Jan 18, 2017 (San Diego) We all have seen the closures of the border at the San Ysidro port of entry. We reported on some of the issues last week, the larger issues. These range for the gazolinazo, to the neoliberal reforms that have affected the country.
What was brought to our attention was that in Baja California there are two things that are tightly connected to this. It is also a neoliberal reform, putting the market at the center of the price of water. The vote happened in December of last year. The legislature in Mexicalli voted to privatize water services. The legislation was proposed by the right-wing governor, from the Partido de Acción Nacional (PAN), Francisco Vega de Lamadrid.
The law would create a public-private partnership to manage water utilities across the state. They would also transfer the facilities to these public-private partnerships. The opposing parties, mostly from the left and surprisingly center, claimed that it would raise water fees, and take water away from anybody who defaults on their bills by 90 days. This would put at risk, especially, the poor.
The argument for this law is familiar to anybody who has followed neoliberal arguments in the past. “It will inject capital, it will expand the service and make them more efficient.” These contracts, moreover, were not going to last for more than 30 years, a generation,
How would water fees go up? Any increase in the fees had to go through the state Congress, but this allowed for the fees to go up by upwards of 20 percent (Proceso says 27 percent), without the need for oversight, starting this year.
So while in the rest of the country the protests were narrowly conceived to the increase in gasoline, in Baja California Norte water services were also part of it. At one point there were over 45, 000 people in Mexicali, and 15,000 or more in Tijuana. There is more. Government buildings were peacefully occupied by enraged citizens, and the police was unable to drive them out. It was purely a matter of too many people for the state police to drive out, without open use of force.
This is according to Proceso.
The governor last night announced that he was backing down. What we saw in Baja California was the successful use of nonviolent demonstration in the streets.
The demands that were presented also included the end to the gazolinzo, using the Mexican law of the Amparo, giving legal protection against the law. They are also demanding that state employees receive their salaries and services. Moreover, the immediate cut in the wage the governor is paid by 25 percent. They also are demanding that the gas checks, done at private car shops, stop immediately, and they also want to see better distribution of medicines to those with chronic conditions such as asthma and diabetes.
The Governor sent legislation to the state congress repealing this specific water. He also said that water comes from the Colorado river and the price is determined by international agreement with the United States. He also said his government is working on desalinization plants, to supply water needs for the next 50 years. Two are already working a third is under construction.
There is little trust and government buildings across the state remain under some form of popular control. They are not going to stop until they see the publication of the law that overturns the privatization of water services.
However, we must note the following about what happened over the course of the last two weeks, and why these protests are not going to end:
Nonviolence is often written off as obsolete, an idea that has been mostly forgotten and is largely irrelevant in global affairs. Yet, every time it is cast aside, strategic nonviolent action seems to reassert itself as a historic force. Without taking up weapons, and with little money and few traditional resources, people forming nonviolent movements succeed in upending the terms of public debate and shifting the direction of their countries’ politics. Nonviolence in this form is not passive. It is a strategy for confrontation.
Mark and Paul Engler write this in This is an Uprising what we saw in Baja California, was exactly that. The lesson is that protests work. The other lesson, and we will have to watch for this. Baja California is one of the states with the lowest turnouts during elections in Mexico. It is also the first state to elect a PAN governor. That was Ernesto Ruffo Appel. He ran on a populist plank, that among other things promised to fill all the potholes.
He fulfilled few of the promises he made. He used a populist appeal with a voting public that was tired of the corruption at all levels of government. Not unlike Donald Trump, he attracted votes from people who were quite frankly, were tired of the same games. His victory in 1989 was seen as a major upset in Mexico, and abroad. When he left office. he was not that popular, and there was some buyers remorse.
He was the first, however, to establish the precedent of the alternancia, meaning, both major right and center-right parties, take turns in both the presidency and governorships.