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by Bill Weinberg

Mexico's President Vicente Fox has tied the future of his pro-business National Action Party (PAN)--the first to break up the old one-party machine's 70-year stranglehold on the presidency--to his much-touted "modernization" of the country. His administration has already been shaken by unseemly jockeying over who will be the candidate in the 2006 election. Fox, barred by the constitution from running again, is said to favor his own First Lady Marta Sahagun. Energy Minister Felipe Calderon recently stepped down after being reprimanded by Fox for announcing an early candidacy. (AP, July 11)

While the world media have focused on these high-level intrigues, the ugly underside of Fox's "modernization" drive remains largely invisible. A look behind the headlines reveals a grave human rights crisis in Mexico, overshadowed by Fox's ambitious plans to expand Free Trade agreements and spearhead a general industrialization of the entire Mesoamerican region.


On May 28, the third summit of the European Union, Latin America and the Caribbean (EU-LAC) was held in Guadalajara, bringing together representatives and leaders from 25 European and 33 Latin and Caribbean nations. They concluded the meeting with an announcement that a new Free Trade agreement between the EU and South America's Mercosur nations will be in place by October. But the approximately 100 protesters arrested at the event found a note of irony in the summit's statement condemning US military torture in Iraq.

An account on Z-Net by Oregon activist Patrick Leet of Witness for Peace, who was on the scene in Guadalajara, reports that a rally by workers, campesinos and anti-globalization activists outside the 15-foot fence which had been erected around the summit site exploded into "a full blown police-protester exchange of rocks, bricks, bottles, chunks of concrete, street-signs, metal fences, etc." Police unleashed tear gas, pepper spray and nightsticks to disperse the crowd. Writes Leet: "The violent version of tag (complete with police beatings once caught) that would follow continued all over the city for hours after the protest as countless people--involved or not in the protest--were caught up in the aftermath." Protest organizers later speculated the initial violence was sparked by police provocateurs placed in the crowd.

Leet himself beat a retreat back to his hotel after the violence started, but when he ventured back out to look for food he was immediately accosted by riot police. Leet writes that "before I knew what was happening the entire group of police had surrounded me, threw me to the ground and began punching and kicking me. They were aiming their steel-toed boots primarily at my face and head, but also kicking me in the stomach, ribs, and legs as I lay on the ground." When he managed to get up, one officer pulled a gun and held it to his head, saying "Si te mueves, te mato" (If you move I'll kill you). When he tried to back away, he was thrown through the hotel's plate-glass window, sustaining cuts on his back and limbs.

Later that day at a Red Cross clinic, he saw beds filled with injured protesters, bystanders and police alike. From there he was transferred with some 70 others to the basement of a police station. The next 12 hours were a nightmare. "I witnessed people getting their heads slammed into a wall, interrogations with hands-on intimidation tactics as well as constant threats of violence, random punches to the neck or head, strange exercises ('hold this above your head for X amount of time, if not I will beat you'), random kicking, etc. Basic needs were withheld--water, a bathroom, or even allowing us to lie down on the floor throughout the night... Before joining the rest, the women had been separated and forced to strip naked and do exercises, under the guise of strip searches. And when the bathroom was allowed, there was occasional out-of-sight abuse as those who came back from the bathroom were doubled over upon return..." One young man was forced to urinate on himself.

Leet was next transferred to a detention center for undocumented migrants, where eight foreign activists arrested at the protest mingled with over 1,000 Central Americans. After several days, the activists were deported back to the US, Canada, Australia, Italy and Spain. Writes Leet: "At no point did I break any law in Mexico, nor was I officially accused of anything. Once detained in the airport, minutes before being taken to the plane, I was given a copy of my expulsion order, saying I had entered the country illegally, had participated in illegal acts, etc (all complete fabrications, as the stamp in my passport and witnesses can attest to)."


At yet a further remove from the global media spotlight, campesinos in rural areas attempting to protect their traditional lands and way of life from Fox's "modernization" schemes are also under threat from the security forces. An urgent June 30 communique from a campesino group opposing construction of a new hydro-electric dam in the southern state of Guerrero protested a recent incident of army harassment. The statement reported that on the 27th, two Federal Army trucks filled with armed soldiers arrived at Aguacaliente, just "a few meters" from the campesinos' protest encampment, where they are maintaining an ongoing peaceful vigil to register their opposition to the hydro project. The soldiers withdrew within a few hours, but the statement called their presence "direct intimidation of the campesinos who do not want the dam."

The new dam, at La Parota on the Rio Papagayo, in rugged mountains east of Acapulco, is being built by Mexico's Federal Electricity Commission (CFE), and is seen as linked to the Mesoamerican Energy Inter-connection, a transnational grid expansion and integration project under the Inter-American Development Bank's Puebla-Panama Plan. The peasant protesters are demanding withdrawal of CFE construction equipment from the site, charging that traditional farmlands and communities will be flooded if the dam is built, and that the project violates International Labor Organization Convention 169, recognizing the autonomy of indigenous peoples. The impacted peasants are mostly Mixtec Indians.

The communique was issued by the General Council of Communities Nonconforming with the Parota Dam and the affiliated Mexican Alliance for Self-Determination of the Peoples. It closes with the slogan "Rivers for Life, Don't Sell the Land." The statement is on-line at the Chiapas IMC website.


In a victory for indigenous Tarahumara activists in the northern state of Chihuahua, Isidro Baldenegro and Hermenegildo Rivas, two Indian anti-logging campaigners jailed for over a year, were released June 25 after federal authorities found that they had been framed by police. Mexican Attorney General Rafael Macedo de la Concha announced that charges of illegal arms and marijuana possession would be dropped.

Baldenegro maintained that the police who arrested him in March 2003 had planted a gun and marijuana seeds on him, and that he was targeted for his opposition to logging operations by regional timber barons on traditional Tarahumara lands. In December, Amnesty International had declared the two men "prisoners of conscience."

Baldenegro and Rivas were released days after Chihuahua state prosecutors charged four state police officers with abuse of authority, improper arrest and robbery in relation to the detentions and another case involving Tarahumara.

The case recalls that of Rodolfo Montiel and Teodoro Cabrera, two peasant anti-logging activists in Guerrero who were jailed on drug and gun charges in 1999. In 2001, President Fox ordered the release of the two on humanitarian grounds after they suffered health problems in jail. The pair are now campaigning for a formal acquittal to clear their names. (AP, June 25)

(AP, June 25)


Special to WORLD WAR 3 REPORT, July 7, 2004
Reprinting permissible with attribution

Reprinting permissible with attribution.