings in Mexico City last year. A coalition of guerilla groups claimed responsibility for the bombings—not the splinter group whose correct name is the Revolutionary Army of the Insurgent People.