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Bunny-robbers and head-choppers: the Mega-March

2 September 2008
Luis Acosta, Agence France-Presse, Getty Images

Luis Acosta, Agence France-Presse, Getty Images

How representative the impressive anti-crime marches last Sunday were of the people as a whole, I can’t say.  Lotta folks… somewhere between 10,000 and a million, depending on which news report you believe.

Given the heavy “official” propaganda on telvisa and in the “mainstream media” it didn’t seem all that different than any of the old PRI rallies where campesinos were trucked in to cheer whatever the administration was trying to sell as a populist measure.  But, unlike those rallies, this one had a dress code, which gave it a creepy Nuremburg Rally — or something out of North Korean — feel.  Here in Mazatlan, where there is a sizable foreign community, the foreigners were led to believe they were in a “peace march” and their attendance was requested.

I declined, not so much because its probably illegal but that any foreign participation internal politics is a surefire way to suggest outside manipulation of a movement.  The invite also suggested to me that this was a movement of the haves, not the have-nots.

The (Mexico City) News [sorry, no link] suggests I’m right, in that they took some pains to find working class people to quote:

Some citizens wondered why it took the death of a wealthy teen to finally draw so many people out in protest.

“The march is for the rich,” said Guillermo Tenorio, a judo instructor at the UNAM who decided not to attend. “Kidnap the rich and there will be a reaction, kidnap the poor and God help them.”

Organizers of Let´s Light Up Mexico said the criticism is just meant to undercut an effort by vocal community leaders, who they say come from all economic classes.

“It´s easy to criticize, but going through the trouble of organizing this event is a lot more difficult,” said Laura Elena Herrejón, a spokesperson for the march.

Some protesters interviewed by The News were from the working class, including Felipe Pérez, a member of a group of bus drivers from the high-crime suburb of Chimalhuacán.

It was more than just class issues that bothered a significant number of people.  I’m sure Ms. Herrejon and her committee put in shit-loads of work, but the organized left will argue that the administration is manipulating insecurity for their own reasons. For example, consider this statement, loosely translated from Blogotitlan:

While the narcos settle accounts with their treasonous accomplices in the government, their sponsors on the extreme right distract us by organizing marches without focusing on the origin of the terror. The obvious political look to the “Light Up Mexico” marches, promoted endlessly in the media by the business organization opposed to Marcelo Ebrard (they don’t dare lay the problem at the feet of Calderón, guilty of sins of commission and omission), now tries to distract attention from the fact that they have ignored official corruption going back to the timeof Salinas de Gorari, who gave impunity and protection to these gangsters, even when the “narcomanta” messages directed at high government officials, spell it out for them.

Just being against crime is easy.  But, is a crime like this (I found the translation in “Infoshop Anarchist News“) really much of a threat?

“Animal liberation is not just two words written in zines, web sites, T-shirts, tattoos or patches; animal liberation is not just words spoken at animal rights meetings, shouted at peaceful demonstrations or rumors spoken about different people; animal liberation is deeds, fury turned into action, a radical response against the anthropocentric system of domination, the love for freedom; it’s what few dare to carry out; it is a challenge to authority, to society, to the system and to its institutions. It is a fire that spreads and that is unstoppable; it is insurrection.

Animal liberation is all this and more; so on August 23 a rabbit was liberated from one of the many ‘pet’ stores in Mexico City (Federal District) in broad daylight and before the eyes of the owners and nearby merchants.

For the animals there is not justice, there is only us.

Frente de Liberación Animal – Comando Verde Negro (FLA-CVN) – México”

Bunny-rabbit liberation?  But seriously folks…

I suppose shoplifting could be a political act, though robbing a corner pet shop isn’t likely to bring down anything (except maybe the owner’s profit margin for the week) — and I have no idea if Bugs joined the revolution or not.  I don’t think the FLA-CVN is exactly going to be discussed in the next National Security meeting, but the government may want to pay attention to the politicization of crime. The latest headless corpses to surface — in Petalan Guerrero — came with the usual “dear assholes” notes. These were addressed specifically to Rogaciano Alba Álvarez and another person.

Alba Álvarez was the intended target of a massacre last May in Iguala, his sons were pulled off a bus and shot and his daughter was kidnapped. People really don’t like the guy… but it doesn’t seem to have anything to do with narcotics, but rather with clandestine logging and a “wild west” type rancher v. homesteader war (the variation from the cowboy movie setup being the homesteaders were there first, and the cattlemen are trying to drive them out).  The foreign press (like the idiotic AP)  assumes the crime has something to do with narcotics… which will make it all the harder to separate political issues (especially when violence is involved) from criminal ones.

This is not a “compare and contrast exercise.  But notice that the shoplifter uses the language of political discourse, and the political/economic dispute takes on the (gruesome) techniques of common criminals.

Narcotics trafficking has been seen as somehow different than other crimes, and maybe it is, but declaring “war” against what are just gangsters has escalated the violence.  The gangsters have become more sophisticated (and deadly) in retaliation.  That is, instead of fighting the local coppers, they’re in a full scale war… with an alarming body count:

Violence has risen throughout Mexico since President Felipe Calderon, who took office at the end of 2006, launched a crackdown on drug trafficking and related attacks that included the deployment of more than 36,000 soldiers across the country.

While, certainly, local police are all too often, as Herberto Ortega, the public safety secretary in Aguascalientes said, “illiterate, sick, fat, old and corrupt” (CNN), the Calderon Administratin has been quick to put the troops into the streets, and slow to consider how best to get literate, healthy, slim, young and honest cops.

The Army’s job is to fight enemies of the Republic.  That could include criminals, but — as we’ve seen over the last year and a half —  it means the escalating violence you’d expect during a military surge  AND a de facto nationalized police under Presidential — not local — control.  Local disputes, like those in Oaxaca at the start of Calderon’s administration, and like that involving Rogaciano Alba Álvarez are being treated the same as interstate criminal conspiracies.  As I’ve said, I don’t blame the soldiers — even when they fuck up — for trying to do their job.  And I don’t even blame Generals.

Where there are unresolved political and economic disputes, there will be violence.  One would hope disagreements were settled without violence, but it doesn’t always work out that way.   Sorting the common criminals from the political dissidents should not be the Army’s job.  Although the military remains a respected insitution in this country (and — though it suprises some — historically sympathetic to the left), it loses credibility with the people when it ends up on the “wrong” side.

When this happens, people are going to try to acquire the “skills set” they need to compete.  Pancho Villa — to use a famous example — found banditry and cattle rustling the perfect training for his military carreer.  How much it prepared him for his administrative and political one can be disputed.  But you see the problem.

Mexico does not have the problems of Colombia, but there’s a belief that a Colombian-style solution (a la “Plan Merida” and more U.S. “assistance”) is relevent.  Colombia had been in a civil war since the 1950s and a political solution was nowhere in sight.  Adding a “war on cocaine dealers and growers” created a second wave of violence, which was used to justify still more internal military presence, which was used as much against the people fighting the “establishment” as against the gangsters.  Natually, the gangsters — enemies of the establishment — joined with, and co-opted, the dissidents.  Or the dissidents co-opted the gangsters.  It doesn’t really matter much.  In the end, the establishment coopted at least one faction (the far right) and established a sort of solution.  A state run by  narcotics traffickers, which uses its anti-narcotics funding to wipe out opposition traffickers and everyone else who opposes their power.

Yes, Bogata is “safe.” But so is the tomb.

In Mexico, we have narcotics traffickers — some of whom are protected by officials, or have corrupted them — and we have a government viewed as the far right by a significant number of people.  People are rightly tired of it, and do want security.  But, they want justice too.  Those logging and farm fights that get heads chopped off in Guerrero, or the union corruption that led to violence in Oaxaca — and I suppose the rights of bunny rabbits — need to be considered too.   There are some excellent anti-crime provisions both in the 75-points and in the Informe, but gangsterism has to be kept in perspective.  Focusing on crime and punishment  (important as they are) to the detriment of equaltiy, justice, liberty, progress… whatever the goals of a nation are… would make us not a police state, but a gangster state.

7 Comments leave one →
  1. ElGato permalink
    2 September 2008 12:08 pm

    The traditions of impunity and corruption commence at an early age in all the Catholic countries. At an early age, little ones are told they must ‘confess’ to the village priest, receive forgiveness for that week, then confess again, etc. Pay a token penalty for dispensation. Extrapolate that to adulthood and the result is that ‘nothing is illegal-somethings are just more expensive than others.’ And along with that belief comes a complete contempt for the rule of law. We Latinos insist we maintain our traditions, where one can squeeze by if he has proper connections or enough to bribe. It’s a cultural issue, not one that troops or police can change. Many Latino politicians for centuries, honest and far-sighted people, have tackled this fundamental mindset and failed in their attempts. Only Latinos can solve our own problems and we don’t want to live in such a ‘cold’ society!!

  2. Margaret permalink
    2 September 2008 2:55 pm

    The colour commentary on the march that I listened to on Canal 28 was gushing about “probably the biggest march ever” and strangely made no mention of the similarly white-clad demonstration of June 27, 2004, which also rallied several hundred thousand people. The 2004 march, also billed as protesting against crime, was a thinly-veiled attack on AMLO and the PRD government of the DF. I can’t say what interests sponsored this one, but some of your researches suggest the motivation and stakeholders were similar.

    And why just now? Because of the convenient rallying point of the tragic death of the Marti youth, or because of some goal in sight?

  3. Mike S permalink
    2 September 2008 10:46 pm

    Rich, are you really suggesting that participants in the demonstration weren’t “all that different” than PRIsta “acarreados”?

    There is a long history of marches against violence, reaching back at least to the famous “Take back the night” marches that began in the 70s. It’s common in the US, Canada and elsewhere for towns or cities to hold such marches after a particularly shocking crime to express not only their indignation and desire for justice, but also solidarity with the victims.

    Politicians will, of course, try to “spin” the events into their favor. But who would tell those who thought to participate in such a march that they shouldn’t because it might be misused by some politician? That it would be better if they just stayed at home and shut up? Who would say that anyone–even one who had family or friends murdered, maimed or kidnapped–who took to the streets and wore a white t-shirt is really just a “creepy” patsy of the right-wing?

    You say “the organized left” in Mexico does.

    Frankly, such an attitude strikes me as contrary to what the left has generally stood for. On the other hand you seem to agree. Why? Because Televisa gave the demonstration airtime? Because the demonstrators wore the insidious color white?

  4. 2 September 2008 11:30 pm

    I would hate to see Mexico end up in the position of the United States, where the “answer” to crime was to just build more prisons and lock people up … giving the country a higher percentage of persons behind bars than even China.

    In many ways, the U.S. response (and the huge investment in policing in the United States and Canada, to the detriment of other community resources) was a result of those 1970s demonstrations, during a time when conservatism was learning to use the language and style of the left.

    If you watched the way the event was pushed on TV, it was very clear it was meant to garner support for the Calderon Administration’s initiatives in security matters, and to create a sense that the Mexico City administration is unable to deal with what is essentially a federal problem.

    But, as I think I said, the danger is that political dissent will be treated as common crimes (as happened in Minnesota this week), and common crimes will be treated as political.

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