By THÉRÈSE MARGOLIS
For many outsiders, the violent clash between opposing worker groups at the Cruz Azul cement plant in Tula, Hidalgo, on Wednesday, April 27, which left eight people dead and nearly a dozen others injured, came as a shock.
But for those who follow Mexican trade union politics, it was just the culmination of a long-simmering internal dispute.
A power struggle between warring workers groups to control the La Cruz Azul Labor Cooperative has been under litigation for more than two years.
Since the fall of long-time trade boss Guillermo “Billy” Álvarez Cuevas as president of the cooperative workers union, two opposing groups have legally disputed claim to his political throne, and even come to blows with members of the Cruz Azul board of directors.
Álvarez Cuevas, who had ruled the cooperative since 1988 with a heavy hand (and, allegedly, a heavy dose of corruption), was forced to resign in April 2021 after Interpol issued an all-points warrant for his arrest for purported acts of racketeering, money laundering and extortion.
Meanwhile, a Mexican federal judge also ordered the arrest of Álvarez Cuevas and four other cohorts for the alleged laundering of more than 114 million pesos through seven fake invoice companies.
Currently, Álvarez Cuevas’ whereabouts are unknown.
With Álvarez Cuevas’ abrupt departure, a power vacuum erupted among the workers, with two major factions leading the pack.
One of those factions is headed by José Antonio Marín Gutiérrez and Víctor Manuel Velázquez Rangel, and the other by Federico Sarabia Pozo and Alberto López Morales.
Both claim be the “legitimate” leaders of the cooperative, but the Sarabia Pozo group is currently managing the plant’s operations.
The “in-power” Sarabia Pozo clan has claimed that Marín Gutiérrez orchestrated Wednesday’s violent attempted coup, hiring mercenaries and thugs to attack the plant.
Marín Gutiérrez and his supporters have denied these allegations.
But one thing is certain: Until there is a universally recognized union boss at the head of the Cruz Azul Cooperative, the tensions — and, most probably the violence — will only continue to escalate.