Luis Daniel Prieto, informal worker in Mexico, arrested for protesting poverty conditions during pandemic

Luis Daniel Prieto, a churro street vendor in Lagos de Moreno, Jalisco, was arrested Friday while protesting outside of the city hall against the government’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic, which has further impoverished informal workers that compose a substantial section of the Mexican working class.

Prieto is well known locally for defending workers’ social and democratic rights against employers, on his Facebook page “La pocilga laboral” and by physically accompanying workers to court hearings and protests. He has previously been subjected to beatings and an attempted break-in by company thugs, as reported by the World Socialist Web Site.

While he was later released, his arrest Friday is an ominous sign that Prieto is being targeted by the state forces as they turn to increasingly dictatorial methods to suppress social opposition during the pandemic crisis.

After his release, Prieto explained to the World Socialist Web Site, “I immediately went to the prosecutor’s office to file a lawsuit against the mayor for kidnapping. There was no arrest warrant or any basis to detain me because I committed no crime. I just protested peacefully, which is a right enshrined in the Constitution.”

News and images of his arrest were quickly shared across local social media pages. One widely shared publication indicated: “Watch out! Now we can’t express ourselves freely, and this happens today when a saleswoman was murdered in downtown Lagos, while murder victims are found daily.”

The World Socialist Web Site condemns the arrest of Prieto as a threat against the working class. Prieto’s most recent protests began after local authorities forced him to leave the corner in downtown Lagos de Moreno where he and another worker sold churros on July 27, 2020. “They brought some police officials that pointed guns at us and said we had to leave, or they would jail us,” explained Prieto. “There was no explanation, they simply that ‘they had orders from above.’”

At the city hall, officials told him that they were removed because of COVID-19 regulations at that specific corner. Prieto explains that no other street vendor in the same block or area was removed and that he was following the official safety protocols. “It seems like a reprisal because, as they know, we protest in defense of workers,” adds Prieto.

After brief lockdown orders in late March and April, the federal government of President Andrés Manuel López Obrador and the local Jalisco authorities implemented a broad reopening in May. By July 1, Jalisco had opened parks, other outdoors places and all businesses except for bars, movie theaters and other indoor gathering places.

Neither the López Obrador administration or the Jalisco governor, Enrique Alfaro Ramírez, ever provided economic aid to workers or small businesses beyond loans. When announcing the shutdown in March, the Lagos de Moreno mayor Tecutli Gómez announced that he would provide 2,000 pesos ($100) to street vendors affected. “That aid was never seen,” Prieto said and added: “Beyond being a miserable amount, among us street vendors, we never found out who received it. It was all a sham.”

The pandemic response of the federal and local authorities of every political party in Mexico has been based on reckless reopenings to safeguard the profits of the major corporations and banks. The ruling class has refused to provide any aid to workers who have been fired or lost their income, employing the threat of total immiseration as a battering ram to compel others to return to infected workplaces, while channeling resources to service debts to Wall Street and wealthy Mexican bondholders.

This deliberate homicidal policy has resulted in 1.4 million confirmed COVID-19 cases and 160,000 deaths in Mexico—the third highest death toll in the world.

Street vendors and small shops, meanwhile, are compelled to choose between not having food on the table or placing themselves, their families, and others at risk of infection. “If we don’t sell, we don’t eat,” said Prieto.

After having already suffered a major loss of sales over the pandemic—about a third, according to Prieto—he was forced to move his cart of churros far from the downtown area.

In response, Prieto protested for about half an hour every week outside of city hall with signs that say: “I’m in poverty thanks to the rats at the city council. Here is where the robberies occur at Lagos de Moreno.”

In a protest earlier this month, Prieto caught mayor Tecutli Gómez threatening him on tape. As Prieto called him “corrupt” and a “thief,” Gómez responded, “Find me when I’m not a mayor.”

Then, on Friday, Gómez had Prieto arrested without presenting any warrant. Prieto says, “They locked me up, ripped my pants with a knife, took all my belongings and placed them in a bag.” Then he explained to a doctor at the prison that he was being kidnapped, explaining the government was unjustifiably placing himself and others at risk of contracting COVID-19.

He then heard police officials discussing that they had no basis for keeping him there before he was finally released. Trying to humiliate Prieto, one police officer recorded him with a cellphone as Prieto walked out pulling up his torn pants.

“The government keeps repressing the working class,” concludes Prieto, “in our case we are street vendors without benefits or social security, we live from our sales. Meanwhile, as it happens everywhere in the world, the ruling classes are mafia-like to ruin workers, whether they are street workers, factory workers or government workers.”

While the ruling class gets richer during the pandemic and shifts to openly authoritarian forms, workers must respond by organizing rank-and-file workplace and neighborhood committees to unite every section of the working class in Mexico and internationally to shut down all nonessential activities with full compensation for workers and small businesses. These organizations must be independent of the trade unions and all capitalist parties, which have consistently defended the pandemic profiteers.

As the WSWS wrote, “Freeing the productive forces from the constraints of the capitalist for-profit system and expropriating the wealth of the rich are urgent and immediate necessities, required to combat the pandemic and save millions of lives.”