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Recently, I had my first Uber taxi experience, as well as my first experience of police corruption in Mexico city.

We had to get to the Mexico City airport. Our AirBnB host sang Uber’s praises. He would pay the taxi through his account. I would reimburse him in pesos. We would only need to call about six minutes before an Uber came. The driver would be dressed in jacket and tie, we would know all about him before he arrived since he had been thoroughly screened by the company, we would see his photo and know the license number of his car. We would each get a free bottle of water.

We waited at the corner of Motolinía and Avenida Francisco Madero. Various taxis slowed, offering rides. We waved them on. That may have been the tip off. Finally, Luis came, in a little red car, clean, new, and with the right license number. We loaded our luggage. Luis asked what terminal. We didn’t know. I got out the piece of paper with the flight information. There was no mention of the terminal. Our host looked it up in a flash with his smart phone. Terminal 1. A good minute had gone by. We got in the car. A Transit Police pulled in in front of us with his motorcycle, boxing us in. He came to the driver’s window. We had, he said, committed an infraction and weren’t going anywhere. Our host, a rational man, began to protest. What did he mean, we had just stopped to load baggage, that’s what you do when you’re going to the airport. The policeman said we would have to wait until his commanding officer got there. Out of thin air, a Transit Police pickup pulled up next to us. A female officer got out of the passenger seat and turned to the pickup’s bed. There she had a whole tangle of wheel boots, linked by cables, to incapacitate the Uber taxi. I got out. I told her we were on our way to the airport, we had a flight to catch, clearly we were tourists. She ignored me. Our host ran down to the middle of the next block, up-traffic, to consult with other police who had gathered there with their squad cars. I could see about three different flashing police lights. I assumed their activity had to do with ours, and it looked menacing. Our host ran back. He opened the truck of the Uber.

“There, look at the bags,” he said to the woman. “See, they’re going to the airport.”

The female officer ignored him and began to fumble with her nest of cables and wheel boots.

Our host looked at me. “Get in the car!”

I opened the door. Our driver—quiet the whole time—had been saying something to the motorcycle officer. He turned back toward me and commanded, “Get in!”

He started the car and began to back away from the motorcycle that blocked us. I wasn’t sure what was going to happen. He pulled out and gunned it. D. turned around to wave good-bye to our host. I turned too and could see he was still arguing with the police.

“What happened?” I asked our driver.

“I told him he would have to pay for the flights if you missed them.”

After a pause, I asked, “Did they know you were going to pick us up?”

“I don’t think so.”

“So the police are with the taxi drivers and anti-Uber?”

He nodded, yes, that’s what was happening.

He held up a small bottle of water. Would I like one? I said I would. D. thanked him and said no.

While I drank my free water, I contemplated what seemed like a  dark alliance between the police and the spread of normal taxis. I didn’t understand it, especially since, according to Luis our driver, Uber paid the same amount of taxes as the regular taxis: 2%! and that, like everything else, it had to do with mafias of control and was, of course, a kind of anarchic harassment. It turns out, however, that the matter is much more complicated and that Uber actually casts a long shadow, and that our host was wrong and the Transit police, right. For an intelligent discussion, scroll down to the Laura Flanders interview with a representative of non-Uber taxi drivers in an American city. I find her remarks very persuasive: http://www.telesurtv.net/…/Mexico-City-Set-to-Regulate…

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Translated by Jane Brundage for Mexico Voices. From the newspaper Reforma, original Spanish by Denise Dresser

Stories of the country of the absurd. Stories of the country of contradiction. Mexico today, where freedom of speech and the press live under the pretense of laws that say they defend them. Where for journalists the most common words are fear, silence, death, censorship or a new euphemism: dismissal for “breach of trust”. A reality described in Article 19’s Annual Report about the violence committed against journalists in Mexico. The title says it all: “State of Censure.” A state of defenselessness for human rights defenders, bloggers, tweeters, social and student leaders who live in permanent fear. Because raising a voice to report, disagree, criticize, carries a high risk.The title is not accidental. It invites readers to play with words. State as government that censures, or the state as climate that leads communicators to fall into line, self-censor, mimic the official line. The state of fear that the reprimand can arrive at any moment. And the fear grows daily since 326 attacks were documented against the media in 2014, only four fewer than the previous year.

During the first two years of Enrique Peña Nieto’s administration, ten journalists have been killed. During the government of Felipe Calderón, a journalist was assaulted every 48.1 hours; in the Peña Nieto administration to date an aggression occurs every 26.7 hours. In the Federal District. In Quintana Roo. In Veracruz. In Guerrero. The states where it is most dangerous to tell power what it does not want to hear.
The Internet—sanctuary for many media—has also become common place for attacks, threats, harassment. A place where contents are falsified, portals are attacked and journalists are defamed. A site where, anonymously, we are called “whores” and it is written to us:

“respect @epn, or we will hang you by the ass with a meat hook, bitch”; or we are tweeted

“respect our president @epn we are going to kill you, fucking bitch. The PRI arrives even if it hurts.”

In the last two years, assaults on women communicators and documentarians increased 20 percent. They takes a particular form. They attack the dignity, draw ghoulish attention to privacy, use gender as an excuse to trample.

The fence is deliberately closing. In this administration, the average of attacks on freedom of expression rose 80 percent. In this government, 48 percent of attacks on journalists have been committed by a public official. The State itself muzzles. What should protect freedom of expression becomes the main perpetrator of attacks against it.
Because despite laws, mechanisms and “special” prosecutors, the complete impunity of those who attack the press persists. Because Mexican democracy is dying alongside free journalism. Because Angélica Rivera will not sell her White House and Luis Videgaray [Treasury Secretary] will not explain the conditions under which he bought his own house. Because the PRI wants to win Mexico City with networks woven by Cuauhtémoc Gutiérrez de la Torre [former PRI head in Mexico City accused of running a prostitution ring from party offices]. Because the governor of Quintana Roo prefers to shoot the messenger than pay attention to her message.
Here was the case of Edwin Canché, tortured for photographing the crash involving the mayor’s nephew. Or Gregorio Jiménez, murdered by an armed commando. Or the Northwest Sinaloa newspaper, which has been the object of 47 incidents of theft, looting, physical assaults, threats and aggressions. Or Karla Silva, beaten by three men, in order that “she fucking stop her articles.” Or Pedro Canché, imprisoned for documenting an eviction. Or the weekly Lights of the Century, cloned 61 times, in which the covers were falsified in order to make reference to the supposed achievements of Governor Roberto Borge.Or that of Carmen Aristegui, supposedly fired for the “use of a trademark”, when the real story includes editorial guidelines—equivalent to censorship—that the company intended to force her to sign, and the role of a friendly mediator, José Woldenberg, which should have worked, whom MVS chose to ignore.
Faced with these cases, society must fight for the freedom that is being lost, murdered journalist after journalist censured. To fight for the freedom to know, declare, argue, investigate Casas Blancas [White Houses] and political leaders with black histories. To defend freedom, as Yoani Sánchez says, is the possibility of standing on a streetcorner and shouting:

“Here there is no freedom.”

Reforma only allows subscribers to access its articles online.
 

*Denise Dresser is a Mexican political analyst, writer, and university professor. After completing undergraduate work at The College of Mexico, she earned her Ph.D. in Politics at Princeton University. She is currently a faculty member in the Department of Political Science at the Autonomous Technological Institute of Mexico (ITAM), where she teaches such courses as Comparative Politics, Political Economy and Contemporary Mexican Politics. She has taught at Georgetown University and the University of California. Twitter: @DeniseDresserG

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Please forgive me, Proceso, for distributing this extremely important and hopeful article by Sara Pantoja:

Directed by citizen groups like The Loudest Scream, #Yamecansé, the Sopitas.com platform and Amnesty International, “Ya me cansé por eso propongo” [Enough, I’m Tired, For This, I Propose] is an initiative that, via the website www.poresopropongo.mx, adds to the marches and public demonstrations against the situation of “violence, justice and impunity” which Mexicans are living through.In a press conference, academics, filmmakers, writers, actors, graphic designers, activists and representatives of these groups reported that the campaign began in November last year after the disappearance of the 43 Ayotzinapa normal school students and the now familiar phrase [Ya, me cansé] that the Attorney General Republic, Jesús Murillo Karam, said at a press conference on the case.

The campaign consists of entering the website, going to the “Send your postcard” link, uploading a picture and writing your proposal about what the country needs, accompanied by the hashtags #YaMeCansé and #PorEsoPropongo, and sending the postcard.

In the Museum of Memory and Tolerance, Sophie Alexander and Daniel Giménez Cacho, members of the group The Loudest Scream, presented a video that accompanies the initiative and read a statement inviting Mexicans to participate in the campaign.

“The solution to this deep crisis will not come from the government institutions or drop down from the authorities, but will result from the organized strength we achieve to confront the owners and administrators of our country,” they said.

They criticized the decades of PRI culture, which

“have caused ignorance regarding citizen participation, and the popular organization that exists is not enough. The government institutions are closed to us; we cannot even hold popular referendums and the political parties represent only themselves. Democracy for us happens only when the National Electoral Institute asks us for whom we are going to vote.”

MV Note: The Supreme Court denied petitions by the PRD and Morena parties for a popular referendum on the energy reform. Its decision was based on the wording of the constitutional amendment that enables such referendums, which specifically excludes any issue that directly affects government revenues. This clause was designed to exempt the energy reform, which affects the government’s revenues from oil. 

They proposed promoting a cultural change because

“it is necessary not only to be against things, but to end the PRI in all of us so that we become active, informed citizens with our own opinions. We must know that no leader will get us out of this crisis.

“The PRI has gotten inside of us. It is a culture against which we have not yet triumphed. It is a way of living and doing politics to which both parties of the left and right have succumbed. It is a culture that has defeated the unions and employers, judges and the military. It is a culture that is dying but hinders us from advancing. It is a culture of subservience and depression, simulation and demagogy, self-censorship and media manipulation, of the purchase of ideals. It is an enemy of democracy and social development.”

Francisco Alanis, of Sopitas.com said that his participation is to “channel the anger as people. We all build the political and we must create a caring community.”

Perseo Rendón Quiroz, executive director of Amnesty International of Mexico, said the organization will contribute its experience in dialoguing with the government and states so that the proposals related to the human rights crisis “get to the right place and resonate.”

He added: “We have been fighting for human rights for 50 years; we can hold on for another 200. We will continue to mobilize until they listen to us, however long it takes, however long it requires.”

The organizers called on Mexicans to participate in the initiative and invite more people through social networks to do the same.

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Something really wonderful happened in Mexico today (Saturday, August 11, 2012). I heard choruses of shouts coming from across the plaza. Café owners typically place television sets outside so guests can watch important soccer matches. Non-guests, passers-by, assemble on the sidewalk under the branches of the Indian Laurels to look on, some on benches, some standing. Mexico was winning 2 – 0 against Brazil for the Olympic gold medal–something nearly beyond belief because, in the minds of many Mexicans, their country is condemned to lifelong disappointment.

I went over to my favorite café in the Plaza Baratillo. They were showing the game inside. I was welcomed to sit with strangers. There was just enough time to see the final scene of the drama. Mexico was exhausted, Brazil–the soccer giants of South America–was angry.

Mexico had been outplaying them, but now the Brazilians were going to put an end to the farce. They seemed unstoppable–one of them was called Hulk. They scored easily in the three-minute overtime. They attacked again and missed a header that should have gone in.

I could feel the gloom gathering in me. Were we going to see it all slip away? Was Mexico to be fate’s stepchild once again? But the Brazilians had rallied too late. The referee blew the final whistle, and Mexico had won the Olympic gold in soccer. Everyone in the café cheered, including me–and the announcer held a manic fifteen-minute soliloquy on the unbelievable glory of it all.

All of Mexico must have been cheering that something so wonderful had happened and that it had happened at a time when Mexicans needed it most. The team’s trainer Luis Fernando Tena, interviewed on the field minutes afterward, said, “This comes around once in a lifetime, it’s for Mexico, for its people, to relieve them a little of the troubles we have and to give them, at least for a while, rest and relief.”

Yet I know from young people here that not everyone could feel the relief. They were still too stunned by the July 1st presidential election, which they considered fraudulent, on a scale Americans may not be able to grasp.

And the rest of it–the barrels full of body parts, the SUVs full of corpses with signs of torture, the continuing and unresolved attacks against women in Ciudad Juárez, Chihuahua and other places–the attacks against journalists.

Mexico has the largest number of assassinated journalist of any country in the world. Activists like Lydia Cacho (http://www.lydiacacho.net/english/), whose 2004 book “Los Demonios del Edén” exposed pedophiles and sex traffickers, has recently had to flee the country because of continuing death threats against her.

The threats are said to have started after the publication of seven pages excerpted from Olga Wornat’s recent book “Felipe el Oscuro” (Felipe the Dark One)–a reference to Felipe Calderón, current president of Mexico–published in Mexico’s Playboy Magazine. The publisher of the magazine Garbiel Bauducco, along with Lydia Cacho, also received death threats. The two women have had to leave the country. In her book, Wornat describes the government of Calderón as “six years marked by death, poverty and social disintegration.”

Then there is also the suspected July 1st election fraud and manipulation by the PRI old boys’ club that rules Mexico–huge amounts of off-shore money (an estimated 417 billion dollars, a portion of it more than likely narco-generated) laundered through upstanding Mexican and U.S. banks for massive vote buying–moneys hidden from taxes that could be used to stimulate an economy where there is so much hunger, unemployment, lack of affordable education. The same club enlisted the two TV monopolies as its private electoral campaign propaganda branch. The electoral commission and judicial electoral court enable the charade and are institutionally incapable of guiding a truly fair election.

In too many other areas, the country is losing. For example, the day before Mexico won the gold, there were coordinated fire bombings at gas stations in or around something like eight cities my state of Guanajuato (Guanajuato capital, San Miguel de Allende, Salamanca, Salvatierra, Yuriria, Moroleón, Uriangato, Celaya).

In most cases, the attacks were accompanied by robberies of the attendants and the customers who were having their tanks filled. The term firebombing was used loosely it seems. In many case, it consisted of using the pump to dose the stolen car the attackers had arrived in, or the customers’ cars, and then igniting them. The attack in Guanajuato occurred in the tunnel between La Plaza Los Ángelos and El Jardin de la Union, and three cars were set on fire. Drivers and passengers remained untouched.

Coordinated attacks like this spate of car fire bombings usually carry a political message. But unless the armed groups say, no one really knows what the message is. A few weeks ago, a group attacked four PepsiCo-Sabritas Company installations and burned forty trucks. The company makes and delivers various kinds of delicious deep fried chip-like things that are bad for you. One could make the argument the arsonists were taking on a monopoly to extort protection money. But no one seems to really know–or want to say. One rather implausible rumor circulating is that the Government was using Sabritas deliverymen as spies against the drug cartels.

As for the gas station attacks, the local press says it was revenge because of the shoot-out between the Army and narcos in Apatzingán, in the state south of us (Michoacán) the day before Mexico won the Olympic gold. Armed men set up various roadblocks. They stopped a bus and a trailer truck and firebombed them. Another reliable source said it was twelve vehicles in all. The most recent source talks about three different events, all of them shootouts with the Familia Michoacana, group which, in my opinion, is half narco and half political, as in challenging the government for power. In one account, when the Army arrived, gunmen fired on them from areas above the highway. (Read “Jorge and the Santa Muerte” at http://www.sterlingbennett.com to get a feel for the social pathology at play.) Other sources say it is unknown ho the shooters were.

Apatzingán is in the area called the tierra caliente, the hot country, where there has always been trouble as long as anyone can remember. As in Chiapas, the Army has permanent bases just to keep the lid on things having to do with political rebellion, narcos, and lawlessness in general.

If you look at a map, there appears to be some sense to the attacks against the gasoline stations. If you draw a line through the cities you have, roughly, an oblong running north and south that intersects the major highway between Mexico City and Guadalajara. That route continues all the way to the border at Nogales (Tucson). Another important highway runs north and south between the Pacific port Lázaro Cárdenas, through Morelia, and on north through Zacatecas to Ciudad Juárez (El Paso). A third route runs north and south from the major industrial city Querétero through San Luis Potosí (recently under attack by armed groups) through Monterey to the border at Nuevo Laredo (Laredo, San Antonio). Those would be three important routes for transporting narcotics–or goods and services. An armed enclave centered in that oblong could cut Mexico in half, if it comes to that. Apatzingán lies just to the west of Nueva Italia on the Lázaro Cárdenas (Pacific Coast)–Laredo, Texas route. For an overview of the wild goings on there, Google “Apatzingán tiroteos” (“tiroteos,” as in shoot-outs).

As for the fire bombings, I suspect there may be another agenda, as well. Perhaps it is to announce that the State of Guanajuato is no longer violence free—which also makes limited sense since it was mainly just the capital (Guanajuato) and San Miguel de Allende that were relatively free of violence. Local lore has it that the calm in those two cities was because the sons and daughters of the narcos attend the state University of Guanajuato, while their wealthy parents live in Mexico City and San Miguel de Allende. Perhaps a dissident group in one of the cartels is announcing that the sanctuary is no longer a sanctuary.

The chaos in Mexico seems widespread and, on its face, incomprehensible. But the end of May, 2012 the Tribunal Permanente de los Pueblos (The Permanent Peoples’ Court), held a meeting titled “Libre Comercio, violencia, impunidad (Free Trade, Violence, and Impunity,” in Ciudad Juárez, on the border with El Paso, Texas. At the meeting, participants examined what they called the systematic use of social, economic, and political chaos to further the interests of the few.

Something like: while the chickens fight, the foxes steal the eggs. They cited the use of the public instruments (the power and authority of the Mexican Government–judicial, economic, political) to benefit narrow private interests (the old boys’ club), to the devastating detriment of the Common Good that the government should be protecting. Myself, I’m not so sure it’s an intentional old boys’ modus operandi. I would say it is more the consequence of not being able or wanting to work together with the rest of society.

An example would be the peasant struggle in Cherán, Michoacán, where the people enjoy none of the legal protections of the Mexican Government. They are Purépecha Indians who are organizing (with AK47s) against organized crime-supported loggers (with AK47s) before the passivity and corruption of government and police. The struggle has already found its way into song. A friend supplied me with source. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hbhwt4m8E1E

Another cause of the social and economic chaos would be the un-remediated enforcement of taxation. During the Calderón administration there was a 48% increase of in tax avoidance-refusal. The in-country tax avoidance as of June 2012 was almost 800 billion pesos (roughly 62 billion dollars)–an incredible sum that could be used for training a competent and reliable police, as well as improving education.

On the same day Mexico won the gold in soccer, there was a substantial hike in the price of gasoline and diesel. The incidents of stealing gas from Pemex’s pipelines are increasingly alarming. As I write this, there is one more fire burning: a refinery in the state of Tamaulipas, in the northeastern part of the country. The reported cause of fire is “lightening”–more than likely a government statement to cover up the real reason. To me it seems unlikely that such installations are not fully equipped with lightening rods. Maybe you have heard of lightening striking and igniting refineries. I haven’t.

As I write, a caravan of Mexican victims of violence, intellectuals, activists, and artists has crossed the border into the U.S. with a message for U.S. citizens and government: Stop the so-called drug war, because it is killing us. Stop the flow of your weapons into our country, because they’re killing us. Stop treating our border-crossing citizens as criminals; they are coming because they are victims of NAFTA and the economic policies of the 1%, in your country and in Mexico. Their leader is Javier Sicilia, whose son, along with six other youths, was gunned down by organized crime March 28, 2011 in Temico, in the state of Morelos.

They crossed the border at roughly the same time Mexico won the Olympic gold in soccer against Brazil. The caravan is asking the U.S. to work together with Mexico to stop the violence. The Mexican soccer team demonstrated what could happen when people worked together in a framework of respected rules under the eyes of a reliable authority–the referee. Local newspapers are beginning to say it. The youths’ cooperation–they beat Brazil because of it–puts us to shame. And they are right. All the players in Mexican society tend to have only their own interests in mind. The modus vivendi is “He did it, not me.”

Midfielder Jorge Enríquez exclaimed, “Today Mexico can look an rival in the eyes and tell the world that we are here, that we made it work and that we have players with a lot of quality to take on all with talent.”

They were the metaphor for what Mexico could be like.

Here in Guanajuato, on the day of the victory, I saw three boys in the back of a pickup truck, leaning over the cab, holding Mexican flags. They were he age of the muggers that plague most cities in Mexico, but these youths were beaming their pride at being Mexican. And as a friend of mine would say in California, “There you have it.” If the Mexican society and government were organized the same way as the Mexican soccer team, it might be a society that could reject corruption and violence–and embrace working together.

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