Friday, January 15, 2010

Cover-Up and Political Revenge Alleged in Mariano Abarca Murder Case

Chiapas Government Arrests Opposition Politician for Anti-mining Organizer's Murder

On January 13, the Chiapas government arrested Walter Antonio León Montoya and accused him of being the "intellectual author" of the November 27 assassination of Chiapan anti-mining organizer Mariano Abarca Roblero. León Montoya is a former federal congressman from the opposition Institutional Revolution Party (PRI).  Chiapan Gov. Juan Sabines is from the Democratic Revolution Party (PRD), which controls the state.

Abarca's organization, the Mexican Network of People Affected by Mining (REMA), denies that León Montoya had anything to do with Abarca's murder.  In a press release, the organization argues, "It would appear that the accusation that León Montoya planned the assassination of Mariano Abarca Roblero is a strategy of political revenge."

REMA has accused employees of the Canadian mining company Blackfire Exploration of planning and carrying out Abarca's execution. The state arrested three former or current Blackfire employees after eyewitnesses identified them as the culprits.


León Montoya has been a stone in the Chiapas government's shoe since this past October, when he filed a lawsuit against Gov. Sabines and the entire Chiapas state legislature in an attempt to block the cancelation of the 2010 interim elections in Chiapas.

This past September, the state legislature approved a bill that postpones Chiapas' 2010 interim elections until 2012.  The measure extends congressmembers' terms an extra twenty months, until the end of Gov. Sabines' term in 2012.  

The same law also changes the name of the state's city councils from "ayuntamientos" ("city councils" in English) to "consejos municipales" (coincidentally, also "city councils" in English).  The Chiapas state government will inaugurate the new "consejos municipales" in 2010.  However, because there will be no elections in 2010, the state Congress will hand-pick all members of the new city councils.

In other words, the Chiapan Congress voted to extend its term twenty months, and it is using the pretext of a name change and an election postponement to forgo elections and hand-pick the new city councils in the entire state. 

The state government knew the measure would be controversial--Gov. Sabines postponed official publication of the law for thirty days.  During that thirty-day period, rumors swirled that the state government had postponed the elections, but the local press reports that government officials and members of Congress denied the accusations.  

When the postponement was finally official, León Montoya filed a lawsuit against Sabines and the entire Congress.  His lawsuit decried the secrecy surrounding the bill and argued that the cancelation of elections is unconstitutional.   The lawsuit sought to overturn the new law.


REMA makes clear that León Montoya is no saint.  It states, "REMA does not absolve Walter León Montoya of other accusations that have been leveled against him in the past, when various peasant, worker, and transportation organizations came out against him in October 2009 and accused him collaborating with foreign companies in order to plunder the state's resources without authorization."  However, it argues that in the Abarca murder case, León Montoya appears to be the Sabines administration's scapegoat.  

León Montoya's arrest appears to kill two birds with one stone: it effectively kills any legal action León Montoya had undertaken against the postponement of the 2010 elections, and it may also let employees of the Canadian mining company Blackfire Exploration, whom REMA accuses of planning and carrying out the Abarca assassination, off the hook. Blackfire employees--including one of the men currently in jail for his murder--have a long, legally documented history of harassment, threats, and violence against Abarca and his family

REMA argues that there is no evidence against León Montoya, and it refutes the little evidence the government claims it has against him.  All of the government's evidence against León Montoya comes from the testimony of a witness the government refuses to identify.

The government reports that in October León Montoya, accompanied by "armed persons," arrived at a REMA blockade outside Blackfire's mine and "threatened to cause harm to the organizer [Abarca] if he continued to cause transportation problems."  REMA's blockade aimed to prevent trucks from entering and leaving the Blackfire mine.  León Montoya is the leader of the Organization of Chiapas Transport Companies (OTRACH).

REMA counters the government's accusations: "REMA Chiapas denies outright the supposed witness' assertions.  REMA Chiapas does not know of any confrontation between REMA and León Montoya or members of his guild.  In fact, REMA has not personally met León Montoya."  REMA also notes that police asked Abarca's children (who have also allegedly suffered physical attacks at the hands of Blackfire employees for their father's activism) if they knew León Montoya, and they told the police that they did not.

REMA fears that León Montoya's arrest signals that the government is moving to free the men it believes are responsible for the assassination and thus cover up Blackfire employees' alleged involvement.  It is particularly concerned about the case of Ricardo Antonio Coutiño Velasco, a contractor hired by Blackfire to produce propaganda videosthat aim to refute claims that Blackfire's mine causes environmental destruction that could have harmful health consequences for Chicomuselo residents.  Witnesses report that they saw Coutiño Velasco with other suspects in the case both immediately prior to and following the murder.

Coutiño Velasco is, according to REMA, the nephew of Chiapan Senator Manuel Velasco Coello, a member of the Mexican Green Party (don't be fooled by the name; the only thing "green" about the party is its logo).  REMA accuses Sen. Velasco Coello of using his influence to intervene in his nephew's previous legal problems.  Domingo Lechón, a representative from the Chiapan non-profit Otros Mundos, which partners with REMA in the anti-mining movement, told Narco News that the government arrested Coutiño Velasco in 2009 for "crimes related to drug trafficking.  However, the case did not advance because of his influential family."

In response to the possible cover-up underway, REMA declares, "REMA maintains its demand that [the government] fully investigate the transnational Canadian mining company Blackfire, its workers, government officials, the Chicomuselo mayor from the PRD who is involved with the Canadian mining company in acts of corruption, and other people who are involved in the murder of Mariano Abarca Roblero."  REMA's press release specifically demands that the government arrest nine people, the majority Blackfire employees or government officials.  REMA claims those nine people participated in or have knowledge of illegal activities related to the case, including bribing local officials, harassing and threatening Abarca prior to his murder, and helping the murder suspects flee.

Originally published in Narco News on January 15, 2010.

Frustrated With Government Lies, Mexican Electricians Declare Wildcat Actions

Two Workers Detained and Later Released Following Other Campaign Mobilizations

source: Narco News

Following President Felipe Calderon’s executive order that shut down state-owned Luz y Fuerza and put its 44,000 workers out of a job, Mexico’s other state-owned electricity company, the Federal Electricity Commission (CFE), began to remove equipment from Luz y Fuerza facilities. When Calderon shut down Luz y Fuerza, he put its infrastructure and territory under the CFE’s control. However, former Luz y Fuerza workers, who consider their sudden firing to be illegal and immoral and continue to fight for work, were outraged that the CFE was “plundering” expensive equipment from their former workplace. Workers set up protest barricades in front of their former workplaces in order to block the CFE’s trucks from hauling out more equipment. Representatives from the Mexican Electricians Union (SME) visited the barricades, informed the workers that they were engaging in unsanctioned protest activity, and requested that the workers remove them. Workers at many barricades refused the union’s request, and the union refused to recognize and support the wildcat barricades.

One such barricade was the one located in Lechería. Former Luz y Fuerza workers established that barricade on December 7 when a caravan of CFE trucks tried to haul away a turbine from the power plant. The barricade cut off access to the power plant to prevent CFE workers and the contractors and police that accompanied them from removing more equipment. Anywhere between five and twenty workers staffed the barricade at any given time.

The workers at the Lechería barricade report frequent harassment from Federal Police. Heavily armed Federal Police first showed up at the barricade on December 15, reportedly to “intimidate” the workers in the barricades. On the night of January 7, approximately 30 Federal Police reportedly arrived to forcibly disassemble the barricade. The police removed materials that blocked the entrance and forced open the plant doors. According to the workers, they carried out a turbine, four jets, and a pick-up truck filled with tools and spare parts. The Federal Police then entered the workers’ plantón (protest encampment) located near the barricade and stole a laptop computer that belonged to the workers. Raul Navarrete, a former Luz y Fuerza worker who helped staff the barricade, told Narco News that the computer contained videos, photos, and texts that documented the workers’ protest activities since they were first laid off. At the time of publication, the police refuse to hand over the laptop.

It is worth pointing out that the Federal Police receive training and equipment from the United States through the Merida Initiative under the auspices of combating drug trafficking.

The situation at the Lechería barricade took a turn for the worse on January 8. On that day, a man in a truck showed up at the plantón and reportedly offered to help the workers re-install the barricade by dumping gravel in front of the plant. Before the driver was able to dump the gravel, Federal Police arrested him and workers Enrique Mejía García and Sergio David Rodríguez Martínez. Both workers are adherents to the Zapatistas’ Other Campaign and participated in the protest encampment.

The two workers were charged with attempted sabotage and attempted “crimes against the nation’s consumption and wealth.” The men’s lawyers argued that the government had no basis for the charges because the alleged crime was never carried out.

Crimes against the nation’s consumption and wealth is a serious crime and made the men inelegible for bail.

Because the two detainees are adherents to the Zapatista’s Other Campaign, fellow adherents mobilized in Mexico City and joined former Luz y Fuerza workers outside the jails where the two men were being held. The round-the-clock protest encampments outside the jails—in which around 50 people participated at any given time—were effective. The government dropped the charges against the men and released them on the night of January 13.

The men were reportedly released without any sort of conditions or negotiations. This is good news for their former co-workers, who are already meeting to discuss how to continue their wildcat actions.

Narco News spoke with former Luz y Fuerza worker Raul Navarrete about his experience in the wildcat barricade outside the Lechería power plant.

Narco News: What was your position in Luz y Fuerza?

Navarrete: I was a Class A operator in a power plant in Iztapalapa [in southern Mexico City].

Narco News: How did the wildcat barricade come about?

Navarrete: This barricade was organized by workers from Lechería. They decided to come and camp out in protest on December 7. They made the decision when the CFE and the Federal Police began to take valuable equipment from the jet repair workshop in the Lechería power plant. [The former workers] came out despite the fact that the SME offered absolutely no support. So the workers, who are SME members, got together and set up the protest encampment. More compañeros who also worked in that plant in Lechería started to come out. And that’s how they started to organize themselves.

Later, compañeros from the J. Luque [thermo-electric] plant set up an encampment in front of that plant, and compañeros from the union’s school also came out. In J. Luque there’s a warehouse that has cables and transformers. They also got worried and set up a protest encampment.

There's also protest encampments in Tacuba, Necaxa, Pachuca, Toluca, and Cuernavaca. Compañeros from our encampment visited the others to see how they were doing and share experiences.

Narco News: Why were the CFE and the Federal Police taking away the equipment?

Navarrete: We don’t know. More than anything else they were taking out the turbines, which are used to generate electricity. This worried us because if we went back to work, we wouldn’t have any equipment to work with. The workshop is for repairing jet turbines that are worth millions of dollars. If they take them away, we won’t have anything to work with.

Narco News: And the protest encampment didn’t receive support from the SME?

No. When they set up the encampment, [representatives] from the [SME] Local in Lechería came out and told them to go away. They told them they couldn’t be there. The workers didn’t pay any attention to them and they stayed so that they wouldn’t keep taking out equipment.

Narco News: What are the encampment’s demands?

Navarrete: An end to the plundering of the [Luz y Fuerza] buildings.

Narco News: How many workers in the Lechería protest encampment are adherents to the Zapatistas’ Other Campaign?

Navarrete: Two—Sergio and Enrique. They’re both in jail.

Narco News: It’s said that those in the protest encampments disagree with the SME.

Navarrete: Exactly. They’ve differentiated themselves from the SME. Of course, they also respect the SME’s ideas and politics, but their vision was to come and form a protest encampment. And not just be there, but inform people, hold political and cultural events so that the residents were informed about what’s been going on. And a lot of people were coming out. The workers in the encampment gave them information about the situation.

We didn’t agree with the SME—or rather, the SME leadership. They didn’t let us camp out in protest—it wasn’t permitted. They won’t support us, so we started looking for our own resources, and for support from the people.

Narco News: What do you think of the latest SME proposal that the 18,000 Luz y Fuerza workers who haven’t accepted their severance packages be rehired by the CFE and represented by the SME, presumably with a contract that starts at zero? Their original demand was a reversal of Calderon’s executive order and the re-opening of Luz y Fuerza.

Navarrete: We clearly understand that they won’t give back Luz y Fuerza. Maybe they’ll give us a source of work. Some source of income. But this is secondary. More than anything else, we’re against how all this was carried out—the real reasons for why Luz y Fuerza was shut down [Narco News note: There is evidence that the shutdown of Luz y Fuerza has facilitated the privatization of its fiber optic network, and SME members are acutely aware of this fact.] And above all, this blow to Luz y Fuerza workers was a blow to the working class, to unions. An injustice was committed against the 44,000 Luz y Fuerza workers—and not just them. Many more people have been affected. [Most Luz y Fuerza workers were breadwinners.]

In my point of view, from the beginning the process hasn’t been clear. The government says it’ll give us work, but that’s not going to happen. So above all, we’re doing this to defend our rights. Now it’s not so much about giving us back Luz y Fuerza . It’s about defending our rights as workers and as human beings.

We want the government to tell the truth. They’ve been demonizing us from the beginning—saying we’re drunks, drug addicts, crazies, thiefs, that we don’t work. Then they say that they’re going to hire us back [with the CFE]. Well, if we’re bad people and drunks and lazy bums, why would they rehire us?

Narco News: Do you think they will rehire you?

Navarrete: Look, I’ve got some friends who accepted their severance packages. Three months have passed, and the government hasn’t rehired them. [The government promised to do its best to rehire the workers who promptly accepted their severance packages.] A lot of people who accepted their severance packages did so for precisely that reason—so they’d be rehired. They were desperate. And now they realize that the government was manipulating them, that it wasn’t telling the truth.

I haven’t accepted my severance package because I don’t agree with how this went down. Moreover, my severance package doesn’t cover all that I’m entitled to. [This criticism is common amongst former Luz y Fuerza workers, that their severance packages were poorly calculated and are less than the amount to which they are legally entitled.] The government said it was going to give us two-and-a-half years of our salary. It sounded like a ton of money, but it’s not true.

I have a cousin that worked at Luz y Fuerza for thirteen years. They calculated his severance package using a much lower salary than what he was actually getting paid. He accepted his severance package out of necessity. He has a family; he has children.

The government told so many lies, and people believed them. People think the government is giving us a very good severance package, and that we’re just fighting for the sake of fighting because we can’t get a job like everyone else. In my case, I’m a computer engineer. I’m still young and I can look for another job. But there’s people who have spent there whole lives in Luz y Fuerza—they were educated there, as people and as workers. They’re 45, 50 years old. Where are they going to find work?