News and Analysis: January 7 - 27

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1 - ANTI-POVERTY PROGRAMS?
2 - ZAPATISTA COMMUNIQUES OFFER NEW LESSONS
3 - PENA NIETO RESPONDS TO EZLN COMMUNIQUES
4 - ZAPATISTA SUPPORTER RELEASED FROM PRISON

President Enrique Pena Nieto announced a program last week to fight extreme poverty, following a recent trend in populist politics utilized early in administrations whose electoral legitimacy is in doubt. Carlos Salinas de Gotari of the PRI, who stole an election in 1988, announced his Solidarity program in the first week of his administration. Solidarity was an effort to convert the PRI’s historic corporatist politics to a more direct relationship between recipients and party by offering supplies for construction of schools, roads and other infrastructure if communities provided the labor. Salinas often delivered the money in person in highly publicized events. PRIista Ernesto Zedillo followed in 1994 winning less than half the popular vote, the first time a PRI candidate publicly recognized such a slim victory. Zedillo replaced Solidarity with Progresa, a poverty-fighting program of direct subsidies to the poorest families provided their children go to school. PANist Vicente Fox took power in 2000 with 42% of the vote. He immediately replaced Progresa with Oportunidades, another direct subsidy program but more extensively linked to social engineering, including mandatory birth control classes, with some experts reporting sterilization operations performed on uninformed indigenous women. In 2006, PANista Felipe Calderon stole an election with the help of political operator extraordinaire Elba Esther Gordillo. He immediately offered infrastructure programs for poor communities, a “70 and Over Program” that provides US$50 a month in assistance for the elderly (the idea came directly from his opponent in the presidential campaign), and continuation of Oportunidades.

Despite all the federal programs, or perhaps in part because of them, from 1988 to 2012 poverty increased in Mexico, with more than half the population today living under the official poverty level and nearly one in five under the extreme poverty level. Pena Nieto promises to end hunger, an ambitious goal in a country whose political class is dedicated to a neoliberal, export-oriented economy, not one focused on food production. The program will kick off in Chiapas, not an arbitrary choice given the Zapatista’s continuing influence in the state. Recent communiques by the EZLN claim Zapatista communities have higher standards of living, longer life expectancies, and better access to education and medical care than indigenous communities aligned with either the PRI or PAN, quite an embarrassing assertion given the extent of anti-poverty programs managed at the federal level over the past 24 years. Pena Nieto offered few details other than citing Brazil’s anti-poverty efforts over the past decade as his inspiration. He did mention the Defense Department will be involved, leading critics to wonder about the ultimate goals of the program.

2 - ZAPATISTA COMMUNIQUES OFFER NEW LESSONS
The EZLN issued six additional communiques over the past week and a half, focused mainly on a clear and simple analysis of power relations in Mexico. Written by Subcomandante Marcos, the communiques focus on the stark differences between the current class of political/economic leaders and the rest of us. They are available in Spanish and English at http://enlacezapatista.ezln.org.mx/.

The recent communiques taken as a whole appear to signal a strategy over the coming years that will emphasize building new alliances, in contrast to the largely insular politics of recent years in which the EZLN focused mainly on consolidating political and social gains in Zapatista communities, including the Juntas of Good Government, health care, education and food production. The gains have been extraordinary, with Zapatista life expectancy reaching that of Mexico’s urban areas. The lesson for other political movements is clear – a successful revolution is based not only on “no,” but also the “yes” of successful construction of alternative anti-capitalist programs. In one communique, Marcos critiques “individual rebellions. These are so movingly useless. On the other hand, what really is a danger, a real chaos, is when each and every person becomes a collective, a group, a gang, a race, an organization, and they learn to say “no” and to say “yes,” and they come to agreements among themselves.” This clear call to organize is also an encouragement to de-emphasize political agendas focused exclusively on institutional politics (the “no” part of politics), and adopt community-based agendas that build functioning alternatives to capitalism.

3 - PENA NIETO RESPONDS TO EZLN COMMUNIQUES
The Pena Nieto administration quickly responded to a recent series of Zapatista communiques by announcing the dissolution of the Commission for Dialogue and Negotiation in Chiapas, the PAN-initiated body responsible for a dialogue with the EZLN that never happened, and its replacement with the Commission for Dialogue with Indigenous Peoples, to be headed by Jaime Martinez Veloz. The newly named Commission will “pay the historic social debt with indigenous regions and communities via a permanent political dialogue,” according to Interior Secretary Miguel Osorio. Martinez was a PRI representative on the COCOPA, the Congressional body that negotiated the San Andres Accords, but left the PRI in 2006 to join the PRD. During the negotiations in the mid 1990s, Martinez was considered sympathetic to the Zapatistas, though there has been no formal contact between the EZLN and Mexico’s political class since 2001. The newly named Commission appears to be an effort to isolate the EZLN, especially after the recent announcement by Marcos concerning a potential strengthening of the relationship between the EZLN and the National Indigenous Congress. It is almost certain the PRI will trot out for media consumption a number of indigenous leaders who support the current government and will favor, in exchange for sufficient payments, whatever indigenous-oriented initiatives the Commission puts forward.

4 - ZAPATISTA SUPPORTER RELEASED FROM PRISON
Francisco Santiz Lopez, a Zapatista supporter, was released from prison on January 25. Santiz spent 13 months in prison on trumped up charges, generating an international campaign of solidarity demanding his release. Alberto Patishtán Gómez, an adherent to the Sixth Declaration of the Selva Lacandona and also a focus of the international campaign, remains imprisoned. Despite international demands for his release, Patishtan has been in prison for 13 years.