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Guerrilla bombs in D.F. complicate Oaxaca crisis (Oxford Analytica, 08.11)

MEXICO: Guerrilla attacks complicate Oaxaca crisis
(Oxford Analytica, 08.11)

Wednesday, November 8 2006
EVENT: Several bombs exploded in Mexico City on November 6.

SIGNIFICANCE: The bombings further complicate the political situation three weeks before Felipe Calderon takes office as president, and add an additional dimension to problems in the southern state of Oaxaca. Further attacks cannot be discounted.

ANALYSIS: Even before this week's bomb attacks there were already significant problems because of violent protests in Oaxaca:

* The bombings indicate that guerrillas who joined the Oaxaca rebellion -- which had the local teacher's union at its core -- have opted for more violent actions.
* The Oaxaca and guerrilla problems will spill over to the administration of President-elect Felipe Calderon, who will take office on December 1.

Guerrilla infiltration. It was widely suspected that guerrillas had infiltrated the teachers' protests:

* On November 6, a front of five guerrilla groups, the Coordinadora Revolucionaria, claimed responsibility for the bombings.
* The main reason for its appearance is that the Fox government at the end of October sent Federal Police to recover control of Oaxaca City, after months of occupation -- and de facto government -- by the People's Popular Assembly of Oaxaca (APPO).

The APPO emerged after Governor Ulises Ruiz tried to crush a teachers' strike using local police in June. After being removed from the city centre, the APPO has entrenched itself in the university. Guerrilla leaders had apparently expected the APPO's virtual occupation of Oaxaca City to continue, with new movements emerging in Oaxaca and the adjacent states of Guerrero and Chiapas. The elimination of this possibility apparently caused the bombings. The APPO condemned the attacks, stating that it does not advocate such methods.

Forced to act. President Vicente Fox was originally unwilling to use force:

* The Interior Ministry for months held talks with APPO leaders, whose main demand is Ruiz's resignation.
* However, on October 27, Ruiz's supporters allegedly killed four APPO supporters, including a US journalist. Fox had no option but to send federal forces to the state.

Symbolic attacks. The bombs used were large -- one practically demolished a branch of Scotiabank-Inverlat bank -- and directed against symbolic targets: a bank, the headquarters of the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), which has governed Oaxaca since the 1930s, and the Federal Electoral Tribunal (Trife). The Trife had designated Calderon president-elect in September, after an acrimonious judicial battle with Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, who narrowly lost.

Previous attacks. The guerrilla groups are presumed to be splinters from the Popular Revolutionary Army (EPR):

* The EPR, with Maoist tendencies, emerged in the mid-1990s, carrying out actions mainly in Oaxaca and Guerrero.
* EPR groups have carried out isolated attacks over the past five years, targeting bank branches in bombings timed to avoid injuring passers by.

The November 6 attacks suggest that the groups' capacity has not grown. Nonetheless, more frequent attacks cannot be discounted. The Coordinadora warned it would carry out more if the Oaxaca crisis was not resolved, and released a list of some 40 targets, including major Mexican and international companies and political and government organisations.

Untenable position. Ruiz has steadfastly refused to resign, as demanded by the guerrillas and APPO. However, Ruiz's position has become increasingly precarious. Even if the APPO disbanded and teachers returned to work, he is discredited. Nevertheless, the PRI until recently supported him unreservedly:

* Unless he retains power until December 2007, when he would reach three years in office -- out of six -- his departure would trigger an election for an interim governor, which the party almost certainly would lose.
* Having suffered a heavy defeat in the presidential election, PRI leaders were reluctant to push out Ruiz and hand the state to another party.

PRD support. If an election took place in Oaxaca, the Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD) would win with Gabino Cue -- defeated by Ruiz in a close election in 2004 -- as its candidate. Cue is currently a senator. This partly explains the open support the PRD recently has given the APPO:

* Lopez Obrador would like Oaxaca to compensate for the PRD's defeat in the recent gubernatorial election in Tabasco, which represented a serious personal blow.
* Nonetheless, the APPO has refused to join forces openly with Lopez Obrador, realising that the failed presidential candidate wants to use the movement to boost his diminishing image, and that of the 'legitimate' government he claims to lead.

On November 3, Lopez Obrador presented a 'cabinet' of twelve ministers that supposedly will govern with him, receiving little attention. The bombings should further distract public opinion from his claims to be 'legitimate' president -- scheduled to 'take office' on November 20.

Resignation insufficient. Interior Minister Carlos Abascal yesterday warned Ruiz to negotiate a governability pact or resign. Public Function Ministry audits of his use of federal funds will probably be more effective in pushing Ruiz to leave office. However, his resignation will not solve all the problems:

* The APPO is making other demands that have received less publicity, such as the unconditional release of those arrested in recent months in Oaxaca and during clashes in Atenco, near Mexico City, which the government will reject.
* It is calling for a congress on November 10-12, apparently aimed at consolidating its organisation.

Long-term problem. Calderon yesterday stated that the guerrillas represent a problem that would take a long time to solve. On the same day, the Chamber of Deputies denied Fox permission to travel to Australia and Vietnam -- to attend an APEC meeting -- on the grounds that he should not be away from the country in current circumstances, and so near the end of his term.

Fox probably will try to avoid further confrontation with the APPO:

* Before the bombings the Interior Ministry was trying to bring in the Catholic church to act as mediator.
* The Interior Ministry's warning to Ruiz appears wasted: Ruiz will be unable to reach agreement with the opposition.

The Calderon administration will inherit the Oaxaca and guerrilla situations -- an early challenge the new president could have done without, particularly as he needs PRI votes in Congress to advance his legislative agenda. Further bombings may take place on or around December 1.
CONCLUSION: The Mexico City bombings marked the surfacing of radical groups that had infiltrated the APPO seeking to establish a strong base to challenge the government from southern states. The incoming Calderon government probably will not maintain the Fox administration's strategy of avoiding confrontation. The situation will need time to be resolved, as Ruiz's resignation may not be enough.