Mexicans refuse to pay electricity charges

Two women from the Civil Resistance in Chiapas visited Ireland in August. Chiapas in Mexico is known to many people because of the armed rebellion of the EZLN. The women are involved in co-ordinating a state-wide boycott of electricity charges. On hearing about the successful campaign against the Water Charges here they were eager to share experiences. This article is based on notes made from a discussion between them and two members of the WSM active in the anti-water charges campaign in Dublin.

The exchange was a fascinating one because we found that we had faced many similar situations. For instance because the Electricity company in Chiapas is State owned (i.e. taxpayer funded) and because the high bills include VAT the communities opposing them describe the high charges as a double taxation. While here the government tried to get people to pay the water charge by offering a limited addition to their tax free allowance, in Chiapas the bribe they tried was a 20% reduction if you paid your bill. In both cases most people laughed at this bribe.

On the other hand there are also startling differences. Many of the people in Chiapas live by subsistence farming in small communities in mountainous jungle. They are extremely poor, it is estimated that 19,000 people (mostly children and old people) die every year of preventable diseases. Whereas in Dublin we defeated the government in three years without suffering arrests or more serious repression; in Chiapas many, many people have been jailed. A special police force accompanies cut-off crews called 'Force and Reaction' and when they arrived to cut off the office of an education collective they were also accompanied by fourteen lorry loads of soldiers.

Despite this repression the people of Chiapas are, if anything, more determined to win. When the company has disconnected people they have re-connected them, when they have taken the power lines leading to communities they have bought and erected new lines, with retired electricity workers training the communities to do this work. They were surprised to hear how many people had drifted away from the Dublin campaign now that this was won saying such a victory in Chiapas would have led to more people becoming involved in the next issue they need to fight on.

The government in Mexico has also refused to implement the first stage of the San Andres accords on Indigenous people's rights. This led last August to the EZLN pulling out of the peace talks. Because many of the communities are faced with a similar situation of a local government that refuses to seriously negotiate a 5 peso flat rate they have decided that until the government also implements the first phase of the San Andres accords they will not pay electricity or water charges.