Friday, May 12, 2006

Madness in Atenco

Despite little press attention north of the Rio Grande, the simmering tensions around the Mexican election campaign and the Zapatistas "Other Campaign" exploded in the small towns of Texcoco and San Salvador Atenco on the outskirts of the Mexican Capital (or Distrito Federal).

A massive police round up of unlicensed vendors in Texcoco caused a dramatic reaction in Texcoco.

Locals, armed with machetes, detained the police that had been holding the unlicensed vendors, though the captive police were later handed to the Red Cross. A massive police operation to retake the town resulted in 200 arrests, and up to 50 police injuries, according to official statements.

The people of San Salvador Atenco suffered an even greater loss. Javier Cortés Santiago, a 14 year old youth, was killed. According to the BBC, "Television images of police beating bound demonstrators caused a national outcry after the riots." While others are still reported as "disappeared," human rights groups have documented 16 rapes of women in police custody and sexual assaults (including the introduction of foreign objects into the bodies of both men and women).

A Chilean film maker told the BBC "They insulted me, groped me, anything they wanted. Whenn they jailed me that was when I saw the girls with their pants and underwear torn, sobbing." Her full letter is available on NarcoNews here

This seems like an insane escalation overvunlicensed vendors. The obvious question is, Why in San Salvador Atenco?

The populace of the area had already been radicalized and organized in 2002 when the local, state and federal governments wanted to confiscate the farmlands of Atenco in order to build a new airport for Mexico City. During that fight, the people waged a popular campaign of struggle when it became clear that all three levels of government were colluding against them. Their marches, yielding machetes as symbols of their rural labor, were met with police violence. After police detained, beat and arrested marchers, one slipped into a coma and died from lack of treatment in police custody.

Narco News has a two part series on the 2002 confrontations here and here. There is also a video at Salon Chingon.

Furthermore, activists from Atenco had been participating in the Zapatista's "Other Campaign," the attack on the vendors (who are becoming an important yet marginalized part of the new "post-Fordist" economy and have been important in other political organizing such as the Bolivian uprising that swept Evo Morales into power) came as Marcos was arriving in Mexico City.

While the Zapatistas' spokesperson Marcos (or Delegate Zero) is promising to remain in Mexico, D.F. until the detained people of Atenco are freed (even if it keeps him there through the elections). Meanwhile mass media like the BBC are forecasting more election violence based on the Atenco experience.

While perhaps attempting to marginalize the "Other Campaign," the Mexican government may be giving it legitimacy. As the Zapatistas call for all of its supporters to open a campaign of non violent resistance on behalf of the people of Atenco, their actions may be winning them alliances and earning them relevance beyond the indigenous enclaves of rural Chiapas.

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