On September 5, 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 5 years. Making his job even more difficult, days earlier, 52 people, mostly working women and retirees on their lunch hour, were burned to death in a fire at a Monterrey casino set by the Zetas—one of Mexico’s most powerful and violent drug cartels. Since then, Mexican newspapers have exposed a web of corruption linking businesspeople, narcos, and politicians from Calderon’s own party.
Mexican casinos don’t attract the wealthy who congregate instead in
That truth didn’t make it into Calderon’s improbably rosy assessment. But it did bring over 50,000 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.”
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 2009. The national company that employed them, the Power and Light Company, provided electrical service for central
Successive governments have sought to privatize the electrical grid, although such a move is barred by the Mexican Constitution. The union repeatedly mobilized hundreds of thousands of city residents and prevented it, at least until 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
Other unions have also felt the government’s wrath and came to protest in the zocalo. One was the Mexican miners’ union. In Cananea, a tiny mountain town south of
Hundreds of ex-employees of the country’s national airline, Mexicana, joined miners and electrical workers as they marched to the zocalo. This year the Administration forced the company into bankruptcy and thousands of pilots, stewards, and ground crew members suddenly found themselves out on the street. Their union charged that the bankruptcy was a sham. Instead, they say, Calderon’s cronies stood to gain from the airline’s eventual privatization. Meanwhile, the wealthy families who own
The hundred organizations that cooperated in organizing the zocalo protest called their rally the National Day of Indignant Mexicans. Their purpose was to present an alternative to the official picture painted by Calderon and to call for a different direction for the country. They charged that in 5 years, the number of Mexicans in poverty has grown by 10 million, that working income has dropped by a third, and that 3 million more people find themselves jobless. The crisis has hit especially hard at young people, who are the fastest growing segment of the population. Seven million of them can’t find work and have no money to go to school.
Calderon’s policies, which have produced these results, are part of a program of economic liberalization opening
“At the same time,” Lopez Obrador charges, “the fight against inequality and poverty is not on the national agenda.” In 2010, according to the Monterrey Institute of Technology,
In a recent diplomatic cable published by Wikileaks, the U.S. government admitted, “The net wealth of the 10 richest people in Mexico—a country where more than 40 percent of the population lives in poverty—represents roughly 10 percent of the country’s gross domestic product.” Carlos Slim became the world’s richest person when a previous president, Carlos Salinas de Gortari, privatized the national telephone company and sold it to him. Ricardo Salinas Pliego, who owns TV Azteca, is now worth $8 billion and Emilio Azcárraga Jean, who owns Televisa, is worth $2.3 billion. Both helped Calderon get elected in 2006.
This is what the zocalo protestors want to change and why they call themselves “indignant Mexicans.” Next July that chance will come again, as the country goes to the polls to elect a new president. The constitution prohibits reelection, but Calderon’s National Action Party will undoubtedly nominate a candidate who will defend the government’s record and call for more of the same.
Lopez Obrador has fought with
In the zocalo, Lopez Obrador had a lot of support, but many unions and popular organizations don’t want to simply collapse into campaigning for a political party or its candidates. According to Montes de Oca, “We’re in a building process. We’re trying to speed that up, but we also need to consolidate our base and make it broader. What we really need is a social movement strong enough to force a change.”
David Bacon is a freelance writer, author, and photographer. Photo 1: a fired electrical worker. Photo 2: tombstones memorializing victims of repression and violence. Photo 3: veterans of Mexico's social upheavals. Photo 4: protestors fill the zocalo to listen to speakers condemn the government. Photo 5: "No Blood, No Hunger." Photo 6: striking miners from Cananea. Photo 7: Angry farmers protest corn dumping by U.S. companies. Photo 8: unemployed workers from Mexicana Airlines. This photo essay first appeared on Truthout.org. P PhotoPhoto 1PPPPPP
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