July 26 2002

Ciudad Juárez Economic and Political Crisis

by Greg Bloom

While it is has not been reflected in the US press or that of other border cities, the Ciudad Juárez newspapers have been filled for weeks with headlines, articles and editorials describing and analyzing political battles and maquiladora close downs. Bloody confrontations between political protesters and police have taken place over the issue of the annulled May 12 election while the outcome of the election is still uncertain pending word from a federal election tribunal. At the same time the city’s political future is uncertain, Cd. Juárez has also been hit with what seem to be daily announcements of maquiladora closings.

Plant Closures

On June 29, 2002, Philips Electronics announced that it was closing a computer monitor plant in Cd. Juárez and that the jobs would go to China. The closure of the maquiladora will mean the loss of 900 jobs according to an article in the Cd. Juárez newspaper, El Diario. Philips currently has eight plants in the city that manufacture computer monitors, televisions and television parts.

Scientific Atlanta announced a few days later, on July 1, that it had fired 1,300 workers—its entire third shift—because of economic conditions and the resulting lack of demand for the company’s communication-industry products. A spokesperson for the company told El Diario that the workers had been fired in accordance with Mexican law and were paid out everything they were owed.

The total number of jobs lost in the one-week period hit 3,000 as Arneses de Juárez also announced that it was cutting jobs.

On July 10, 2002, El Diario reported that a garment factory, Camisas de Juárez, closed its doors leaving 150 people without jobs.

TDK also announced that it was getting rid of 400 jobs—a process it began last year when it started shifting production to China. According to company official Oscar Rubén Alvarado the company once employed 1,200 workers in Cd. Juárez but only 138 people will remain in its magnet division once cuts are finished.

Responses

Labor

Jesús José Díaz Monárrez, a local leader for the nation’s largest union, the Confedera-ción de Trabajadores de México (CTM), expressed the shock that Cd. Juárez is experiencing with the current rate of job losses, “In 30 years there’s never been a situation like this. We’ve had difficult situations before, but never anything this bad. We’re very, very bad off and we don’t know how to handle this situation.”

Indeed, Díaz and others were used to maquiladora’s competing for workers. “We were used to maquiladoras fighting between themselves to hire more employees, train them and offer them better working conditions to keep them. But now it’s the reverse,” said Díaz.

The Mayor

In early July, José Reyes Ferriz, the interim mayor of Cd. Juárez said that he had been meeting for weeks with companies he knew to be considering leaving the city—including Philips. However, the companies told him that their leaving had nothing to do with the actions of city or state government. The problem was at the federal level.

Ferriz told El Diario that when he took office a year ago, he warned federal officials that maquiladoras would soon begin leaving Cd. Juárez. The federal government did not understand the problem then, Ferriz said, but now they have promised to work out a solution in two months.

The Federal Government

The Reynosa newspaper, La Crónica, reported that the Ministry of Economy is preparing to take action to attract new maquiladoras to Mexico and keep existing ones from leaving the country. These steps include reducing by half the paperwork necessary to open a maquiladora and simplifying the PITEX (Programa de Importación Temporal para Producir Artículos de Exportación, Program for the Temporary Importation of Articles Produced for Export) which serves as the basis of the maquiladora system in that it allows for goods to be imported, worked on and the exported. The Ministry is also going to allow more business forms and paperwork to be completed online because it realizes that foreign companies prefer such technological links.

Human Cost

Some of the human costs of so many maquiladora firings include a blow to the city’s health system and increased domestic abuse.

On Sunday, July 14, at the MUJER Festival in El Paso which was a fundraiser for Casa Amiga, a Cd. Juárez rape and abuse crisis center, Director Esther Chavez Cano said that the number of domestic-abuse victims that Casa Amiga is seeing has increased 50% over the last month.

The city’s health system, the Instituto Mexicano del Seguro Social (IMSS), has said that it has put on hold its expansion plans since so many Cd. Juárez citizens are losing their job-related health coverage. In a city with an official population of 1.2 million, the IMSS has seen 200,000 people fall from its list of the insured in the last eighteen months.

Political Crisis

In addition to press headlines describing the flight of foreign-owned maquiladoras from the city, both El Norte and El Diario newspapers are filled with articles about Cd. Juárez’s political uncertainty and political clashes surrounding the issue of the annulled May 12, 2002 election.

On July 6, 2002 the second election in a row for mayor of Cd. Juárez was annulled by a 2-1 vote in the Chihuahua Tribunal Estatal Electoral (State Election Tribunal). That election, held on May 12, was a special one held after the previous one was thrown out last year, primarily because of improper campaigning by then-Mayor Gustavo Elizondo.

PAN candidate Jesús Delgado was said to have won the May 12 election by a few thousand votes. He had also won the previously annulled election.

In regards to this year’s election, more than 43 grievances were brought to the attention of the Tribunal. However, it found reason to look at only 5 of them and the only grievance considered serious by the Tribunal was the one that stated that votes were voided in a manner that favored the PAN. This grievance was supported by a document analysis performed by a state police expert that confirmed the PRI’s claim of irregularities in the voiding of votes.

The PAN says it plans to appeal the annulment to the federal level.

The PRI will also go to the same federal body to have its grievances acknowledged and it hopes to prosecute the people responsible for election crimes.

If the PAN exhausts all its appeals, the PRI-controlled Chihuahua state congress will vote on another interim mayor for Cd. Juárez.

PAN-PRI Political Battles

On Sunday, July 7, 2002 supporters of the PAN began assembling outside the mayor’s office to protest the annulment of the most-recent election.

Then, on Thursday, July 11, PRI supporters arrived at the building and fighting broke out between the parties shortly thereafter. Soon the two sides were going after each other with chairs, sticks, chains, and rocks.

Antiriot police arrived to quell the melee using clubs and tear gas to separate the two groups. The PRI group retreated but the PAN supporters remained in the area. To get them away from the mayor’s office, firefighters were called in for the first time in Cd. Juárez history to use high-pressure hoses to clear people away.

During the fighting and police intervention, twenty people were injured including some police officers. Ten people were seriously hurt and five had to be taken to the hospital.

Ten PAN supporters were arrested including former Cd. Juárez Mayor Ramón Galindo.

To pressure the city government to free the Panistas, PAN activists blocked traffic at one of the international bridges between Cd. Juárez and El Paso. Later, after about an hour in custody, a judge freed the ten people without a fine.

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