Taking up the struggle: Defending electricity users in Mexico

By Nevin Siders September 7, 2018
Links International Journal of Socialist RenewalThe National Assembly of Electric Energy Users (ANUEE) imploded under the carrot-and-stick pressures the Mexican government applied in its privatization drive. Among the more forceful measures are changing the Constitution in an unending chain of neoliberal reforms that open ever wider sectors of the economy to private enterprise, each wrapped in a sweetening that their previous employees can become shareholders in one of the new companies — occasionally with a cooperative veneer. In the electrical sector, Luz y Fuerza del Centro (LyF) was transformed into the Federal Electricity Commission (CFE) a few years back, and one of LyF’s two trade unions fought tooth and nail against the privatization. Its resistance made the Mexican Union of Electricians (SME) an even stronger pole of attraction on the left. One of its pillars of resistance was the ANUEE, an association of consumers and other users who stood by their legal right to not pay fees to CFE because their contracts were with LyF. Moreover, tens of thousands suddenly and inexplicably faced exorbitant bills for hundreds and thousands of dollars — this in a country where the minimum wage of under four dollars per day cannot provide subsistence for even the employee him- or herself. Yet SME’s combativity has noticeably flagged in the last year or so, dating from when it was chartered to operate one of the new electricity companies, a hydroelectric one at Necaxa dam in the state of Puebla that supplies that state’s capital and Mexico City. Frictions spilled over into ANUEE, where chairperson Juan Carlos Escalante led a slander campaign against a large section of its membership. This is part of the “conflict of interests” mentioned in the opening below. Another disagreement arose over the technological aspects of the privatizing “Modernization Project” where CFE has installed higher poles with reinforced cabling to prevent people from “hanging” onto the lines, and also transformers enabled to cut service for non-payment from the central offices, rather than by an on-site technician. This is the background for the statement’s second section on the Modernization Project. In its statement below, the new grouping, National Coordinating Committee of Users in Resistance (CONUR) explains how it continues the fight ratified at ANUEE’s 10th congress to oppose privatizing the nation’s resources. This is followed by CONUR’s founding statement.

Recovering the Fight to Defend Users and Renationalize the Electricity Industry

National Coordinating Committee of Users in Resistance (CONUR) August 15, 2018 Thousands of users of electric power, on a payer’s strike, were witnesses to the political implosion of the National Committee of the National Assembly of Electric Energy Users (ANUEE), organization which we participated in up to August 1, 2018. Juan Carlos Escalante and his closest collaborators know about — and he is the architect of — that setback derived from a conflict of interests. Given these contradictions and the constant attacks in an ever shriller tone that has become no less than a spiteful campaign against our members in meetings and social networks, we are obliged to make this response public.

Two Attempts to Break the Payment Strike by Users in Resistance

We are convinced that the “Modernization Project” the government instruments via the CFE is a disguised attack designed to pave the way toward privatizing the electric sector, delivering this national property into domestic or foreign private hands. We are also aware that the changes to the electricity grid — which they charge us for — “aim to eliminate the non-technical losses of electricity,” by ironically installing less efficient, lower quality technology for the sole purpose of guaranteeing these companies juicy profits at the expense of dispossessed Mexicans. 1. On August 9, 2017, they requested we accept the new electrical grid, so we decided to correct this deviation since it would signify giving up the fight against the Modernization Project, leaving us defenseless when service is cut. Under our pressure, a partial victory was registered insofar as the grid would only be changed for those who accepted it, gaining respect for the will of the users. But some users were not informed of the consequences implied in the change, which caused some bitter conflicts and great discontent inside ANUEE. 2. On March 27, 2018, they again tried to convince us to accept privatization, a proposal to be formalized at the 11th Assembly. Our resistance we put up no whim, but because it directly against ANUEE’s objectives. unrest spread throughout the regional committees, to such an extent that the promoters were forced to suspend the 11th assembly and without the necessary rectification. We users in resistance always argue on the basis of ANUEE’s principles and statutes, standing by the 10th assembly’s accords that proclaim the fight against the sale of the nation’s resources to individuals, which is to say against all privatizations.

National Coordinating Committee’s Political Implosion

Our opposition to the modernization project received political exclusion, low blows, and social network slander demonizing us and closing off frank, democratic discussion. Yet it also made an example for all who dare think differently. Things have gotten worse inside ANUEE. We recently learned several comrades were expelled in a summary trial by the National Committee but without their presence — making itself judge, jury, and executioners in a process against the victims of slander in absentia and where statutes are bypassed. It should be noted that most of those expelled had already decided to resign. It is also time for the truth to be known about ANUEE’s macho policy which replicates the patriarchy’s cruelest methods, accentuating their harassment of women. An example of this is when we initiated several complaints in mid-2017 against assaults on women comrades by Escalante’s closest collaborators, such as Jorge Islas, that were never resolved, resulting in total impunity. In contrast, the national coordinators were expelled in a matter of few minutes, showing the lack of democratic, legal, or ethical validity. We now understand Escalante’s consistent refusal to participate in women’s rights activities as fundamental to the political arena, since he considers it as an issue beyond the scope our struggle —despite women being the majority of our active members! We have numerous resolutions, WhatsApp images, witnesses, audios, and videos testifying to what we affirm here, of the odium expressed against our women and men comrades for the simple fact of having different opinions and being consistent with them.

A Conjuncture Opens...

On June 19 of this year, ANUEE’s National Committee decided to organize a sit-in at the offices of the Secretariat of Energy (SENER) without having held an open discussion on this activity, which furthermore was scheduled to begin only 11 days before the presidential elections. After the election, the new political context of the victory by the MORENA party and its standard bearer Andrés Manuel López Obrador was not debated. While our position as an organization independent of political parties does not go against such a position, given that the winner becomes directly responsible for resolving our demands — above all if that winner has promised to clean the books (cancel the debt) for users in his home state of Tabasco, and committed himself to the CFE opening the generating plants to produce enough energy to provide low cost service to low income sectors. Despite this turn which opens possibilities for a solution to our just demands in preventing privatization of the electric sector and favoring the clean slate (cancelling the debt), ANUEE’s National Committee insists on continuing to sit-in and negotiate with the outgoing government that has showed no signs of retreat from privatization and repression, and has consistently reneged on the clean slate. Meanwhile Escalante hardens his rejection of internal dialogue and intensifies personal harassment; his collaborators threaten to “break our fucking necks” and he refuses to draw a balance sheet from the current scenario. We are therefore obliged to make Escalante and his backers responsible for all physical, psychological, or other aggression committed against CONUR’s coordinators.

Current Scenario

These are the reasons why we are forced to seek a new alternative for organization to take up the goals we had as the National Assembly of Electric Power Users and where one may disagree without being harassed, because that is the foundation of democracy. We want space for debate and respectful analysis, more so now that López’s electoral victory sets an unprecedented situation and because we should not allow ourselves to lower our guard when the owners of money and power have not done so. We seek to build an organization where the interests of users do not serve the interests of others, where solidarity with other organizations is frequent and respect for the organization’s autonomy is real. We announce we have formed the National Coordinator of Users in Resistance (CONUR) because it is urgent for all members of ANUEE to take up our goals, since the current political context obliges building the broadest unity of all resistances against electric service, so as to demand of the government inaugurated next December to fulfill its promises and extend them nationally. We also have to press for social protest to not be criminalized and stop legal processes against resistance users around the country. We are clear that the users in ANUEE are not our enemies, so CONUR’s doors will always be open for them. Likewise, we know that ANUEE’s National Committee controlled by Escalante and his unconditional followers have not assimilated these political changes and are caught up in their conflict of interest, so they see enemies were there are not any, we simply have other ideas. We are conscious that the common enemy is not among our ranks, but rather among those who impose privatizing policies that favor national and foreign capital. We therefore we hope to coincide in future struggles for the demands we have held to during these years of resistance. We sincerely hope you reflect on how maintaining a people’s struggle makes necessary taking decisions democratically. For all of these reasons, we invite you to set aside speeches of hate and confrontation that only benefit our common enemy. For access to electricity as a human right! For renationalization of electric power! For the repeal of the Energy Reform! By the clean slate! For a fair social rate! Stop the criminalization of user struggles! Original statement available at: https://www.facebook.com/Coordinadora-Nacional-de-Usuarios-en-Resistencia-CONUR-275505349942334/?ti=as

Statement from the National Coordinating Committee of Electricity Users in Resistance

August 11, 2018 To the people of Mexico To the movements of electricity users in resistance To the media We are users of electric power who have been organizing for eight years to gain the rights of our families and all Mexicans affected by the high fees charged by the Federal Electricity Commission (CFE), the company that has presented us the dilemma of either paying light or eating, paying light or providing our children a decent education, paying light or living a decent life. Along with thousands of comrades in struggle, since 2010 we have stood up the neoliberal policies of presidents Felipe Calderón and Enrique Peña Nieto. We have resisted from below the policy of dispossession, privatization, higher cost of living, and an ever more precarious existence. We have resisted the imposition of digital meters that transform a monthly statement into a usurious banking operation. We have not stopped for a single day protesting against a modernization project that seeks to privatize the electricity sector and intends to divest us of the possibility of guaranteeing light in our homes. We defend ourselves against the abuses of the personnel of the CFE and the police, we have fought the judicial processes against our women comrades. We have not stopped fighting against the Energy Reform that dismantles and privatizes an electrical industry that is fruit of the work and sacrifice of several generations of Mexicans. That is why we are on a payer’s strike and we will continue until our demands are resolved. We are aware that our resistance is not isolated. It was born of the well-known user resistance in the southeast and north regions of the country. Before the CFE entered Mexico’s central region, we already had news of the resistance against abuses and outrageous fees. Many of these fight in organizations that for many years have been resisting despite the most difficult conditions. Many others struggle with their families although without being organized into any larger movement. We extend recognition to all these manners of resisting, organized or not, in the hope that we soon come together in the same space because we are all part of the same movement. We are the NATIONAL COORDINATING COMMITTEE OF ELECTRICITY USERS IN RESISTANCE (CONUR). We are domestic workers, workers, students, and town dwellers. We are a movement independent of the state, of political parties, and of companies. We respect the diversity of political positions, because these years of struggle have matured us, now able to define ourselves free of any tutelage, democratically, and in our diversity. Our resistance to these abusive fees for electric power has led us to bring the following demands to past bad presidents Felipe Calderón Hinojosa and Enrique Peña Nieto. DEMANDS: - Clean slate (cancel the debt) and start afresh. Because the CFE excessive fees are unpayable. They do not reflect what we actually consume. Moreover, in the central region of the country this company is not legally recognized so its collections are illegal. - Fair rate. Because all Mexicans must have access to electric power as a basic necessity, therefore it is a public service and not a commodity at the whim of market prices. - Make ratify access to electricity as a human right in the Constitution. To guarantee future generations, our rights must be protected by the highest law in the land so as to avoid being deprived of electricity, absolutely necessary to dignified life. - Put an end to this process of criminalization and prosecution that has begun against users who resist around the country. - Repeal Article 185 from the Criminal Code which for years now has criminalized our struggle, as well as others that oppose megaprojects. Instead of being sensitive to this social issue and its origin, neoliberal governments have used all forms of repression and deception. They sign accords with different movements that they do not fulfill, but rather sign agreements merely to buy time to wear down and repress the resistances of the users. But they have not succeeded! Despite their thwarting, the resistance broadens and matures politically. We declare that, 1. Growing social discontent has manifested itself through the most diverse forms in recent years against neoliberal policies. Large youth and people’s demonstrations are rising across the country. Because neoliberalism has further impoverished the nation, its policies were resoundingly defeated in the presidential elections July 1st; the aspirations of a broad majority of society for profound change was strongly expressed. Mobilization and constant organization of the people will achieve justice for our demands and defeat those who throw up blocks to improvement. 2. This country’s oligarchy, organized in their chambers of commerce, use their mass media to call us “defaulters.” As if it were a whim to not pay outrageous rates and “crazed” receipts for hundreds of dollars! Mounted up high on their privileges, they cannot see the obvious: that it is impossible to both pay for electricity and have a decent life, and that millions of users confront this profound social dilemma. We are not defaulters! We are dignified users in resistance! 3. The political panorama now has changed and, therefore, the conditions of struggle with it. As users of electricity, we firmly place ourselves this broad unrest for profound transformation to achieve social justice, obtaining rights, and substantial improvement in our people’s living conditions. The public debate is open and we wish to participate in ending the rapacious, extractive neoliberal regime, by constructing an egalitarian, ecologically sustainable society free of discrimination against women and sexual dissidence, and likewise creating conditions for a dignified life for the elderly. 4. We welcome the incoming president’s commitment to guarantee he will wipe the slate clean for users in resistance in his home state of Tabasco. We demand this right be extended to everyone in the country in the same situation. We know that to move forward we will have to fight the forces that have sold out the country all these decades and will do everything they can to prevent change. To those who privatized the electricity and water industries, to those who repressed social movements and “disappeared” the 43 students in Ayotzinapa, to those who deny university education to two hundred thousand students year after year, to those who pay workers miserable wages, to those who steal millions of public funds with total impunity, we say we will fight to recover what belongs to the people, to build a country with justice and freedom! Only the united, organized people will win! Ever onward to victory! Speeches the same day by Héctor Valdez backing the Statement https://www.facebook.com/emilio.tellezcontreras/videos/10156588742449731/ https://www.facebook.com/emilio.tellezcontreras/videos/10156591586174731/