Monday, July 16, 2007
Mexico’s So-called “Popular
By Barnard R. Thompson
The Earlier Years
The Popular Revolutionary Army (known by the initials EPR in
Spanish), one of Mexico’s shadowy guerrilla movements that has been around for more than a decade, has been heard from
anew. This time with violent acts perpetrated against the state, namely the early
July bombings of natural gas pipelines in the central states of Guanajuato and Querétaro, and then through what has become
a somewhat usual communiqué message.
Yet this time the extremists’
message was heard far and wide, at home and abroad, both due to the bombings themselves, and with the resulting media coverage
of not just the destruction but too the collateral sociopolitical, economic, industrial and image damage. Plus other rebel activities, or self-proclaimed and publicity seeking leaders, did not dwarf the news (scant
as it was at first) about the EPR cell or cells that claimed responsibility for these latest acts.
As well, the explosions
turned out to be too big of a bang to cover-up or write-off as accidents.
During the 1960s a number
of radical and student movements, including a score or more of armed groups, came out of their theretofore shells. And the world got news of student and political unrest in Mexico when things came to a head on the eve
of the 1968 Olympic Games in Mexico City. Events that led to the tragic October
massacre at Tlatelolco and the Plaza de las Tres Culturas, when the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) government gave
the order to open fire on mostly student demonstrators.
But the ironhandedness of the government,
and its ruthless use of the military, did not quell the leftist and revolutionary movements, and in 1973 a dozen of the organizations
joined together in the 23 of September Communist League. An urban guerrilla movement
set on fighting the state, the Liga Comunista 23 de Septiembre went on to commit numerous violent acts against the PRI-government
in the name of the popular classes.
They were no match for the government however,
as Mexico’s “Dirty War” ensued. A period from the late 1960s
to the early 1980s, with large-scale deaths, detentions and disappearances of antigovernment protesters, individuals and groups.
Subsequent to 1982 there was a period of
relative calm from armed groups and extremists, as the country tried to cope with the economic ruin and turmoil José López
Portillo had left at the end of his 1976-1982 presidency. But there was still
a festering discontent.
The somewhat dormant radicals were still
there, although a good number merged into mainstream politics as they aged. This
too because Mexico enacted a number of political reforms, and the country’s political parties — with the possible
exception of the PRI — went through makeovers and mergers.
Many of the hardcore leftists and radicals
who stayed out in the cold, along with 14 organized groups, joined with the PROCUP, the Clandestine Revolutionary Workers
Party-Union of the People, a guerrilla organization that had actually been first formed in the 1960s. But there was still no real unity, that was until the EPR, the Popular Revolutionary Army, surfaced in the early 1990s.
And the EPR, even with its
cell structure, finally brought coordination to the armed insurgent groups movement in Mexico.
This even after internal frictions rose, and some sympathizers splintered into the Revolutionary Army of the Insurgent
People (ERPI) and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of the People (FARP), or joined the still active EPR affiliate Party of the
It should be mentioned that
while the EPR apparently wanted to join forces, in covert operations at least, with the Zapatista National Liberation Army (EZLN), soi-disant Subcomandante
Marcos apparently did not want to share the limelight with anyone. Seemingly
no formal bonds were formed as the EZLN leapt onto center stage with their 1994 uprising.
In the late 1990s, according
to Mexican government intelligence reports, the EPR and its fellow travelers were actively involved in kidnapping, especially
to get money to buy weapons and to finance guerrilla activities. Some reports
claim they received as much as US$50 million in ransom payments, which is a plausible amount when you consider that they went
after high profile, influential and wealthy targets.
This observer remembers
the 1994 kidnapping of banker Alfredo Harp Helú, and the reported payment of US$30 million for his release. Money that supposedly went to the EPR, however a sizable amount of that money was later found in the hands
of operators of a Mexican shipyard, a facility that was owned by another of Mexico’s wealthy and influential family
One in a series.
Barnard Thompson, editor of MexiData.info, has spent nearly 50 years in Mexico and Latin America, providing multinational clients with actionable intelligence;
country and political risk reporting and analysis; and business, lobbying, and problem resolution services. He can be reached via e-mail at email@example.com.