On Monday, March 1, at about 9am, approximately ten heavily armed Federal Police arrived at the former Luz y Fuerza del Centro's Santa Cruz Meyehualco office in Iztatapalapa, Mexico, and forced union electricians to remove a table they had set up outside their former workplace. The electricians, all members of the Mexican Electrical Workers Union (SME), have continuously staffed the table since December 17, 2009.
The table in Iztapalapa is one of about 250 "information modules" that the SME set up all over the area that Luz y Fuerza del Centro (LyFC) served before President Felipe Calderon's October 11 executive order that summarily shut down the power companyand threw its 44,000 workers out on the street.
While the SME refers to the tables as "information modules," in reality they act as guerrilla customer service centers--and all of the services they offer are free to the public. Electric customers can go to the tables to file legal complaints with the government regarding service problems they have experienced since Calderon shut down LyFC and put its grid under the control of the Federal Electricity Commission (CFE). Customers who file complaints can also join the consumer strike and refuse to pay their bills. Electric customers who experience service interruptions either due to CFE incompetence or strike-related shut-offs can request that a team of SME electricians come out to restore their power.
"Theft Disguised As Inventory"
The Iztapalapa information module began to experience problems on February 22 whenagents from the Ministry of Administration and Asset Transfer (SAE) arrived at LyFC's Santa Cruz Meyehualco office with a public notary and several local police under the auspices of carrying out an inventory. They were met by 16 SME members who were staffing the information module.
The SME members told the police and SAE officials, "You can't go in. If you want to go in, then we go in, too, because we have personal belongings inside." When the police insisted that the SME let the SAE officials enter, an SME member responded, "There's negotiations going on with the federal government, directly with [Secretary of the Interior Fernando Francisco] Gómez Mont. The union is negotiating so that we can go in and get our personal belongings out, accompanied by a public notary. But we [in the meantime] we can't let strangers inside."
Joaquin Gomez, one of the SME members that has staffed the information module outside the Santa Cruz Meyehualco office, told Narco News, "Ever since [Calderon sent Federal Police to take over LyFC without warning on] October 11, we haven't been able to enter. We think these people are trying to steal our belongings. We have a lot of personal belongings inside, including money. We left a lot of personal belongings in our desks and lockers."
In addition to personal belongings, Gomez and his former co-workers also fear that the SAE will steal LyFC's customer databases. "They came with laptops, so we think that what they want is the database with all of our customer information. We served about 100,000 customers [at the Santa Cruz Meyehualco location]. So we think they want the files to be able to locate the customers.
As soon as the SAE and the local police tried to enter the LyFC office, the workers called their fellow union members for backup. They also called the Francisco Villa Popular Front - Independent (FPFV-I), who are members of the Zapatista's Other Campaign in Mexico City. The FPFV-I immediately sent dozens of members to the office in Santa Cruz Meyehualco office to guard the doors and rally in support of the SME.
Faced with such a show of solidarity, the SAE officials and the police retreated, warning that they would be back another day.
The SAE officials and local cops didn't come back. However, heavily armed Federal Police came to Santa Cruz Meyehualco on March 1 and forced the SME to take down its information module in front of the office.
According to Gomez and the other SME members gathered near the office, the police rotate their positions: approximately four police are inside the offices at any given time while another six stand guard outside. Gomez told Narco News, "We don't know what they [the Federal Police] are doing inside. We suspect that they want to remove vehicles and equipment and files, as they've done in other [LyFC] buildings."
The workers report that thus far they have no visual confirmation that the police have removed items from the Santa Cruz Meyehualco office. However, their suspicions aren't unfounded: the SME has video documenting police stealing computers, tools, and even huge suitcases full of copper wiring from LyFC buildings.
Gomez reports that the Federal Police's presence intimidates people. "People are scared to come here because they see the federales outside the agency," he says. "In this zone we were turning in 40-50 complaints daily" before the Federal Police showed up. Now with armed police standing guard, hardly anyone stops by the table, the workers report.
Much to the police's chagrin ("Who gave you permission to take photos?" snarled one officer at our photographer), this friendly news team interviewed former LyFC worker Carlos Romero outside the Santa Cruz Meyehualco office. He explained the free services the SME offers at the information modules, and how customers can join the strike.
Narco News: What services do the information modules provide?Romero: We explain the reasons for why people shouldn't pay their bills. First, it's because they never signed a contract with the CFE, and therefore they never hired that company to provide any services.Narco News: So, for example, if I were a Luz y Fuerza customer and I didn't want to pay the CFE, what would I have to do?Romero: You just need your voter identification, an old bill from Luz y Fuerza, and your bill that you received from CFE. If the CFE bill hasn't arrived--because in many neighborhoods people haven't received CFE bills yet--then you just need your voter identification and and old Luz y Fuerza bill. This is to demonstrate that you had contracted electric service with Luz y Fuerza and to demonstrate to Profeco (the Federal Prosecutor's Office for Consumer Affairs) that you are being affected. You need to bring three copies of every document to the information module.Narco News: If I stop paying my electric bill and the CFE comes to turn off my power, what happens?Romero: The CFE doesn't have the legal right to shut off your electricity. In fact, they don't even know who has paid and who hasn't paid because they don't have an accurate database. And they don't have a database or a list where they keep track of who has paid and who hasn't paid. In fact, some people are getting CFE bills that tell them that after they paid their bills they should call a number to inform the CFE that they've paid. That's rediculous. They should know who paid and who hasn't.If it happens that they do shut off your power for nonpayment--which would be a very unlikely case--compañeros here from the union would go and reconnect your power for free. This is a service that we're providing to the public so that they have the security of knowing that absolutely nothing will happen to them. It's a benefit we're offering our customers.Since Mexico City is very big, there are modules in neighborhoods and boroughs all over the city. You can find a list of all of the modules online at sme1914.org and radiosme.org.mx. If you go to the module in your neighborhood or borough, they'll give you phone numbers for the teams that are closest to you so that they can come out to your house and help you out.
"We Can't Back Down"
Gomez says that the police presence outside of the Santa Cruz Meyehualco office won't deter the SME. "We'll put the table next to the office instead of in front of it so that we can continue to serve the public. We can't back down." To former Luz y Fuerza customers, he says, "Don't stop filing complaints. Don't pay your electric bills. File legal complaints with the government. Don't be afraid of the police. We're not afraid of them. We respect them because they have guns. But keep supporting us, and come out with us on March 16 during the national strike."
Photos and additional reporting by Santiago Navarro.