Sunday, August 14, 2011

Movimiento Antorcha Campesina: Very far from a "social movement"

Recently, Milenio reported that the Antorcha Campesina, or the "Torch of the Peasant," has in 2011 carried out twice the number of demonstrations than in 2011, so far totaling 265. More than 300,000 persons have participated in the marches, which have created chaos in the streets of Mexico City - despite the organization hailing from Mexico State. Some of the demonstrations have turned into week-long encampments in central parts of the city.

What do they want? Ostensibly, funds from the federal government for the development of their communities, though they often target institutions and buildings of Mexico City. Beyond what are pretty much blackmail techniques - give us money, or we'll create chaos - the organization has also on occasions been highly prone to violence, and has since its murky origins in the 1970s as a quite paramilitary organization, been absolutely controlled by the PRI. The Mexico State branch of PRI has now increasingly used the Antorcha as shock troops to embarrass both the current and past PRD administrations of Mexico City, as well as the federal PAN government (see a useful graphic below for a comparison 2010-11), rallying thousands of participants through clientelist means, and then sending them off in hundreds of buses  to DF. As a thank-you from the PRI-led Mexico State government, they are allowed to run a scheme of thousands of pirate taxis in particular in the municipalities in the Valle de México in that state.

(in June 2009, in the Azteca stadium, when the Antorcha celebrated its 35th anniversary, the main person of the event was Enrique Peña Nieto. They also operate in many other states, though always against PAN and PRD governments.)

This is an absolute perversion and abuse of the mechanisms of popular demonstrations that under the guise of "freedom of expression" essentially terrorizes a big part of the city's population. Mexico City Mayor Marcelo Ebrard has been cautious toward the organization, likely not to provoke any further chaos, given the almost limitless right of Mexicans to hold demonstrations, even when it seriously affects a great number of people negatively. PAN has recently urged the law to be changed, in order to regulate the marches, which to me seems a fair demand: There simply must be some kind of balance between an organizations right to demonstrate vs. shutting parts of an entire city down - as indeed other democracies maintain.


  1. Atorcha is a criminal enterprise operating under the protection of the PRI.

    The PRD problem in the DF is that they're cozy with the likes of the Frente Popular Francisco Villa, which will march out of Iztapalapa when called up (recall their "protests" during the Juanito fiasco?). And what about the SME (AMLO loyalists) and its turning the Zócalo into a tianguis?

    Ebrard turfed the ambulantes back in 2007. The ambulantes are tied strongly to the PRI. I guess it's worth remembering the the PRD can play this "mobilize the people" game, too - perhaps not as well as the PRI, though.

  2. Thanks for comment. Absolutely - PRD certainly has its own clienteles, though it seems to me there is at the very least a large difference in degree, if not in kind, between their utilization of clietelist networks and that of the PRI. As for SME, their actions have steadily been discrediting both their organization and the SME, and I doubt the negative associations can outweigh the electoral benefits they can bring to the party. And the Panchos certainly have many unsavory elements among them - I guess the Arce/Cirigo brothers' defection to the PRI in Iztapalapa is bringing a big chunk of them into the PRI fold.