By Ryan A. Knight
The authorities of the state of Mexico have grown impatient, or perhaps even fearful. Faced with the well-organized and constantly growing resistance to countless megaprojects in the state of Mexico—projects driven by the ruthless pursuit of capital accumulation—political authorities have sought justification and legal protection to violently repress the resistance and see these projects through.
On January 29, 2016, the governor of the state of Mexico, Eruviel Ávila Villegas, proposed the “Ley que Regula el Uso de la Fuerza Publica” (Law that Regulates the Use of Public Force). The law was officially approved on March 17, 2016 by the congress of the State of Mexico with only the left-leaning party, Morena, voting against it.[i] It officially takes effect after 90 days. Those in favour argue for the necessity to clarify, what until has been unspecified, the proper regulations that security forces must follow in using force against the public.
The content of the law provides an entirely different picture, with social organizations quickly renaming the bill, some calling it “Ley Atenco” and others calling it “Ley Eruviel”[ii] to better suit its true character. In stark contrast to its official justification, the law designs a legal framework for which authorities can use extensive violence against the public, particularly against demonstrations and acts of organized resistance. Here is a list of just some of the relevant articles in the law:
Article 8: “When it is exceptional, strictly necessary and inevitable, to protect the life of the people and members of public security, they can use lethal weapons”.
A lethal weapon they define in article 2 as: “An object or instrument that is used by members of public security against threats or aggressions that causes severe wounds or death…” (3).
Article 14: “The members of public security will be able to use force to control the multitudes and public disturbances, to re-establish order and social peace, with the intention to avoid acts of violence, damage to bystanders, property, and the physical integrity of the people (8).
Article 15: When in an assembly or reunion, the people are found to be armed or when the petitions or protest against the authorities express threats to intimidate or force to resolve in a certain sense, the assembly or reunion will be considered illegal and the authorities will proceed in conformity with what is ordered in this law” (8)
Article 16: The determination of whether to use force, in the case of assemblies, demonstrations or reunions, violent or illegal, will be taken by the command responsible for the operation, under its strict liability, and must immediately inform the superior command of such a determination of the pertinent purposes (8)
Article 40: The use of force is the last resort, however, it can be used as the first option, provided that it complies with the suppositions and conditions established in this law and other legal provisions (12)[iii]
Exemplified above, the law gives security forces the green light to carry out deadly force in times they feel necessary. The authority to determine when “exceptional measures” are necessary is based in the decision-making of the forces carrying out the operation, basically allowing them to do as they please in the moment without any repercussions. Furthermore the political representatives who have approved the bill remain completely immune to any potential punishment of the law’s misuse.
Social organizations were quick to contextualize the law referencing the extremely violent measures carried out against the community of San Salvador Atenco nearly ten years ago. In 2001, in the community of San Salvador Atenco, in the valley of Mexico, indigenous campesinxs organized themselves into the “Frente de Pueblos en Defensa de la Tierra- Atenco” (People’s Front in Defence of the Land- Atenco) to reject the expropriation of 104 square kilometres of land to construct a new airport for Mexico City.[iv] Land being the lifeblood of campesinx communities, the ordered expropriation sought to dispossess 4,375 families from land that was granted to them under the ejido system—a system of communal land tenure tracing back to the gains won by the Mexican Revolution of 1910. After nine months of resilient resistance, along with extensive international support, the People’s Front in Defence of the Land succeeded in having the expropriation decree cancelled and the airport project halted. For president Vicente Fox, and the governor of the state of Mexico, Enrique Peña Nieto, this defeat did not sit well.
On the third and fourth of May 2006, authorities found the opportunity for revenge. Responding to a governmental dispute with flower vendors in the nearby town of Texcoco, members of the People’s Front in Defence of the Land provided sought after support, blocking a federal highway Texcoco-Lechería. In the ensuing repression administered by some 2,500 state, municipal, and federal police, 207 people were arbitrarily detained (many of which were brutally beaten), 5 non-Mexican citizens were deported, 47 women were detained (of which 26 reported being victims of sexual torture at the hands of state authorities), and two teenagers were killed.[v] The gross human rights violations to this day remain unpunished.
The recent provocations in the state of Mexico, within the context of what is being called “Ley Eruviel” by the resistance, suggests just another example of the ongoing state violence committed against communities in resistance in Mexico. On April 11, 2016, heavy machinery accompanied by some 800 riot police besieged the Otomí Indigenous town of San Francisco Xochicuautla in the municipality of Lerma, Mexico State to recommence work on the highway project Toluca-Naucalpan. Entering from three different sides of the community, the bulldozers under the protection of riot police destroyed the Campamento de Paz y de Digna Resistencia (Encampment of Peace and Dignified Resistance) that was built as a symbol of peaceful resistance to the highway project in the Otomí forest. On the other end of the Otomí forest, authorities threatened to destroy the house of community member Dr. Armando Garcia, claiming it to be on federally owned land and in the pathway of the projected highway project. Despite community members entering the house hoping to protect if from destruction, the house was violently torn to the ground. Those inside were forced to quickly evacuate removing what few items they could before the destruction took place.
The Otomí community of San Francisco Xochicuautla has for ten years organized resistance to the Toluca-Naucalpan highway project that seeks to connect the urban areas of Toluca and Mexico City. Joining forces with various other communities affected by the highway project—including San Lorenzo Huitzizilapan and Santa Cruz Ayotuxco among others—they formed the “Frente de Pueblos Indígenas en Defensa de la Madre Tierra” (Indigenous People’s Front in Defence of Mother Earth). On July 9th, 2015, President Enrique Peña Nieto signed a presidential decree expropriating some 93 acres of indigenous land, including a large swath of the forest. However, on February 11th and 18th of this year, a district judge ruled against the presidential decree and in favour of the Xochicuautla community, citing its violation of the human rights of the indigenous peoples. [vi] This injunction was subsequently violated in the provocations of April 11th and 12th.
After the two-day siege on Xochicuautla, members of the community, lawyers, activists, and representatives of the state and federal government sat down at the negotiating table in Mexico City on April 13, 2016. Agreements were reached among others to temporarily stop the highway project while other options are thoroughly explored, and for the government to pay reparations for the destruction of the house of Dr. Armando Garcia and his family.[vii] It is important to note the that the highway project is under the commission of the private company Autopistas de Vanguardia S.A. de C.V. that belongs to the Grupo Higa—a company with extensive connections to president Enrique Peña Nieto, including various other scandalous megaprojects dating back to Nieto’s tenor as governor of the state of Mexico.[viii]
Simultaneous to the provocations in San Francisco Xochicuautla, on April 12, at the other end of the Mexican state, in the valley of Mexico, the army entered the ejidal lands of San Salvador Atenco, in order to escort a work crew in the beginning stages of the construction of the new airport in Mexico City. Having won the cancellation of the project under the presidential administration of Vicente Fox in 2002, current president Enrique Peña Nieto has reinitiated the project, already selling off contracts for the necessary infrastructure development of the airport. The People’s Front in Defence of the Land of San Salvador Atenco have responded diligently to this latest aggression, organizing daily patrols to monitor intrusions onto their ejidal lands.
For many, including the Centre for Human Rights Zeferino Ladrillero, the simultaneity of aggressions is not a mere coincidence, but rather a strategy designed to instigate confrontations in order to justify the necessity of their newly minted “Ley Eruviel.” The provocations are also taking place amidst the launch of “La Campaña Nacional en Defensa de la Madre Tierra y el Territorio” (National Campaign of Defense of Land and Territory) [ix], which has already garnered participation from some 175 organizations, collectives, and communities across the entire Mexican Republic. Furthermore, a campaign against the “Ley Eruviel” entitled, “Fuego de la Digna Resistencia” (Fire of the Dignified Resistance) has also been launched gathering communities, collectives and social organizations in the state of Mexico. Both San Francisco Xochicuautla and People’s Front in Defence of the Land in San Salvador Atenco are participating in both campaigns.
The aggressions and provocations sit within the larger context of the recent wide-reaching federal energy reforms that were implemented by the Peña Nieto administration in 2014. Corporations from across the globe, under the assistance of the Mexican government, are preparing to cash-in on the new measures of privatization embodied in the reforms. In between these companies and their loot, lies an impediment to the realization of surplus value—the dignified resistance of the people of Mexico, who in the face of continued repression, harassment, and violence, stand strong in defence of mother earth and their territory.
Ryan A. Knight is an educator, writer, organizer and PhD candidate at the University of Hawai’i, Manoa. He currently resides in Mexico and is working towards the completion of his dissertation on autonomous politics and communal forms of self-organization. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
[ii] Some collectives have called the law “Ley Atenco” after the violence carried out in Atenco touched upon in the article. Others have found Atenco’s name connected to the law misguided, calling it “Ley Eruviel” after the governor who introduced the bill.
[iii] Find the full text of the law here: http://legislacion.edomex.gob.mx/sites/legislacion.edomex.gob.mx/files/files/pdf/gct/2016/mar188.pdf