Mexico News and Analysis - September 22-28, 2008

Family remittances from migrant workers in the US are expected to decrease by at least US$2.5 billion during the coming year, a decline of almost 10% over 2008, according to Treasury Secretary Agustin Carstens.  “We are entering a much more complicated period than we expected,” said the normally upbeat Carstens during testimony before the Senate.  Family remittances are the main source of financial support for more than 10% of Mexican families.

Negotiators failed to reach an agreement in the six week teachers strike in Morelos that has kept most of the state’s public schools from opening.  More than 20,000 of the state’s 25,000 teachers are on strike, demanding an end to the Alliance for Quality Education (ACE) signed in May by President Felipe Calderon and Elba Esther Gordillo, “permanent president” of the National Union of Education Workers (SNTE).  Teachers object to provisions in the ACE that violate their labor rights, including mandatory periodic evaluations.   Many current teachers either bought their positions from previous teachers or inherited them from family members, and the ACE would prohibit these kinds of hereditary transactions.  Given the high levels of unemployment in Mexico and the highly politicized nature of evaluations, teachers are concerned about the stability of their positions, especially those who oppose the virtual dictatorship exercised by Gordillo over the 1.3 million member union.  Gordillo is closely allied with Calderon and was probably responsible for a good deal of the electoral fraud that brought the current president to power.  The ACE would increase her already powerful control over Latin America’s largest union.  Teachers in Morelos have taken the lead in challenging the ACE, but many teachers around the country are opposed to the plan and to Gordillo’s increasingly corrupt and problematic control of the union.  On Tuesday, thousands of teachers from six states participated in marches, meetings and building occupations in opposition to Gordillo, the ACE and last year’s privatization of much of the Social Security Institute for State Workers (ISSSTE).  On Saturday, the National Coordinator of Education Workers (CNTE), a dissident faction of the teacher’s union, called for a national conference to overturn the ACE.

The Federal Attorney General signaled this week that members of the Popular Assembly of the People of Oaxaca (APPO) will be charged in the murder of US journalist Brad Will.  Will died in October 2006 during confrontations between the APPO and paramilitary forces aligned with Governor Ulises Ruiz.  Will was videotaping at the time of his death and recorded paramilitaries firing weapons in his direction.  But the Attorney General claims Will was short at close range, less than two feet, by members of the APPO.  Photos taken of a shirtless Will immediately after he was shot show only one bullet wound in the stomach area, yet the Attorney General claims a bullet wound discovered later on his right side was the cause of death. 

In a surreal action that likely left Mexico’s organized crime bosses chuckling, 300 heavily armed Federal Preventative Police (PFP) raided the Mexico City offices of the Federal Agency of Investigation (AFI, the rough equivalent of the FBI) on Thursday.  AFI agents engaged in a series of increasing public protests this week claiming labor rights violations and objecting to their imminent transfer to the PFP.  Since the beginning of his sexenio, President Calderon has called for the integration of all federal policing agencies into a single unit called the Federal Police.  Legislation is pending but has not yet been considered by Congress, yet for months the administration has been consolidating the PFP and the AFI under one coordinator to facilitate the eventual formation of a single force.  In this context, AFI agents have been forced to sign new labor contracts that don’t recognize accumulated seniority rights.  On Wednesday, disgruntled AFI agents organized an unprecedented public march from their offices to the Federal Attorney General (PGR) demanding respect for their labor rights.  The PGR cuts paychecks for the 5,000 AFI agents, and a commander from the Secretary for Public Security (SSP), part of Calderon’s cabinet, oversees AFI operations.  On Thursday, AFI agents visited Congress and invited four Deputies to visit the their offices and document the virtual dismantling of what was Mexico’s premier national police force under the Fox administration.  The rationale for Thursday’s raid was not immediately clear, and no AFI agents were arrested.