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  Number 357 | Abril 2011
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Mexico

The Lost War against Drugs And Other Wars

The war on drug traffickers and organized crime is lost and its net result will be enormous profits, thousands dead and a broken nation. Mexico’s government is compounding this by using its national war against drugs to crush the Zapatistas in a local war. This “other war” isn’t limited to Chiapas, but is being brutally directed against indigenous communities all over the country that are defending their territories against the government and the market.

Jorge Alonso

According to the 2010 census, Mexico has 112.3 million inhabitants, making it the world’s eleventh most populated country. The population pyramid narrows at the base and widens in the middle due to a decline in the ratio of children.

Another notable finding of this census is the existence of great inequality, which is also corroborated by data that appeared in the March issue of Forbes: the richest man in the world is Carlos Slim, a Mexican businessman whose personal fortune of US$74 billion dollars increased by 38% in just one year.

A country of millionaires
and the very poor

Data on Mexicans with immense fortunes shows that the very wealthiest are those who benefited when President Salinas privatized state enterprises. The Mexican drug trafficker Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán is on the list of the world’s richest millionaires. Another of these mega-millionaires is the owner of the mine responsible for miners’ deaths at Pasta de Conchos in 2006 and repression against the Cananea miners. The eleven richest Mexicans amass US$125,000 billion, equivalent to 12.4% of Mexico’s gross domestic product, an atrocious fact when one considers that 44% of Mexicans live in poverty. Most Mexicans’ welfare levels were reduced during 2010. Organizations advocating worker’s rights have reported that Mexico’s wage policy continues to be one of the most dilatory of all countries. Small wage increases have been rapidly overtaken by escalating inflation in the cost of goods and services. The rising prices of basic goods have resulted in workers’ buying power dropping by 30%.

Besides all this, the increase in drug trafficking, which follows the capitalist business logic of maximum profits in the shortest time, plus the particularly essential additions in this “business” of violent suppression of competitors, corruption and impunity, has plunged the country into a severe crisis of insecurity.

Drowned in blood

The war against drugs, promoted by President Calderón in an attempt to obtain a legitimacy he didn’t win through the ballot box, has been drowning Mexico in blood. Although the business organizations initially supported that policy, entrepreneurs now admit to being frightened by its consequences, particularly in the north.

This war has involved thousands of deaths. The media report a large number of murders throughout the country, many with sadistic and terrifying violence, as a routine fact of everyday life. Many people who aren’t remotely involved with drug traffickers are dying in Calderon’s war, yet drug addiction has only increased in recent years. And some drug gangs now lethally attack rehabilitation centers to avoid losing clients. The government has been intentionally negligent about touching the drug business’ raw nerve: its finances.

Nightmare for migrants

There’s also been an increase in the kidnapping of both nationals and Central American migrants enduring a painful and dangerous odyssey to reach the US border, where they once again meet an entanglement of drug traffickers and ruthless traffickers in persons.

This alliance frequently forces those who want to go work in the United States to organize into groups to saturate the migration police vehicles, so other groups forced to carry drugs in their backpacks can make it through. More than a few Central American migrants who fall into the hands of drug gangs, have to stay as hostages until their families pay a heavy ransom or they are forced to work as slaves for the drug traffickers. Collective death is not an exceptional danger any more.

Absent government

Another effect of Calderón’s war is the fragmentation of the drug cartels, and the emergence of new gangs that fight for areas of influence. Drug trafficking has taken advantage of the serious crisis affecting voracious neoliberal capitalism, which has left masses of young people without study or job opportunities. It recruits many of them to act as spies in everyday life. Placed at the town entrances or central plazas, they use disposable phones to report who’s on the move and who’s susceptible to attack. They also recruit drug retailers and even hired killers from amongst these young people. Whole regions of Mexico are controlled by different drug gangs and the State is virtually absent.

To further compound the situation, the government has taken advantage of this war to attack and criminalize social protest, enormously increasing violations of the most fundamental human rights. In addition to harassing, persecuting and criminalizing human rights groups, the government is also infiltrated by the drug gangs, increasing the endemic corruption.

Wikileaks: Unsuccessful war

As if all that weren’t enough, cables revealed by Wikileaks show that national sovereignty has been seriously damaged, with the US government deciding on strategies in this war. The cables show the failings of both Mexico’s politicians and its army.

The US consul in Monterrey expressed doubts about the effectiveness of the Mexican army in the fight against drugs.
And it can be deduced from a cable from a former US consul in Ciudad Juárez in 2009 that he felt that the Mexican army looked favorably on the Sinaloa cartel taking over Juárez in the dispute for control of this city. In 2011, the Secretary for the US Department of Homeland Security considered that the situation in Mexico was worsening. The FBI agreed that the Mexican authorities have had no success in the fight against drugs.

It also uncovered a covert operation called “Fast and Furious,” through which an official US agency had given approximately 2,000 heavy-caliber weapons to criminal groups, allegedly to track them, but hadn’t been able to effectively do so. It was also learned that US spy planes routinely fly over Mexican territory.

Loss of sovereignty

Given this information, Mexican legislators have protested against the United States doing business with criminal gangs while Mexicans supply the cannon fodder. They have condemned US intervention, complaining that a foreign government is deciding Mexico’s domestic action and positing that we pull out of the so-called Mérida Initiative, a security agreement that involves Mexico receiving US aid in exchange for being subject to that country’s strategies.

Representative Muñoz Ledo pointed out the huge contradiction of the US declaring that it can’t prevent the sale of guns to Mexican groups, yet decreeing an arms embargo on Libya. Prolific writer and political analyst John Saxe-Fernández admonished that we Mexicans suffer from an anti-national, pro-consular regime with Mexican-based US officials and agencies acting as authorities on matters of domestic security. And the Archdiocese of Mexico directly blamed the United States for the violence in Mexico.

“No more bloodshed”

In January of this year, given the evident failure of his war against drugs, President Calderón denied having used the word “war.” He has been contradicted by many analysts who have shown how, emphatically and with a lot of symbolism, Calderón has used the media to try to impose a war that he can’t win. Radio and TV anchorwoman Carmen Aristegui showed that this war had become the government’s main and practically sole commitment... at which it had proved inefficient.

There have been spontaneous demonstrations against the violence in many cities, particularly in the north but also in the west and the center of the country. A few newspaper cartoonists launched a “No more bloodshed” campaign, acclaimed by artists and intellectuals. Independent TV producer Epigmenio Ibarra said people mustn’t become inured to the killings and accept the government’s excuse that the drug traffickers are killing each other. Novelist, essayist and poet Fernando del Paso declared that violence is the result of many years of poverty and of failures in the education system. Many insisted it’s essential for society to express its opposition to Calderón’s war, which has increased the climate of insecurity and fear in Mexico. Playwright Luis Mario Moncada said society is sick and tired of not being consulted about ineffective actions that don’t correspond to a genuine state policy on security. Leftist university professor and art critic Alberto Híjar stressed the need to respond to the increase in state terrorism.

They terrorize more this way

The “No more bloodshed” campaign led to people finding their own ways to protest in their hometowns and tell the government that enough is enough. Award-winning journalist Miguel Ángel Granados Chapa described how the government’s repressive forces go where atrocious mass murders have taken place not to prevent such acts but to further terrorize an already injured people. He praised the campaign that emerged from the base, declaring that “No more bloodshed” makes the protesters feel less powerless.

A number of indigenous communities have had to defend themselves, under disadvantageous conditions, from the incursions of drug traffickers. In January, a commando force of dozens of men burned down houses and the school in a north-western community of Tepehuán people. The villagers, knowing the government lacked the capacity to combat this crime, decided to defend their territory themselves. Harassment from drug gangs has forced other Tepehuán people to migrate.

Marcos: A revealing text

Political writer and university professor Víctor Flores Olea views the war started by Calderón as a business that is destroying and terrorizing the country and praised Subcomandante Marcos, spokesperson for the Zapatista National Liberation front (EZLN), for his “incisive analysis, both true and revealing, about the state of war prevailing in Mexico.” After a long silence, Marcos’s words appeared in the form of a letter addressed to the distinguished philosopher Luis Villoro and published in the newspaper La Jornada between January and February. Marcos explains that his long communiqué, titled “Notes on Wars,” deals with fragmented ideas just as the Mexican reality does. His words had to “go and come, dodging roadblocks and police and military patrols, and describe a reality “without anesthetics.”

The writing has an introduction and four parts. The first part is dedicated to “the war from above,” in which Marcos reminds us that war statues conceal more than they show; that they are erected as a song in stone to recall military victories, concealing the horror, destruction and death of all wars. These statues try to provide the victors a reminder of their success and make the vanquished forget their defeat. He refers to the war in Iraq, with the business of destruction being followed by the business of reconstruction. Although there are still ongoing casualties amongst US troops, the important thing is that the money comes and goes, smoothly and abundantly.

“Legitimate” barbarism

In this same section, Marcos also speaks of the “legitimization of barbarism.” Victors are not content to win wars; they also want to morally defeat the vanquished with publicity that legitimizes themselves. Regarding the US justification for invading Iraq—the danger of weapons of mass destruction—it didn’t matter that they didn’t exist or that Bush’s government knew he was lying; a massive and expensive media montage was used so that the horror, destruction and death unleashed wouldn’t upset the invaders and their allies. Marcos considers that not only is material strength essential in a war; equally indispensable is having the “moral” force of the mass media, both electronic and written. As part of the lie, he reminds us that they also decreed the war had ended when it’s still continuing.

Marcos also explores the “geography of war,” the attempt to destroy not only the enemy’s ability to fight in order to impose the victor’s will, but also his moral ability, even when he still has physical capacity. Marcos points out that it’s no longer possible to situate a conflict in a purely physical terrain, as the field of war is becoming increasingly more complicated.

In a nuclear war scenario, for example, there would be no victors or vanquished after total and irreversible destruction. And that’s why we’ve moved from great wars to medium and small ones and international diplomacy is integrated into regional and national wars. Instead of one nuclear war, there have been innumerable conflicts at all levels, with millions of people dead or displaced, nations destroyed and multi-millions in profits for the transnational companies.

Destroy to rebuild

Marcos stresses that military theory has discovered it’s possible to have conflicts where an militarily superior opponent can’t impose its will on a weak rival. He gives the examples of the Bay of Pigs and Vietnam.

He asks us not to forget that those making war want to impose their will on the conquered territory. Today, capitalism wants to destroy/depopulate, and rebuild/reorganize the conquered territory. In today’s wars it’s not enough to conquer territory and receive tribute from those defeated. Capitalism is currently at a point where it wants to destroy and depopulate the conquered territory and destroy the social fabric of the conquered people, which means annihilating everything that gives it cohesion as a society. Parallel to the destruction and depopulation, it conducts the territory’s reconstruction and the reorganization of its social fabric with another system, logic and actors. Wars impose new geographies.

War on crime is big business

In the second part of his treatise, Marcos talks about Mexico’s war from above, emphasizing that Mexican reality is invaded by it. He astutely suggests that, thanks to Calderón, it’s no longer necessary to go to the Middle East to reflect critically about war. The war has erupted into Mexican daily life because it’s been imposed from the place of power, from above. “The one who took over the federal executive by the de facto route wasn’t content with media support and had to resort to something more to distract attention and evade the massive questioning of his legitimacy: war. He thought it would be good for Mexico to have a war, which had the enthusiastic approval of the military high command and the real boss: foreign capital.”

Marcos invites criticism of that national catastrophe called the war against organized crime by “exploring those who economically encourage it.” He suggests looking into the international patents, suppliers and credits of the so-called Mérida Initiative.

With abundant and accurate data collated from various official sources, Marcos shows that the war in Mexico is a huge business and focuses on who is profiting from it. The state agencies responsible for waging this war received the equivalent of US$30.8 billion in the first four years. Marcos offers a detailed breakdown of the budget allocated for this war and leads the reader to visualize the war industries that have benefited with the purchase of weapons, equipment and ammunition. Economically, the United States is the one profiting from selling weapons to the official armed forces and to the drug gangs. And in addition to profits, the war provides it territory and political and military control.

A lost war

Calling on his accumulated data, and that which Wikileaks has uncovered, Marcos summarizes that this is a lost war for the government that started it. However much the government tries to convince people it’s winning, most people know it isn’t true, especially because the media has been outdone by the complex networks much of the population has been using to exchange information. Marcos brings together some very disturbing data: such as that many of those in charge of fighting drug traffickers are in fact infiltrated by them.

Marcos says the government doesn’t want to recognize that the war, the centerpiece of this administration, has failed both militarily and politically. Despite this, he’s convinced the government won’t change its strategy because war is a business that will go on as long as profits can be made.

A broken nation

Calderón has accompanied his military war with another one: against decent work and fair pay. Large numbers of innocent people have grievously been accused of being members of organized crime and have died as a consequence of this terrible and unending war. Marcos stresses that there won’t be a Mexican victor in this war, though an obvious foreign power does have plans to rebuild and reorganize Mexico as a war territory. Worst of all is that this war is destroying the last stronghold a nation has: its social fabric, now completely in shreds.

Marcos describes this failed war as promoted from above, while death spreads below. One wonders how many of the thousands killed were criminals and if the more than a thousand children already killed, which the government has forgotten to enter into its accounts, were organized crime’s hired killers.

He believes that while those above ineffectively try to play down the statistics of the crimes caused by his war, the social fabric is being destroyed throughout Mexico. What prevails is a weapons-based imposition of fear, uncertainty and vulnerability. The net result of this war will be economic profits, thousands of dead and a destroyed and broken nation.

“They managed to
stop the other war”

In the third part of his writing, Marcos asks if anything can be done at this point. He refers back to 17 years ago when a massive mobilization of citizens—without bosses and without leaders—stopped Salinas’ war of extermination against Chiapas’ indigenous rebels.

He deplores the attempt to discredit the cultural workers’ “No more bloodshed” initiative for having refused to subordinate itself to an electoral project. Marcos criticizes the many self-proclaimed leftist contingents that didn’t mobilize their forces to stop the war so the country could survive, instead making petty calculations to mobilize only for the vote in the 2012 electoral campaign. Marcos knows that, despite this, there are those who resist and don’t give up, understanding that solutions don’t come from above but are built from below, among those who aren’t betting on the dreams peddled by a “moribund political class,” who don’t stand still in the face of a war and are actively working for a social alternative of freedom, justice, work and peace.

What is the Zapatista war?

In the fourth part of his letter, Marcos argues that war is inherent to capitalism and that the struggle for peace is anti-capitalist. If in the second part he only touched on the war against the Zapatista communities, which increases when hidden, in this last part he deals directly with the issue of the war waged by the Zapatistas, in which there is the paradox that if they lose they win and if they win they win because their war isn’t one that aims to destroy their opponent.

The Zapatistas are making war to stop being what they currently are and thus to be what they must be. This is possible because they recognize all those both on Mexican soil and in the whole world who, without being the same as the Zapatistas, suffer the same pain, have similar resistance movements, and are fighting for a multiple identity that doesn’t nullify, subjugate or conquer: a world without armies.

The Zapatistas haven’t
sold out or surrendered

Marcos reminds us that the war against Mexico’s indigenous peoples became visible on January 1, 1994. At that time, 17 years ago, Mexican civil society asked them to try to resolve their demands via dialogue. Over and over again, the Zapatistas have complied and, despite the persistent war against them, have insisted on peaceful initiatives.

For years the Zapatistas have resisted military, ideological and economic attacks. So far this year nothing is being said about what’s happening in Zapatista lands; about how, even under the harshest conditions, they haven’t surrendered sold out or given up. They’ve been building a better life for their peoples. The Zapatistas have a sense of community and don’t expect or want solutions to come from above. They have maintained independence of purpose, and their identity gives them a solid shot at survival in the face of disaster. Their agenda isn’t ruled by anxiety because they fearlessly handle it themselves.

Taking advantage of the war

It’s been 17 years since the Zapatistas first made their public appearance. The government has tried to eliminate them in many ways, all tied into a counterinsurgency war and all unsuccessful, because the Zapatistas have been able to progress in building a peaceful autonomy despite it.

In mid March, a national gathering of human rights activists and defenders took place in Chiapas. Marcos clarified that the rumors spread by people in government that he was seriously ill were untrue. He sent a message to the meeting, conveying the Zapatista peoples’ recognition of those who chose the most difficult, uncomfortable and thankless route of defending and promoting human beings’ fundamental rights. He praised those who could have been above and chose to “be with those from below.”

The Zapatista communities have continued building their autonomy, but the government has intensified the counterinsurgency war it has constantly maintained against them. The news filling the media is of a failed war against drugs, but the government is trying to take advantage of that war to crush the Zapatistas, aided and abetted by most of the media.

Official maneuvers

In January the media tried to saddle the Zapatistas with the kidnapping of the controversial National Action Party (PAN) politician, Diego Fernández de Cevallos. The EZLN immediately distanced itself from this event. The maneuver failed because there was no point of contact. Throughout their long years of activism, Zapatistas have never kidnapped people because it goes against their principles. Ever since the ceasefire was declared, Zapatistas have complied with their word and kept to peaceful ways.

The solidarity network against repression immediately refuted the government’s false accusations. There was widespread solidarity among international groups in support of the EZLN, the Zapatista communities and the Other Campaign against the Mexican government’s lies.

The government then devised another way to strike at the communities. Citing errors in legal procedure, the Supreme Court released the people that relatives and friends of those massacred in Acteal in 1997 had identified as the perpetrators of this crime.

The government continued its undeclared fight against the communities’ daily life. Early this year the Tzotzil community of Miztión again denounced violent aggressions by government-protected paramilitaries. This community has opposed the building of a new highway through its land. Bachajón, another Zapatista community, investigated and detained assailants, handing them over to the authorities, but they were released.

Another official maneuver, in collusion with government authorities, is for people to violently occupy farms, falsely presenting themselves as from the Other Campaign. Authorities have also promoted and protected persons affiliated with political parties who evict members of the Other Campaign from the places they control and have imprisoned people blamed for crimes they haven’t committed, to wear them down with rigged lawsuits.

Through their lands

The government uses paramilitaries to attack Zapatista communities, evict them from their land and then accuse them of the aggression. Later, sham agreements, excluding the assaulted community, are made with government supporters to divvy up the spoils. When the communities demonstrate to defend themselves, they are repressed.

There have been many demonstrations calling for the release of imprisoned Zapatistas. The government uses those unjustly imprisoned to pressure and blackmail the communities into negotiating and surrendering their land rights to permit governmental tourism and investment plans benefiting the companies involved. The communities have both nationally and internationally denounced all the attacks, sparing no detail.

In the first quarter of 2011 the Chiapas government launched an official offensive against the Zapatistas’ Other Campaign, unjustly imprisoning community members and human rights lawyers. The World Organization against Torture denounced the arbitrary arrest of Other Campaign members and the violation of their human rights.

The Fray Bartolomé de las Casas Human Rights Center has accused the Chiapas state government of criminalizing Zapatista support bases and seriously violating their human rights in judicial proceedings the government has brought against them. The center underscores the fact that the Chiapas government is creating and managing conflicts to exercise territorial control that stomps on the indigenous communities’ rights.

The territorial dispute is based on the fact that private investors covet these lands. Investment projects have proposed dispossessing people through forced evictions; co-opting them to sign agreements; military and police occupation and criminalization of the defenders.

The government’s on the offensive

The government has set aside the dialogue and the community arrangement made in 2010 by which local people manage and preserve their resources, moving into an aggressive offensive. The human rights organization believes the government is trying to make the conflicts it’s causing seem as if they are between communities. The situation is the result of a comprehensive war of attrition against organizations in the region.

The communities’ autonomy project to defend their lands negatively affects the government by preventing the privatization of these lands for business projects. In New York, London, Edinburgh, Paris, Berlin, Barcelona and Buenos Aires, groups associated with the Zapatista Other Campaign denounced the Mexican federal government and the Chiapas government as repressive, pointing out that the continuous repression against the communities by the military, police and paramilitaries is a disturbing problem.

This other war is against
all indigenous peoples

This other war is against communities, especially the indigenous communities that are trying to find ways to survive away from capital and the government. And it’s not confined to Chiapas; it’s brutally apparent throughout the country.

The Mexican government has sided with the predatory companies endeavoring to control the natural wealth of indigenous peoples who are unwilling to be despoiled of their heritage. Many of them oppose the mining companies’ activities because they pollute their lands. Numerous communities are fighting the so-called mega-projects—large dams—that are trying to evict them from their lands and homes. In other words, indigenous peoples are facing multiple dispossessions and are resisting them.

An account of their struggles was given at the National Indigenous Congress meetings held in the Mezcala community on the banks of Lake Chapala this January, and in the Purépecha community of Nurío in March.

They spoke out in Mezcala

That first meeting included a statement from the attending communities against the privatization and manipulation of Mezcala Island in the State of Jalisco, demanding the annulment of dozens of mining concessions granted to large national and foreign mining companies. They raised their voices to defend the peoples opposing the violation of their sacred sites by road construction. They denounced the massive invasion of transnational avocado companies in southern Jalisco. They rejected the despoiling of the Purépecha community forests. They demanded respect for the Michoacan community of Santa María de Ostula and respect for its community police.

They also demanded a declaration of innocence and unconditional release for several indigenous political prisoners
across the country whose only crime was defending their communities. They rejected the military response through Calderón’s ordering of harassment of the villages by the army and many paramilitary groups. They defended the Triqui people of Oaxaca and the Zapatista Caracoles and Good Government Councils in Chiapas, and rejected the dispossession of lands belonging to the people of the Tehuantepec Isthmus.

And they spoke out in Nurío

At the second meeting they continued listing all these problems and emphatically added the demand that the paramilitaries leave the various communities, recalling that 15 years ago they signed the San Andrés Agreements as the supreme law of the indigenous peoples, expressing their autonomy. They announced that they will continue building their peoples’ autonomy and stressed that they will defend the ancient right to land in every beach, lake, river, forest, desert and jungle because Mother Nature is not a commodity and they are all a part of her.

They affirmed that the National Indigenous Congress doesn’t forget its dead, which give them the strength to resist the onslaught of bad government and the threats of big capital. They defined the Congress as a safe place for indigenous peoples, an arena for reflection, where their word can flow back and forth; a word that is history, work, dance, music, school, land, dignity, form and autonomous life. The indigenous peoples are gratified to have a place where they can share experiences, sorrows and joy; where they have built brotherhood and sisterhood and rebellion and defended their lands, water, community radios and dignity.

Members of the Zapatistas’ Other Campaign, indigenous peoples, peasants, workers of all kinds, young anarchists, neighborhood organizations, and so many more are suffering the onslaught of this other war that the government and capital have unleashed on them under the cover of the failed war against drugs. This congregation of those from below has learned persistence, patience and long-term creativity from the indigenous peoples.

Clues from the Arab world

In our attempt to understand the dynamic of those from below facing the ambiguous war of capital and of the State against drug trafficking and the war against the autonomy of those from below, we can be helped by certain clues that the Morrocan-born French philosopher Alain Badiou has offered us in his analysis of what’s currently happening in the Arab world.

Badiou draws attention to the decadence of any State, which means that one day, freely associated in deploying the creative power they possess, peoples can manage for themselves without fatal state coercion. Another of his clues deals with the fact that those from below don’t breed an alleged contagion that spreads but rather create a resonance, something formed in one place that resounds with a shock wave elsewhere. This is precisely what has happened with the Zapatist movement in Mexico; it has produced resonances, especially in the building of autonomies.

Badiou emphasizes that resonance has to do with what he defines as an event, the creation of innumerable possibilities that aren’t a repetition of what’s already known. Badiou tells us that at the start of an event, “the people” consists of those who know how to resolve the problems that event presents them with.

The destiny of an event is to resolve insoluble problems, without the help of the State. Badiou calls attention to the fact that thousands of new possibilities related to the contradictions arise all the time, possibilities to which the State, any State, is totally blind.

In response to a blind State

Before such a state, an organized fidelity is forged that begins imagining the successive stages of action in a dynamic of emancipation. All this is happening in the Zapatistas’ Other Campaign, but it’s not enough. The creative survival of those from below also requires staunch solidarity to impede the constant aggression of the war they’re suffering.


Jorge Alonso is a researcher for the Center for Research and Higher Studies in Social Anthropology (CIESAS) in Guadalajara, Jalisco, and the envío correspondent in Mexico.

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