September 25, 2007

FOR DECADES, THE GOVERNING PARTIDO Revolucionario Institucional, or PRI, has maintained control over poor neighborhoods by serving as the primary channel for access to needed resources-schools, subsidized tortillas, installation of water, roads and electricity, access to transport and land. These resources are controlled by com- munity leaders whom the PRI wins over by granting them privileges in return for demonstrations of political loyalty. These priistas (members of the PRI) tend to build their own local empires, and serve as the front line of attack to thwart any efforts at independent organizing. In San Miguel, neighborhood priistas have had an uphill climb, their offers of free T-shirts being a poor match for the proven capacity of the Uni6n de Colonos to win community needs through the strength of its own efforts. Their continued presence has depended greatly on the outside support of city officials and police. For example, when Mujeres en Lucha secured permission from a federal agency to build a milk distribution center in a building they built themselves, the city government refused to sign the necessary authorization. In response, the women held a sit-in at the national cathedral. The city responded by erecting a new building on another site, and attempted to open the center in the name of the PRI--an event which was completely upstaged by the association's own inauguration ceremony, during which the entire community was informed as to whose efforts were really responsible for the center. The association has also suffered direct repression through the jailing of activists on false charges and acts of provoca- tion and violence. During the most recent period of repres- sion (1987-88), the city government decided to install a unit of mounted police in the neighborhood. Through negotia- tions, the association got the city to submit the decision to a referendum at a neighborhood assembly; the proposal was voted down. (For years, residents had been able to keep police out of the community, preferring by far their own neighborhood vigilance system to the well-known extortion practices of the police.) Soon after, the most feared local gangs appeared sporting semi-automatic weapons instead of switchblades, and two members of the association were killed in unprovoked attacks. ON OCTOBER 12, 1987, A GROUP OF ARMED men led by local prilsta David Hemindez took over the Capilla section "green area," which had been designated for a technical school, in direct violation of a ban on land invasions within city limits. Local protest became city-wide when on February 6, 1988 Hernmndez and his men broke into a women's meeting in the Capilla section's hall at the edge of the invaded area and beat up one of the neighborhood's most active women. Then in May, Hemdndez subdivided the area and began selling lots and building materials to unsus- pecting families from outside the neighborhood. After numerous demonstrations, the temporary takeover of the Iztapalapa (ward) government building by organized neighborhoods from the area, and the closely monitored, re- sounding July 6 defeat of the PRI in the 40th electoral district-the city's largest, into which all new eastern urban growth has been stuffed--the association finally won. In mid-August Hernindez was arrested by city and federal police and soldiers, who proceeded to raze the bunkers and new dwellings, and relocate the recently settled families. In their zeal, they also knocked down the Capilla section meet- ing hall of the Union de Colonos.

Tags: Mexico, PRI, squatters, grassroots

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