Mexico News and Analysis, October 20-26, 2008

1. IMPUNITY IN CIUDAD JUAREZ
2. SENATE AND LOWER HOUSE APPROVE PEMEX REFORMS
3. PUBLIC ARGUMENT OVER BRAD WILL CASE
4. MSN PROGRAM HIGHLIGHTS (Contact MSN [at] MexicoSolidarity [dot] org)


1. IMPUNITY IN CIUDAD JUAREZ
Residents of Lomas de Poleo on the western outskirts of Ciudad Juarez suffered another setback this week in their efforts to defend their 35-year-old community when the Zaragoza family dug a deep trench around parts of the property, limiting access for residents and visitors.  The Zaragozas claim ownership of some 800 acres of land with plans for a major new industrial park, but families who have lived there for over three decades are contesting the claim.  Armed paramilitaries hired by the Zaragozas guard the land 24 hours a day.  Guards destroyed four houses this week, then removed debris before local authorities could investigate.  In any case, local officials are clearly on the side of the Zaragozas, routinely refusing to intervene, even when residents are beaten or killed.  And Chihuahua Governor Jose Reyes Baeza has permitted the Zaragozas to convert the community into a virtual prison, refusing to intervene when the rights of residents are violated despite formal complaints.  Paramilitaries murdered three residents over the past three years, including two young children who perished when their house was torched by armed guards, yet Baeza’s security forces haven’t even investigated.  As journalist Gloria Munoz notes, “Lomas de Poleo is the symbol of impunity and barbarity.”


2. SENATE AND LOWER HOUSE APPROVE PEMEX REFORMS
In the midst of a massive security cordon established by 1,200 Federal Preventative Police, the Senate voted overwhelmingly on Thursday in favor of a set of reforms that open the door to privatization of Pemex, Mexico’s national petroleum monopoly.  Only eight Senators, those aligned with former presidential candidate Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, opposed the measure.  With most of the PRD Senators voting in favor, this could mark a permanent rupture within the fractured party.  The reform includes seven sections, most of which won the approval of Lopez Obrador’s opposition movement.  In fact, the legislation bears little resemblance to Calderon’s proposal of several months ago.  But one article that would award exclusive exploration rights for large tracts of seabed to foreign companies proved to be the sticking point.  The lower house approved the same legislation on Saturday without debate.  As one astute political cartoonist pointed out, politicians make the rules and private companies interpret them, which may mean that Pemex is on its way to large scale privatization no matter what the legislation says.  Lopez Obrador called for civil resistance to begin on Monday.


3. PUBLIC ARGUMENT OVER BRAD WILL CASE
An unusual public argument broke out this week over the case of murdered US journalist Brad Will, who was killed in October 27, 2006, during confrontations between the Popular Assembly of the People of Oaxaca (APPO) and armed supporters of Governor Ulises Ruiz.  The federal Attorney General arrested three APPO members last week for the murder and issued warrants for five more, but the National Human Rights Commission (CNDH), a government agency, discredited the arrests in a series of press conferences.  It appears that Will’s case is increasingly linked to the release of US$400 million from the Bush administration to Mexican security forces, part of the three-year, US$1.2 billion Merida Initiative approved earlier this year by the US Congress.  Will’s case, along with the murders of at least two dozen APPO activists during the 2006 uprising in Oaxaca, languished for nearly two years.  But only days before the arrival of Condoleezza Rice in Mexico for high level talks, and only fifteen days after the CNDH released a series of recommendations to the Attorney General concerning the case, suddenly arrests were made.  The peso lost about a quarter of its value in the past two weeks versus the dollar, and the Calderon administration may be looking for every possible source of hard currency to bolster the flagging currency.  In addition, Calderon is losing the war on drugs, the centerpiece of his administration to date.  There may be hopes at the highest levels that a quick infusion of fire power and new intelligence gathering equipment might help turn the tide.  Meanwhile, one clearly innocent APPO supporter is in prison for Will’s murder.  Juan Manuel Martinez Moreno was committed to prison by a federal judge early this week, despite the fact that video shot by Will himself and forensic evidence compiled by the CNDH indicate that supporters of Governor Ruiz committed the murder.