Sunday, September 11, 2011

Mexico's Indignados

By David Bacon
TruthOut Photoessay, 9/10/11

        MEXICO CITY - Last week Mexican President Felipe Calderon gave the fifth state of the nation speech since his (many say fraudulent) election in 2006.  He didn't have an easy time finding a positive spin for the escalating toll exacted by his war on drug gangs -- 50,000 dead, mostly innocent civilians, in the last five years.  Making his job even more difficult, just days earlier the war's bloody cost was highlighted when 52 people, mostly working women and retirees on their lunch hour, were burned to death in a fire set by the Zetas in a Monterrey casino.  Since then Mexican newspapers have exposed a web of corruption linking businessmen, narcos and politicians from Calderon's own party in the enormous proliferation of gambling houses over the last several years. 

Tombstones memorialize victims of repression and violence.

        Mexican casinos don't attract the wealthy, who congregate instead in Mexico City's rich neighborhoods, filled with glittering restaurants and shiny Hummers, patrolled by bodyguards to prevent the frequent kidnappings.  Casinos are the refuge of Mexico's working poor, who hope a miracle of luck will pull them from the abyss of falling incomes and disappearing jobs.
That truth didn't make it into Calderon's improbably rosy assessment.  But it did bring over fifty thousand Mexicans into the capital's main square, the zocalo, where they publicly ridiculed the gulf between his speech and their reality.  Humberto Montes de Oca, international secretary of the Mexican Electrical Workers Union (SME), denounced Calderon for "trying to justify what he's done to the country.  The people gathered here," he declared, "are the ones who've suffered under him.  We know the way things really are.  You can see the consequences of this terrible government in our lack of security and public safety, and our economy.  The truth is that he's destroying our country."

Humberto Montes de Oca

        The SME has been occupying over half the huge square at the city's heart since May, and they've been at war with Calderon since the government fired the union's 44,000 members in October of 2009.  The national company that employed them, the Power and Light Company, provided electrical service for central Mexico, where a majority of the population live.  Calderon dissolved it by executive fiat, and brought in soldiers and police to expel the workers from the generating stations. 

A fired electrical worker

        Successive governments have sought to privatize the electrical grid, although such a move is barred by the Mexican constitution.  The union repeatedly mobilized the opposition of hundreds of thousands of city residents and prevented it, at least until that October.  Once the company was dissolved, the government declared the union non-existent (a decision later overturned by the courts, but ignored by Calderon).  Over the last two years, this fight over the privatization of electricity, and the smashing of one of Mexico's oldest and most democratic unions, has become a symbol of the administration's war on unions.
See the excellent photos at the web site given.

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