|English | Español||January 30, 2015 | Issue #67|
Organized Neighborhoods Oppose Transportation Projects in Mexico City
Mayor Marcelo Ebrard's Response to Nonviolent Resistance: Riot Police
By Fernando León and Erin Rosa
January 21, 2011
Throughout his term, Mexico City Mayor Marcelo Ebrard has used his position in public office to begin building a number of unpopular transportation projects, disregarding environmental concerns and the people who would be affected by the construction. To quell nonviolent attempts by organized communities to stop these projects Ebrard, a presidential hopeful in Mexico’s 2012 elections, has used the government to forcibly evict residents from their land with expropriation powers. If the residents refuse to move and hold a sit-in to oppose a project, the city’s riot police are sent in to break apart the resistance, often in a violent way. Over the holidays, police were sent in to two communities to tear apart civil resistance that had arisen over two separate projects.
The Western Superhigway construction project, which would connect the wealthy Santa Fe business sector in the south of the city with the west, has been held up due to opposition from neighbors who are directly affected by the project. For five months the neighbors have held a permanent sit-in in the construction area where the remains of fifty houses expropriated by the Mexico City government are located.
After the continuous use of the police and provocateurs to intimidate the neighbors, at dawn on January 1, the city government and Ebrard wished to one-up the residents with the Frente Amplio contra la Supervía Poniente (Broad Front Against the Western Superhighway in English) when they sent in approximately 200 riot police to take over the expropriated land.
The police arrived after two city officials, Fernando Aboitiz, secretary of public works, and Jesús Lucatero, coordinator of city strategic projects, approached the neighbors with provocateurs to fake a confrontation, which it seems served as the pretext to send in the police.
Neighbors interviewed by Narco News at the moment the police entered said that since around December 15 they had seen Chevy Suburban trucks around the area with men inside who had cameras photographing participants in the sit-in.
Despite Ebrard’s administration saying that it “is and will be open to dialogue,” for more than six months it has not responded to requests for dialogue from the Frente, nor from affected neighbors. That, despite the fact that a Civil Commission of Accompaniment (formed in November by intellectuals and human rights defenders) has sought an audience with Ebrard to raise the concerns of the neighbors. A date was set for January 12, even though the construction has already begun and police are already in the area.
This recent intimidation makes up part of a strategy that the Ebrard government has applied to different conflicts and movements that oppose its arbitrary megaprojects.
In Narvarte, a middle class colonia located south of the city’s downtown area, neighbors began a sit-in on December 1 to oppose construction of a new Metro Bus line along the street Diagonal San Antonio. According to the residents opposing the project, a major bus line cutting through the quiet residential area would ruin local businesses and disturb those living there. The Mexico City government hasn’t done an environmental study of the soil either, and neighbors worry the construction could affect the foundations of more than 200 homes. There is already a subway stop in the neighborhood, and a metro bus line on the major street South Eje 4 at an intersection right next to where the project would be.
After the Mexico City government refused to negotiate or hear neighbors’ concerns about the project, residents decided to begin the sit-in. In a small tent located between construction barricades on the street, residents took turns staying in the area to block construction machinery from tearing down palm trees that would need to be dug up to make way for the bus line. On December 28 at around 10:30 p.m. the city brought in an estimated 500-700 police to forcibly remove residents from the sit-in area. “The riot police arrived without any negotiation or communication from the authorities, ” said Sofia Cardenas, a Narvarte resident who was at the sit-in the night the police came. “They began to use brutal force, intimidation, then they were hitting people…there were so many of them.” The police eventually surrounded the sit-in tent and took it over by physically pushing residents out of the way, according to neighbors. The Mexican press reported that two individuals were taken to the hospital with injuries related to the incident.
Exactly one week later, after pictures of the police repression made the front pages of newspapers throughout the city, neighbors were able to obtain a notarized agreement with the government to negotiate the bus line. The government agreed to an environmental review around the construction zone and called the use of the police to destroy the sit-in “excessive and should not have happened.” Despite the agreement, there is still no guarantee that the government will comply with the environmental review and stop construction of the bus line.
When it comes to other areas of the city, the government is trying to transform native peoples into part of a metropolis that devourers itself. In the south of the city in the Tláhuac region, the government is trying to urbanize rural spaces that are made up of people with strong indigenous campesino roots.
The Mexico City Government Threatens Rural Areas in the South of the City
For three years, neighbors in the Tláhuac delegación (like a borough, in Mexico City) have organized themselves to stop different city projects that would directly affect them. It was in October 2007 when they formed the Frente de Pueblos del Anáhuac (People’s Front of Anahuac) along with residents from other populations in the district.
Three years later, some of those projects—like the construction of the Mexico City metro train 12 line—have already begun. Under such conditions, members of the Front organized in an attempt to rescue their centuries-old towns from the urban whirlpool of Mexico City.
In recent decades, the expansion of the city has succeeded in devouring dozens of towns that were located on its outskirts. San Franciso Tlaltenco is one of them, and one of six native towns in Tláhuac. It was there that the Narco News team spoke with some of the founding members of the Front.
The Mexico City government has used every possible mechanism to move forward with the construction, including, according to the Front, intimidation and expropriation. Jiménez said that for almost thirty years the leader of the town, Gordonio Méndez, has controlled the local ejido council, which has allowed the Ebrard government to expropriate the land with the support of the town leader and council. Jiménez commented that with these projects his fellow residents will have to emigrate since the development and change in how the land is used will lead to gentrification, with the high costs of living evicting people who live in the region.
Tomás Hernández is preceded by five generations in Tlaltenco and he’s spent his whole life in the town. He said that one of the projects the Front has is to bring awareness to the population about the damage the government construction is doing to the collective memory of the town. The recognition of local culture is very important for Hernández. He said that with it they hope “older people will come and it will show us what they saw through their eyes and what we haven’t seen and are about to lose,” so that they can “establish a dialogue with the past in order to see where we are now.”
Hernández is worried about the serious effects the development will bring to his town, referring to the construction of the Comprehensive Center for Recycling and Energy (CIRE in Spanish initials) that will severely contaminate the ecosystem and the water in the region, producing fumes that will affect the established population there. Hernández doesn’t think any of this matters to Ebrard, since to the mayor “we are disposable.”
The impact from the CIRE is not the only thing the development project brings with it. The land in the Tláhuac area is susceptible to development since it is composed of plains and wetlands. According to the Ramsar Convention signed in 1971, which Mexico is a part of, it includes the protection and preservation of wetlands and plains that regulate the temperature. Hernández commented that “the impact of these projects is global, it’s not just local for Tlaltenco or the city, but it will also directly raise the global temperature.”
All of these construction projects are casually occurring as Ebrard is chosen as the mayor of the year, out of 840 mayors in the entire world. The prize, given by the City Mayors foundation, says that Ebrard is recognized because, among other things, he “has become an outspoken and internationally respected advocate on environmental issues.” After being awarded the prize, he attended the United Nations Climate Change summit in Cancún to show what his government was doing against the issue. All of this is happening while the Western Superhighway, the CIRE in Tláhuac, and the development around the city is far from consistent with his speech.
For the members of the Front, this discourse is mere rhetoric. “Where is the progress that Ebrard talked about? This kind of progress is not for us,” says Jiménez. Those among the People’s Front of Anahuac, the Broad Front Against the Western Superhighway, and the neighbors in Narvarte are all witnesses to the authoritarianism that has come with the different construction projects being implemented. Residents in Tláhuac, according to the Front, were never consulted, and when they demanded information about the projects that would directly affect them, the mayor sent more than 60 riot police as a form of dialogue—something that happens a lot with his government.
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