Mexico: Pemex protests paralyze congress

Mexico’s Senate and lower-house Chamber of Deputies have been occupied by protesters, with a giant tarp strewn over the dais painted with the word “CLOSED,” since followers of the Broad Progressive Front (FAP) took over the chambers on April 10. The FAP, led by Andr茅s Manuel L贸pez Obrador, is blockading the entrances to the building, while hardhat-clad legislators from the FAP-aligned Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD), Labor Party (PT) and Convergence Party maintain a round-the-clock presence in the chamber. Only one door has been left open for reporters. Legislators from other parties have been turned back by protesters. The FAP says the blockade won’t be lifted until law-makers agree to a four-month “national debate” on plans to reform the state oil monopoly Pemex.

The occupying legislators鈥攊ncluding the chairman of the lower-house energy committee, Alejandro S谩nchez Comacho鈥攁cknowledge they are paying a political price by resorting to civil disobedience. “We prefer to do this and see ourselves in this situation, in order to prevent what we consider to be a robbery,” said Javier Gonz谩lez Garza, PRD legislative leader in the lower house.

President Felipe Calder贸n accuses the occupiers of thuggery. “Only someone who is afraid of ideas can oppose dialogue and the institutions that make possible dialogue and parley,” he said April 18 in Villahermosa.

He is echoed by other figures in Mexico’s political establishment. “It seems that they want to go from holding the Senate chamber hostage to holding the president and the government hostage,” said Manlio Fabio Beltrones, the Institutional Revolutionary Party’s Senate leader. “And you know what? That’s not healthy for anyone.”

But occupiers鈥攚ho at one point padlocked the doors upon rumors of an impending police eviction鈥攊nsist they are standing up for Mexican sovereignty against international corporate interests. “A fight between two great forces is taking place,” Ricardo Cant煤 Garc铆a, a PT deputy from Nuevo Le贸n, who was guarding the dais told the New York Times. “We are not taking the chamber over because we like it, but because it was necessary.” (NYT, April 19; Xinhua, April 18)

FAP leaders are crying foul over a TV spot that compares L贸pez Obrador to Hitler, Mussolini and other far-right dictators, accusing him of being a putschist. “Who closed the congresses?” begins the commercial, sponsored by a group calling itself “Better Society, Better Government.” The spot shows images of the F眉hrer, Mussolini, Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet and Victoriano Huerta, the hated Mexican general who seized power in a 1913 coup d’etat鈥攁nd who the ad says was last to close Mexico’s Congress.

It then shows L贸pez Obrador and his followers in the occupied Congress chambers. The ad can be viewed on the website of the Mexican newspaper El Universal. L贸pez Obrador’s supporters call the ad part of a “dirty war” by Calder贸n’s conservative National Action Party. (La Plaza blog, LAT, April 18)

Ironically, El Universal reports that “Better Society, Better Government” is directed by prominent businessman Guillermo Velasco Arzac, who has been identified by Mexican federal investigations as linked to the far-right secret society El Yunque, where he reportedly goes by the code-name “Jenofonte.” (El Universal, April 19)

See our last posts on Mexico and the struggle for Pemex.