Roadblocks and Police Clubs in Cancun

Revolutionary Worker #1095, March 18, 2001, posted at

We received the following correspondence about the protests against the World Economic Forum (WEF) which took place in Cancún, Mexico in late February.

Since last fall, people have been organizing to protest the meeting of the WEF in Mexico--in the tradition of Seattle, Prague, Washington, and other protests against global capitalism. The original date for the WEF meeting was December 4, three days after Vicente Fox's inauguration, and it was originally supposed to be held in Mexico City. But the Mexican authorities couldn't handle Fox's presidential inauguration and tens of thousands of people in the streets against his economic program at the same time. So the WEF meeting was postponed to February and moved away from the capital to the tourist resort of Cancún, way out on the tip of the Yucatan peninsula. And the actual site of the meeting was almost a bunker: a hotel 15 miles from downtown and 1.2 miles from the highway, with a heavily guarded and controlled access. Access by sea is also difficult. Cancún is a small provincial town with only one road going through it--one entrance, one exit.

Protesters mobilized from around the country and Italy, USA, Spain and other countries. Caravans of buses (numbering 30 or so) left Mexico City on Friday, Feburary 23. There were also buses from Tijuana, Villahermosa, Chiapas, Puebla, and many other cities. People raised money for the buses in the streets with collection cans, in markets, etc., until the last minute.

The "Zapatour"--the EZLN caravan from Chiapas through 11 states--took away from press coverage and participants. But several thousand protesters did manage to get to Cancún. They included people from various mass organizations, from the PRD, some Zapatista sympathizers (who went to the send-off of the Zapatour on Feb. 24 and then immediately took buses to Cancún), and others. Along the way to Cancún, various police agencies stopped the buses, confiscating food, water, money, posters, flyers, literature, and "utilería" (stuff to make puppets, truck tires used for protection from beatings, and so on).

The state mobilized 1600 agents from the federal-level PFP (Policía Federal Preventiva)--the very same ones who occupied the UNAM campus in Mexico City last year and smashed the student strike--as well as 600 agents from local municipal police forces in the region (Cancún, Chetumal, etc.), and numerous undercover political police. The police were equipped with Hummers, lots of teargas and other gases, gas masks, shields, helicopters, and batons.

The demonstrators met in a downtown park. The police were posted all along the 15 miles between the park and hotel. People did outreach with the local population and tourists. Many local residents and tourists did not understand the demands of the protest at first and also showed intolerance to the youth with their baggy shorts and multiple body piercings. But, with debate, many were won over to understand the protest and contribute money and support. People also organized tours of the town: it is very divided between the poor neighborhoods and the wealthy areas.

Since it appeared there was little chance of reaching the hotel, protesters blocked the highway on Tuesday, February 26. This created a massive roadblock and traffic backup of miles and hundreds of vehicles. At this time of year there are some 45,000 tourists in town, with many spring-breakers among them.

About three in the afternoon, while the protesters were eating and resting (at this time of year, the heat and sun beat down with no mercy), the police organized what reporters described as a classic "pincers movement": agents from Cancún and Chetumal formed two lines of more than 300 police each, and in the breach were 200 agents from the PFP (there were also some 30 undercover agents among the demonstrators). Without warning, the authorities unleashed their attack dogs (specially trained for "crowd control") and agents with batons against the demonstrators.

The beatings were without any control or reason, savage and ruthless. The police used their batons (shaped in a form of an L) like hammers to do the most damage. Once they knocked down the demonstrators, several agents surrounded each demonstrator and unmercifully stomped on them with their boots, etc.

The Mexican newspaper Excélsior reported that protesters suffered broken ribs, skulls, and other injuries and that 82 were arrested. The police also attacked some of the reporters and photographers and broke their equipment.

Since the police attack, all sorts of denials and mutual accusations among officials about the incident have flooded the press--from the Cancún police and mayor all the way up to President Fox. But the attack was pre-planned and directed from the top--as a conversation among police commanders, overheard by reporters, made clear. A week before the protests, the PFP issued a bulletin saying that it will be in command of all police forces in the region during the WEF and that upon the arrival of Fox in Cancún on Feb. 26, the Estado Mayor Presidencial (which is like the Secret Service) will assume overall command.

One reporter also overheard a conversation between the Quintana Roo state government advisor for Public Security, Pablo Lucio Quiroga, and the Cancún police chief, Rubén Villegas Sánchez, when they gave the order to attack "all those present." The reporter commented, "They had no compassion--the only thing that interested them at that moment was finishing off the 'enemy.'Ê"

Protesters were vomiting blood and in convulsions on the ground, while the police continued beating and stomping them. The severely injured were tied up and thrown like sacks into waiting paddy wagons.

At the same time, 30 demonstrators managed to fool the hotel security. They organized a protest inside the hotel and later went out to the beach, where they stripped down and mixed with the tourists (who were also naked). The security eventually caught on and arrested them.

While demonstrators closed off the highway, a group of 10 people from F-26 (a group of PRD forces) stripped off their clothes in the street and challenged the police. Later, when the police attacked, they ripped clothing off people and accused them of "indecent exposure."

Police singled out women protesters for especially savage beatings. They also attacked the leaders of the protest, saying things like "get that one, the one with the black T-shirt."

There were numerous injured treated by the Red Cross or at hospitals. Lawyers and support were organized within an hour. Ana Colchero, an actor, organized a group of lawyers involved in the UNAM struggle and flew them out immediately to Cancún. By early morning Wednesday, according to the press, all the protesters were freed. There were reports that at least one woman was in very bad shape due to the beating. Though in the end the protesters were not charged with anything, the condition for their release was that they leave Cancún at once. Then the police wouldn't let them go because there was a license plate missing on one bus, and they tried to levy a heavy fine for this.

The news of the police riot spread through e-mails and phone calls--by 5 p.m. on Tuesday it was the talk of the town in Mexico City, where people immediately mobilized protests. The CGH--the strike organization at UNAM--closed off Avenida Insurgentes, a major north-south thoroughfare, in protest of the Cancún attack and in support of six CGH members expelled from the UNAM for a protest on Feb. 6 in celebration of the occupation of the university. Activists at the College of Science and Humanities-Azcapotzalco (CCH-Azca) closed down the school beginning on February 25, in support of the Cancún actions and for other demands. There was also a support march on Feb. 26 on Paseo de la Reforma against the stock market. The press has been full of letters to the editor and articles from the CGH, activists, mass organizations, NGO's, artists, students, professors, and others denouncing the attack.

One protest organizer said: "They attacked us with tremendous viciousness. The police operation was coordinated, and the government of Vicente Fox showed that it indeed knows how to protect private property and the investors, tourists, the spring breakers, while they repress the youth to make an example out of them."

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