Mexican pipeline explosions indicate comeback of leftist guerrilla group

The People's Revolutionary Army claimed responsibility for attacks that disrupted oil and gas supplies.

The explosions that ripped apart Mexican oil and gas pipelines on Monday, disrupting gas supplies and triggering a spike in oil and gas prices, indicates the comeback of a leftist guerrilla group, boding more trouble for the already beleaguered Mexican president Felipe Calderón.

The Houston Chronicle reports that the People's Revolutionary Army, or EPR, says it spearheaded the attacks.

A small guerrilla group took responsibility Tuesday for attacks on oil and gas pipelines that forced factories across the country to scale back or close for lack of energy supplies.
A communique sent to Mexican media from the People's Revolutionary Army, or EPR, said the attacks were intended to force the release of two of the group's leaders, whom the rebels believe are held by President Felipe Calderon's government.

After the six explosions, which could be seen from miles away, flames and smoke rose over the state of Veracruz, which is along the Gulf coast, reports the Associated Press. There were no reports of injuries, but 21,000 people were evacuated from the area as a precaution. The blasts caused "brief jitters" in international financial markets; natural-gas futures rose as much as 20.2 cents, though prices dropped in later trading.

The explosions sent authorities scrambling to increase protection across strategic installations. The Mexican Army and armed forces on Tuesday activated a state of red alert on important oil facilities, reports Prensa Latina, a Latin American news agency.

Mr. Calderón, who is touring Asia, has denounced the attacks and promised to bring the bombers to justice.

Nevertheless, the attacks have raised concern about energy security in one of the world's major oil producers. "The oil price rises reflect concern that the attacks may be part of a long term problem," says ExecDigital, an online business newsletter.

The EPR first emerged in the mid-1990s, operating mostly in the states of Oaxaca and Guerrero as a "pro-people" resistance group. It soon splintered into smaller factions and largely vanished following an Army crackdown on guerrilla members and sympathizers.

The group reappeared last year amid civil strife in the Oaxaca state capital, claiming responsibility for bombing Mexico City banks. Bloomberg reports that the coordinated attacks show an "evolution of the group's ability to threaten the nation's economy."

"For some reason this group has shown more capacity to carry out serious attacks in the last year than it has shown in its whole history," said Jorge Chabat, a political science professor at the Center for Economic Research and Teaching, a Mexico City-based research group.

Some analysts suggested that the guerrilla group had links with a drug-trafficking cartel, according to The Dallas Morning News. But others saw different reasons for its comeback.

The rebel group's re-emergence, [Ricardo Aléman, a columnist for El Universal, said], appears to be directly related to the presidential elections of last year in which the conservative National Action Party barely beat the leftist Party of the Democratic Revolution, or PRD, which alleged vote fraud.
[Mr. Aléman said the rebels] ... "see themselves as fighting an illegitimate right-wing government."

The recent attacks appeared to be calculated to cause maximum economic disruption without taking lives.

The New York Times points out that the attacks come at a time of considerable unrest in Mexico.

The sabotage of the gas pipelines punctuated an already turbulent political season in Mexico, where it has become clear that the wounds of last year's hotly contested presidential race still have not healed. Leftist politicians recently used parliamentary rules to keep [Calderón] from giving his annual address to Congress, and they boycotted a ceremony during which he delivered his address in writing.
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