Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto has been declared “Persona Non Grata” and a traitor to Mexico by the people of Chiapas, who have blasted his neoliberal economic policies and what locals call his servility to the United States.
Residents of Chiapas state's Chiapa de Corzo municipality have been protesting the unpopular president with street assemblies early Monday followed by skirmishes and pitched battles with security forces. Residents erected barricades in the streets and launched rocks at federal and state police, whom they accuse of upholding Peña Nieto's repressive, criminal and unpopular PRI-ruled state.
Protesters accuse Peña Nieto of selling the country off to multinational corporations, ramming through unpopular reforms and failing to protect the interests of the people — who are faced with increasing violence at the hands of gangs, paramilitaries and security forces as well as dispossession at the hands of foreign mining firms.
Peña Nieto's visit is meant to mark the 10th annual International Day of Indigenous Peoples which takes place Wednesday. In Mexico, there are 15.7 million Indigenous people comprised of 68 different ethnicities. In Chiapas alone, there are 1.5 million Indigenous people.
Locals allege that the president plans to supervise the handover of the city's newly-restored monuments to the Banamex Cultural Foundation, a non-profit organization that belongs to Citibanamex — a subsidiary of New York-based multinational financial services giant Citigroup.
The rumored move illustrates Peña Nieto's eagerness to sell the country out to U.S. corporate interests, according to local groups.
The monuments — which date back to the 16th century — include the Church of San Sebastian, the Lacquerware Museum and former monastery of Santo Domingo and the city's centerpiece and main tourist attraction, the colonial fountain. For locals, the handover of these historic structures is tantamount to the theft of the town's identity.
"We have to organize to defend ourselves,” said one elderly man at a gathering outside of the Santa Domingo former monastery, according to Chiapas Paralelo. “We repudiate the visit of Peña Nieto and tell him that he's not welcome in Chiapa de Corzo!"
As the people chanted “Fuera, Peña, fuera!” — “Leave, Peña, leave!” — speakers denounced the structural reforms introduced by the president, who has struggled to improve rock-bottom approval ratings, which currently stand at about 19 percent.
Beginning in 2013, Peña Nieto's began a stubborn push to ram through major structural reforms demanded by international financial organizations such as the OECD, World Bank, IMF and Inter-American Development Bank.
The reforms included financial market liberalization and reforms affecting the treasury, education, finance, transparency, electoral laws, telecoms and broadcasting, criminal procedures, as well as competition law and regulation. While figures in the finance and private sector have greeted the reforms, unions and popular organizations say they have increased poverty for the Mexican people and led to a situation where basic food staples are no longer affordable.
The broad-ranging labor reforms have rendered the job market more “flexible,” in effect, depriving Mexican workers of job security and collective bargaining rights while driving unemployment.
The overhaul of Mexico's public education system has been fiercely opposed by Mexico's powerful National Coordinator of Education Workers, or CNTE, teachers' union, who have faced massive dismissals, depriving the country's rural poor and Indigenous youth in regions like Chiapas of a quality education.
In terms of mineral resources, Chiapas remains one of the wealthiest states in Mexico and a major base of operations for mining giants from Canada, the United States, the European Union, Japan and China. In addition to being a major source of gas, oil, wood, and water, Chiapas is also a lucrative source of gold, silver, copper, amber, uranium, aluminum, iron, and one of the most sought-after resources in the world — titanium.
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In recent years, the pace and scope of extractive industry activities have increased, draining the wealth of local populations and leading to their systematic dispossession as open-pit mining, tunnels, and large ponds of toxic wastewater have contaminated millions of acres of once-communal lands belonging to the people of Chiapas
As foreign investment in mining industries has increased under Peña Nieto due to structural reforms that grant nearly unlimited rights to foreign mineral extraction firms, Indigenous communities in Chiapas, Oaxaca and Veracruz have faced a sharp uptick in violence committed by organized criminal groups, cartels and paramilitaries.
The groups — often acting in concert with state security forces — usually target local activists, social movement organizers and land defenders aligned with the Zapatista Army of National Liberation EZLN or National Front for the Struggle for Socialism FNLS, who are seen as obstacles to the handover of foreign concessions to the mining multinationals.
For the poor and Indigenous people of Chiapas — who have been among the hardest-hit by the president's reforms — the visit by “enemy of the people” Peña Nieto comes as an open insult, especially within the framework of the International Day of Indigenous Peoples.
"The heroic Chiapa de Corzo doesn't receive traitors,” community leader Miguel Sanchez told members of the press.
“We consider Peña Nieto a traitor to the country because his reforms are directed against the Mexican people. He has given away our natural resources, oil and energy, and he will continue to do so.”