By Kelly Simmons and Ana Vinas
Protests have been mounting against the federally owned and operated Electric Commission (Comision Federal de Electridad, CFE) over the rise in prices for electricity as well as increases in disconnections against people who cannot pay their electric bills. The public outcry has led to a suit by the Association of Maquiladoras in Juarez in conjunction with the Women for Juarez group, to change the higher tariff rate for electricity in Juarez to the lower one used in Mexicali. The Mexicali rate is over 30 percent cheaper. From September to October there was a 50 percent increase in complaints against the CFE, and during the month of October the state-run agency took first place in numbers of complaints received by the Federal Consumer Protection Agency, (Procuraderia Federal del Consumidor, Profepa), according to a Profepa representative.
Due to the high prices that have been implemented by CFE, mayors from 11 communities and state legislators in Chihuahua organized to communicate their dismay before authorities of CFE at both the local and national levels. At a meeting in early November, mayors from Casas Grandes, Nuevo Casas Grandes, Buenaventura, Janos, Ascension, Galeana, Bachiniva, Ignacio Zaragoza, Temosachi and Matachi discussed the problems caused by higher prices for electricity service. The mayors and other representatives from the Northwest side of the state, agreed with PRI legislator, Hortensia Enriquez, on a document which would be sent to the superintendent for CFE, Mario Morales Vielmas, to the State Congress and to the General Manager of the state-run agency, in an effort to find a solution to the problem.
During the meeting, representatives from Nuevo Casas Grandes exposed the fact that there have been irregularities discovered in some of the electric bills. The city Treasurer in Janos, Tebaldo Arellanes Moreno, said that due to budget cuts in his administration, they have fallen behind with their CFE bill, and CFE is now threatening to cut off their electricity too. He said prices have risen in a very noticeable way, and that is why they must demand a review. The city treasurer from Nuevo Casas Grandes, Juan Flores Enriquez, said that after they pay their amount of federal “dependencia”, they could have problems paying the electric bills in the following months. The Treasurer for Ascension also admitted having past due bills with the electric company.
At the same time, a group of 50 El Barzon members, an activist group organized to defend the rights of debtors, protested rising prices outside the local CFE offices in Ciudad Juarez. Chanting slogans and carrying placards, the group said they would reinstall their connection if it was cut off. Lorenzo Munoz Munoz, state director of El Barzon Chihuahua, said the protest has been carried out throughout the country to protest the high cost. “People are having to choose between eating and paying their electric bill,” he stated. Munoz threatened to assist persons attempting to reconnect their lines that have been disconnected by CFE, accusing the Commission of indiscriminately shutting off people’s power for non-payment.
Meanwhile the CFE announced in early November that illegal use of electricity is a federal crime punishable by a fine of up to three times the amount of electricity consumed illegally. A group of more than one hundred residents of Guadalupe, in Distrito Bravos, on November 13 formally requested that CFE review their bills to that neighborhood since in some cases families were asked to pay ten times more for electricity than previously. They added that families in nearby neighborhoods, such as Praxedis G. Guerrero, El Porvenir, Barreales, and El Mimbre, were also adversely affected by excessive rates.
Munoz has countered that he was willing to go to jail for illegally reconnecting electricity to those who have been disconnected by the CFE. “We are going to keep doing it, I don’t care that it is federal offense. It is a bigger offense to be taking advantage of people with the high costs,” he said. He admitted to having reconnected 17 customers this week. He said that if the community keeps complaining about the cutting off of the electricity, he will keep installing “little devils,” an illegal reconnection.
Munoz said he knows he is breaking the law, and that he will support the people suffering for the injustices from CFE. He gave the example of Tomas Vasquez Rios, last year at the this time he paid 107 pesos, his bill this year is 1009 pesos.”We will keep reconnecting the people. To this date Austreberto Guerrero, superintendent for CFE, has not said anything to me,” he added.
Victoria Caraveo, representative for the Women for Juarez group, proclaimed that her group does not agree with the illegal reconnecting of electric service being carried out by Barzonists in Chihuahua. In a November El Norte interview, she said that “not ‘little devils’ nor anarchist measures like the ones used by Lorenzo Munoz are going to get anywhere, the Federal Electric Commision has to be defeated legally.” She said she is going to try to talk with the representative for El Barzon to tell him the only way he is going to beat the CFE is by modifications in the law. She said each day the demand for a change for cheaper rates is growing. Caraveo also announced that Servio Arabia, director of the Association for Maquilas, is willing to join her at the Union of Congress to ask for a change in rates in Juarez. Also members of the PVEM, Jose Luis Rodriguez, and Francisco Franco, have shown their interest in joining her in the House of Representatives.
By the end of November, the Association for Maquilas (AMAC) along with the Women’s Group for Juarez filed suit to change the electricity rates for the Juarez area. According to Servando Arabia, director for the AMAC, “We are trying to modify the tariff 1b which is now used in the border to tariff 1d which is being used in Mexicali”. As a comparison, in Juarez they pay 100 pesos for the same amount of electricity that costs 32 pesos in Mexicali. He also said the maquilas are worried about the standard of living their employees have due to the economic state of the country. Victoria Caraveo, representative for the group of Women for Juarez, added that “In Mexicali, tariff 1d is used, but we don’t know the basis used to apply this and why we don’t have it here in Juarez,”.