No. 263, Jan. 29-Feb. 4, 2004

To read an article, click on the headline.

Tlanlnepantla declare autonomy, Mexican government reacts

Tlalnepantla resident Gregorio Sanchez, shot in the central plaza on Jan. 14, 2004 after 700 police forces were sent to the municipality.
Photo courtesy of

Canadian journalist caught
in ‘post-9/11 witch hunt’

Leavitt joins lobbyists at industry
conference on environment

Chaos under heaven, and more to come
Bush’s Iraq: An appointocracy
Bush pushes plan to permit internet surveillance
Land developer bribed Sharon, indictment alleges
Murder of labor leader roils waters in Cambodia
Rising global temperatures melt sea ice
Indigenous innovations buttress today’s ‘knowledge society’
Cheney’s Iraq deceptions leave NPR speechless
EEUU-Iraq: El horror

Quote of the Week

“This is about imminent threat.”

- Feb. 10, 2003 White House spokesman Scott McClellan stating that Saddam Hussein’s wepons program were a threat to NATO

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Tlanlnepantla declare autonomy,
Mexican government reacts

By Andrea Golden

Tlalnepantla, Morelos, Mexico, Jan. 20 (AGR) — On Sunday, Jan. 10, there was a ceremony declaring autonomy in Tlalnepantla, and the prior Municipal President, who had served the town from 2000 to 2003, gave the keys of the Presidency and the inventory of the Presidency to the Popular Autonomous Council of Tlalnepantla.

The government responded to the declaration of autonomy by sending more than 700 police to invade Tlalnepantla on Jan. 14, 2003. The representatives of the Popular Autonomous Council and all of their supports were very firm in their decision to defend their town against an invasion, in sight of the repression that they experienced during a march on Nov. 26, 2003 and were prepared to defend against the police attack. The government’s response, however, was immense, and in addition to the 700 police forces, snipers and helicopters assisted in the invasion.

According to the official report, there was one man killed, Gregorio Sanchez, an inhabitant of Tlalnepantla. He was shot fatally in the mouth in the central plaza. Other versions, according to the townspeople of Tlalnepantla, say that there are many more dead, already disappeared and buried by the police in the mountains surrounding the town. The government has prohibited the passage of human rights groups to enter the mountains in search of such casualties.

Currently in Tlalnepantla there are no more than 200 people, the rest of the population has been displaced due to fear of further repression. They have fled to surrounding towns, and many families suspect that there are still people hiding in the mountains. In the days immediately following the invasion, many people fled to the mountains; 3 women gave birth, and one woman lost her baby due to the harsh conditions.

Also, during the invasion and in the days immediately following, 23 people were detained and are currently being held in a state prison.

On Jan. 18, a human rights commission was organized to investigate the conditions in Tlalnepantla and the surrounding mountains. The group brought food, clothes, water, and medicine to the refugees of Tlalnepantla that are currently staying the neighboring town of Tlayacapan. Upon arriving at the entrance of Tlalnepantla, police refused the passage of the human rights commission, accompanied by the people of San Salvador Atenco, Mexico (who in 2001-2002 successfully defended the sale of their farming lands against the proposal to build an airport).

The police requested to search all of the men in assurance of their entrance. Many men from the human rights commission got off the bus to consent to the search. However, the situation only escalated, largely between the police, the people of San Salvador Atenco, human rights observers who had gotten off of the bus, and a small group of people from Tlalnepantla who support Elias Osorio, who received the mayorship under highly contested conditions. When the large majority of human rights observers were attempting to retreat in hopes of deescalating the situation, the police attacked those who had gotten off the bus. Several people from Atenco were seriously wounded, by blows to the head and legs. The police also used tear gas on the whole crowd. The police also forced the driver from Atenco out of his truck and the vehicle was confiscated. In the moments that followed, the police began to attack the bus of human rights observers and social organizations, who had already begun to retreat. Three residents of Asheville, North Carolina, and one resident of Minneapolis, Minnesota, who were participating in the human rights commission, were on the bus when the police attacked, breaking the windows and using tear gas against all of those present, including two children. The bus was filled with the gas, creating chaos and panic, with no escape for those suffering the attack.

In the last negotiations, on Jan. 7, 2004, the people of Tlalnepantla decided to break the negotiations with Osorio, stating that to continue would imply recognition of his authority, and declared an autonomous municipality.

The government of the state, which is controlled by the PAN, refused to recognize the autonomy of Tlalnepantla, declaring such actions to be illegal, despite the fact that this right is defined in the articles 39 and 115 of the Mexican Constitution. The secretary of the Federal Government, Santiago Creel, announced that he would not permit the creation of any more autonomous municipalities in the country. This affects many communities, including people in the states of Oaxaca, Guerrero, and Chiapas, all of which currently have movements demanding the recognition of their constitutional rights to determining their form of government. Tlalnepantla, Morelos is a small municipality with no more than 4,000 inhabitants, located approximately 2 hours from the state capital, Cuernavaca, and 45 minutes from Mexico City. Despite the geographical proximity to urban centers, Tlalnepantla has remained somewhat untouched by neoliberalist development, and continues to practice rural traditions. The economy of Tlalnepantla is widely based on the growth and sale of nopal, an edible cactus. The price of one paca of nopales (3,000 nopales) ranges between $200 and $300, depending on the season. Because of this, the people of Tlalnepantla live in drastically uncertain economic conditions.

Historically, the town officials of Tlalnepantla have been elected through a traditional process called usos y costumbres (uses and customs), in which a town assembly reached consensus on who would be the Municipal President. After this process, that person would register with the Institutionalized Revolutionary Party, (the PRI, who ruled Mexico for 70 years until the elections of 2000 when Vincente Fox, of the National Action Party, the PAN, won the federal elections.) In turn, the PRI would sponsor the person elected through usos y costumbres as their candidate in the formal elections. This ensured that the Municipal President of Tlalnepantla would always be registered as a candidate supported by the PRI, and at the same time, allowed the town to continue to use their traditional electoral process.

Until 1970, the elected officials of Tlalnepantla did not receive a salary, reflecting that their role was still one of service to the town and not of authority.

A conflict began this past electoral period of July 2003, when the candidate that was elected through usos y costumbres, Conrado Pacheco, refused to register with the PRI for the upcoming formal elections. Upon his refusal, the PRI responded by sponsoring another candidate, Elias Osorio, already notorious for dishonest practices. In the past, there had only been the candidate in the formal elections who was elected through usos y costumbres, and perhaps one other candidate from another party. This guaranteed that the person who had won through usos y costumbres would also win the formal elections, thus taking office as Municipal President.

However, in the most recent elections, due to the refusal of Conrado Pacheco to register with the PRI, the entrance of Elias Osorio on behalf of the PRI, and the registration of 6 candidates of different political parties, there was mass confusion in the municipality. In addition, Osorio, the candidate of the PRI, bought the votes of many townspeople for the equivalent of $50 and $100, which given the economic situation of the town is a large quantity of money. Osorio also gave water pumps to those who promised to vote for him, which is something that most families would never have had access to. Another tactic that Osorio used to win the elections was to register the deceased and count their votes in favor of Osorio in the elections.

In the elections, Elias Osorio won with a total of approximately 400 votes, which would be officially considered that he has the support of 10percent of the population. However a large number of those votes were the result of bribery and falsehoods. Another factor in the victory of Osorio was the mass confusion in the community that resulted in little participation in the elections.

The victory of Elias Osorio as a candidate of the PRI who was not elected for usos and costumbres was a great amount of tension in the municipality, because the majority of people did not accept or recognize him as Municipal President.

In response, the other 6 candidates that had run in the elections, their supporters, and those that had not voted united in a common movement to manifest their rejection of Elias Osorio. In October, the town organized a plebiscite in which 1,357 townspeople voted in support of the recognition of usos y costumbres in Tlalnepantla. In contrast there was one vote for Elias Osorio.

This was an overwhelming reflection of the sentiments of the people of Tlalnepantla and the illegitimacy of Osorio. Nov. 1, 2003, the day that Elias Osorio was to have taken office as the President, those who opposed Osorio took over the presidential building and would not allow him to enter. From then on, there were people guarding the building 24 hours a day in order to prevent Osorio from taking office.

On Nov. 26, the people of Tlalnepantla marched in Cuernavaca, asking for the disappearance of powers of Elias Osorio in Tlalnepantla. The march went through the center of the city, and proceeded to take over the highway between Cuernavaca and Mexico City. The government responded with brutal repression just as the demonstrators were beginning to retreat from the roadblock that they had created to generate public interest. There were more than 70 people detained without any charges, and many were seriously wounded as a result of the violence of the police and tear gas used indiscriminately against men, women, children, and the elderly present in the highway takeover.

After this march, many organizations offered solidarity to the people of Tlalnepantla, and the movement began to grow. The people of Tlalnepantla who oppose Elias Osorio were able to arrive at a table of negotiations with Osorio, the executive government of the state, and three representatives of the Congress of the state.

There were four sessions of negotiations, and Osorio offered to open certain positions of local government to those who insisted on the use of usos y costumbres. The representatives of the movement of Tlalnepantla would not accept his proposals, insisting that Osorio be removed from office and that the town have the power to elect their officials according to their traditions.

In view of all of these events and the current conditions of Tlalnepantla, where the majority of the population is now in exile, families have been separated, and many more people have been disappeared, international support is crucial. Letters may be sent demanding the end of the violent repression against the people of Tlanepantla and the respect of the constitutional rights of the people.

Sergio Estrada Cajigal, Governor of Morelos:


Canadian journalist caught in ‘post-9/11 witch hunt’

By Marty Logan

Montreal, Canada, Jan. 23 (IPS)— When police raided an Ottawa journalist’s office and home this week because of an article she wrote about a Canadian deported from the United States to face torture in Syria, it was a reminder how closely this country has followed the US lead in the “war on terrorism.”

Just four months after Sept. 11, 2001, Canada’s Parliament passed sweeping legislation, the Anti-Terrorism Act (Bill C-36), which amended 19 existing laws and allowed authorities to suspend long-held judicial rights to combat vague threats.

But aside from that new law, 9/11 ushered in a climate that has emboldened security agencies to make use of extraordinary powers that were already part of the legal system but seldom employed, according to experts.

Ottawa Citizen reporter Juliet O’Neill had her office and home searched and her computer and notes seized Jan. 21 by officers of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) searching to discover who “leaked” information to her about the case of Maher Arar.

Arar is the Syrian-born Canadian who was stopped in New York in June 2002 on his way home following a holiday in Tunisia. Nine days later US officials deported him to Damascus, where he was jailed and tortured for 10 months.

On Jan. 22, Arar filed a lawsuit against US Attorney General John Ashcroft for deporting him to a country that US officials knew practised torture. He wants an apology and unspecified damages from Washington.

Canadian security agencies have denied they were involved in Arar’s deportation, although US officials, including Secretary of State Colin Powell, have suggested otherwise.

In her article, O’Neill included details about Arar’s alleged stay in a “terrorist training” camp, information the RCMP says could only have come from a document protected by the post-9/11 Security of Information Act.

If O’Neill is charged with breaching that law, she faces up to 14 years in jail. The Security of Information Act is basically the former Official Secrets Act, revamped in the fear-filled months that followed 9/11.

Neither this nor other measures in the anti-terrorism laws have been used often by authorities to target suspected terrorists. Late last year the Supreme Court heard the appeal of a man who was forced to testify in a secret hearing, a process created by Bill C-36, about a plane bombing in the 1980s.

It is the only known instance of the Anti-Terrorism Act being used to date. Yet judicial rights continue to be violated in the name of security, say experts.

“Canada’s anti-terrorism legislation is broader than the anti-terrorism act. It plays out in a number of different pieces [of legislation],” says Alex Neve, secretary general of Amnesty International Canada.

For instance, authorities are beginning to employ a rarely used measure in the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act, called the security certificate, says Neve in an interview.

“There are at least five cases of individuals who have been arrested under the (Immigration Act), who are facing deportation from Canada on allegations that they have some sort of link or are involved in terrorism activities,” he said.

“In most of the cases there’s serious reasons to believe that torture awaits them at the other end. And the security certificate is profoundly flawed. There’s no opportunity to know the extent of the accusations against you.”

At the same time, the Arar case suggests that security agencies might be acting beyond the scope of any laws, says Neve.

“His case points to the fact that there may be very serious things being done by law enforcement and security agencies outside the rubric of even C- 36, which are not regulated and are not subject to any kind of legal framework.”

Prime Minister Paul Martin on Jan. 22 denied that the O’Neill raid signalled Canada has become a “police state.”

“Freedom of the press is an essential condition to protect our democratic freedoms,” said Martin, in Davos, Switzerland to attend the World Economic Forum.

“The reason any kind of security legislation is put in place is so we can continue to protect those democratic freedoms,” he added, reported the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC). “We’re not going to do something that will go against those basic values.”

But Alan Borovoy says legal experts protested the Official Secrets Act, the forerunner of the law used to arrest O’Neill, 25 years ago, for inadequately safeguarding legal rights. Their advice was not followed.

When the government announced new measures to fight terrorism after Sept. 11, “we said, ‘the existing powers are broader than you need, why do you want new powers?’” said Borovoy, general counsel of the Canadian Civil Liberties Association, in an interview.

He feels that Bill C-36 helped to “embolden the authorities, and makes them a little more likely to resort to these (long-standing) powers.”

Other experts say measures in the new bill themselves threaten the balance between the state maintaining rights while protecting security.

In a paper delivered to a June 2003 conference, Canadian Senator Raynell Andreychuk wrote that Bill C-36 “gave itself very wide ministerial discretion in a number of areas, void of any scrutiny in some cases, and without the possibility for appeal in others.”

The former judge added that “most troubling was the curtailment of the Access to Information Act (in some cases unlimited in time), the Privacy Act and the reduction of due process.”

After her materials were seized in the police raid, O’Neill told CBC, “I’ll always remember what happened to me as part of the post-9/11 witch hunts. We know many Canadians of Muslim faith and Middle East origin have had a knock on the door from the RCMP. And as a journalist I’ve now experienced that first- hand.”

Leavitt joins lobbyists at industry
conference on environment

By Amanda Griscom

Jan. 21 — This morning, some 50 people powwowed in the chandeliered Ticonderoga conference room of the Hyatt Regency hotel on Capitol Hill for a conference entitled “Environmental Issues 2004: How to Get Results in an Election Year.” There weren’t more than a handful of environmentalists in attendance — perhaps because the conference was hosted by the National Association of Manufacturers [NAM], known to be one of the most anti-environment industry groups in the country. The great attraction of the affair (which cost up to $150 a head) was its keynote speaker — not an industry kingpin, not a bigwig GOP pollster like Frank Luntz, but Enviromental Protection Agency [EPA] Administrator Mike Leavitt.

Leavitt’s headliner status was peculiar given the focus of the conference: how to craft pro-industry environmental messages to influence the 2004 elections. And this was only Leavitt’s second speaking engagement outside the EPA since he took the agency’s helm. The first was his address two weeks ago to another industry group, the Edison Electric Institute, which all reporters but one were barred from attending. “Leavitt’s NAM appearance reaffirms, if nothing else, that his heart is with industry — the corporate folks are the ones he’s making time for,” said Frank O’Donnell, executive director of the Clean Air Trust.

Conference organizers unabashedly described the event as a tutorial to help industry representatives bone up on their public messaging skills as they prepare to face off against environmentalists in the cutthroat media circus of an election year. “Many of our members run businesses in arenas to which media is not, shall we say, sympathetic,” said NAM spokesperson Darren McKinney just before the event. “In general terms, we are hoping to provide our members with an education about how environmental stories are created and reported, and how the creation has an effect on the political process in an election year.”

McKinney insisted that NAM is just trying to play the same game as the “Sierra-Club, sky-is-falling crowd.” As he explained it, “We’re all part of the same ballgame, we have the same goals — to get our message out through the media, make our case as best we can, and convince voters to get the type of policy-makers in office who will see things our way.”

Frank Maisano, a spokesperson for the Electric Reliability Coordinating Council and one of the most oft-quoted industry apologists in the media, spoke on a conference panel entitled “Crafting Environmental Messages.” Before the event, he told Muckraker that “industry is never going to have an advantage over the enviros in the media — the enviros are always going to be able to say ‘you are killing children’ or they’ll play the asthma card. They’ll make these highly emotionally charged claims — claims that will get more melodramatic in an election year.”

When Muckraker pressed Maisano to outline his strategy for crafting messages, he described a three-pronged approach: 1) distill the regulatory reform in question to its simplest terms and give some easy analogies; 2) explain why the reform is needed and how it will streamline the system, create jobs, balance economic concerns, and so forth; and 3) explain that it will actually improve the environment. “You can take a lot of the issues and use this approach,” he said. “Whether it’s ANWR or MTBE or efficient air conditioners or whatever, you can replace the parts. Simplicity has to come through. The messages can’t be complex.” Maisano conceded that he cannot in all situations argue that there is an environmental advantage to the reforms he advocates, but insisted that in most cases he can.

Another conference participant was Greg Casey, CEO of BIPAC, a political action committee with a mission to elect business-friendly politicians to public office. “Obviously I come from a slightly biased point of view,” he told Muckraker. “I represent the political interests of the American business community. My message is: Now is the time for our message and our messaging mechanisms [for reaching voters] to mature.”

Casey advised executives not to simply direct their messages to the media — which he believes to be a losing battle — but to direct them closer to home: “My suggestion to the business community is you have a natural, affinity-driven relationship with those folks who are your employees, your stockholders, your customers, your suppliers, and your investors. Messages on the environment — and the impact of environmental regulations on industry — should be directed through personal emails and newsletters to these folks who really want to believe their business leaders, and who have a stake in those issues.”

So what did Leavitt have to say on these matters? Well, nothing. He delivered a stump speech that was totally detached from the focus of the conference. In an upbeat tone, he assured manufacturers that environmental quality in the US has advanced by leaps and bounds in the past 30 years and that it’s time to move beyond command-and-control regulations. “We need to do [environmental policy] in a better way that doesn’t compromise our economic competitiveness,” he declared.

One of the few enviros at the conference, Rob Perks of the Natural Resource Defense Council, found it troubling that audience members — executives and flaks from companies such as Halliburton and Bristol-Myers Squibb — seemed oblivious to the implications of the policy changes they want to spin. “Over and over people said, ‘We keep hearing that this is the worst administration in history, so how do we sell our message? How do we snooker people? How do we fight back in the messaging wars?’” said Perks. “It was as if it totally didn’t register in their minds that a regulatory crisis was occurring at all. The sole concern was putting a good mask on it.”

Manufacturing dissent

While NAM officials may not fancy much of what they read in the media these days, they should be tickled pink by a report entitled “Manufacturing in America,” released by the Commerce Department on Friday, which calls for rollbacks of environmental and other regulations. The report complains that environmental regulations soak up roughly 2 percent of the gross domestic product created by the manufacturing sector, and that the cost of these and other rules is rising faster than the sector’s income — not surprising, perhaps, given that manufacturing income plateaued during the recession of the last two years.

A Small Business Administration study cited in the report found that the cost to manufacturers of complying with regulations was $147 billion in 1997, “or a cost per employee of $7,904.” Environmental regs accounted for nearly half of that — $69 billion in 1997, or a per-employee cost of $3,691 — while workplace-safety rules, tax-compliance regulations, and the like accounted for the rest.

The report calls on the trusty White House Office of Management and Budget to promptly “evaluate...proposed reforms and, when appropriate, implement those reforms on a priority basis.” As Commerce Secretary Donald Evans explained when the report was released, “This is our strategy to remove the barriers that are holding back American manufacturers and costing jobs.”

In a public statement, NAM President Jerry Jasinowski praised the report and complained that because US manufacturers must comply with onerous regulations, they carry a cost burden “22 percent greater than our nine major trading partners.” According to Larry Fineran, NAM’s vice president of regulatory and competition policy, the report is consistent with the Bush administration’s “shift away from command-and-control regulations in order to improve America’s competitive advantage in the global marketplace.”

“The Bush administration today has broken new ground,” Jasinowski rhapsodized, “acknowledging that manufacturing is vital to the nation’s economy, recognizing the unprecedented challenges to our global leadership, and recommending reforms to strengthen our manufacturing competitiveness. ...This is the first time in modern history that an administration has made manufacturing in America a top national priority.”

What he didn’t mention, of course, is the trade-off: When the health of the manufacturing industry becomes the top priority, the health of the public at large may get the shaft.

Source: Grist Magazine