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Frontera justice

21 January 2009

California writer Richard Rodriguez, in noting that the Spanish word for border — frontera — fits the borderlands, writes (Days of Obligation, Penguin: 1992.  © Richard Rodriguez):

From prehistory, the North has been the problem.  Mexico City (la capital) has been the platform from which all provincialism is gauged.  From the North came marauding tribes, iconoclasts, destroyers of high Indian civilization.  During the Spanish colonial era, the North was settled, even garrisoned, but scarcely civilized.  In the nineteenth century, Mexico’s northernmost territories were too far from the center to be defended against America’s westward expansion.  In the after-decades, the North spawned revolutionaries and bandits, or these fled into the North and the North hid them well

And, as I’ve argued in the past, for complicated reasons, Juarez  may be a 21st century city, but in many ways can only be understood in terms of a  “Wild West” frontier settlement.

Reuters reporter Julian Cardona writes (19 January 2009) that in Ciudad Juarez

Shadowy vigilante groups are threatening Mexico’s drug gangs near the U.S. border in retaliation for a wave of murders and kidnappings that killed 1,600 people in this city alone last year.

One group in the border city of Ciudad Juarez pledged last week to “clean our city of these criminals” and said their mission was to “end the life of a criminal every 24 hours.”

The emergence of vigilantes would be a new twist to a vicious drug war that killed 5,700 people in Mexico last year and forced the United States to give hundreds of millions of dollars in aid to the Mexican government…

I don’t see “vigilantes” as a “new twist” at all, nor, do I think that the United Stated was “forced” to “give hundreds of millions of dollars in aid.”

As the jumping off place from Mexican civilization into the barbaric unknown (or, all too well known) Juarez includes more than its fair share of what were once called “bandits” and who “fled into the North”.  And in our day, the “marauding tribes” of gun-runners, narcotics buyers and money launders are overwhelming the decent settlers and peaceful pioneers.  It’s no surprise that — right across the river from a place where “he needed shootin'” is said jokingly of malcontents that come to a bad end — but expresses a very real possibility (and does happen from time to time), that “vigilantes” might appear.

And, as to being “forced” to spend money… I don’t recall any reluctance on the part of either the Executive nor the Legislative Branch of the United States government to spend the money.  They quibbled over how much, and what oversight they would have over Mexican law enforcement, but no reluctance to spend that cash… on U.S. suppliers and services, not in any way a gift to Mexico.  The only ones being “forced” are the Mexican government … forced to fight gangsters (or “bandits”, if you prefer) WILLINGLY financed and armed by the United States.

All in the name of preserving the fiction that the United States’ narcotics control system is not massively violent.

In Ciudad Juarez, some residents say they would welcome vigilantes. “That way they would stop the gangs, the mafia. People are leaving here because of so many murders,” said David Hinojosa, 30, who shines shoes in the city.

But local lawmakers say encouraging vigilantes is a mistake. Some residents question whether soldiers are moonlighting as hitmen for drug gangs, a charge the army denies.

I question whether the “vigilantes” aren’t being paid by the same people who supply the narcos… i.e., those north of the border (or in business with them) and whether or not “vigilante” is even the right word. With the apparent attempt to “legitimize” the gangsters as a quasi-political threat — even branding them as “terrorists” — and the sorry history of military policing in Latin America, where dissidents are conveniently accused of connections with whatever “terrorist de jour” is in fashion… let’s at least be honest enough to call these “vigilantes” by their real name:

“Businessmen United, The Death Squad” put a video on Internet site YouTube last June threatening to go after kidnappers and criminals in Ciudad Juarez…

Death squads — possibly composed of off-duty soldiers, and possibly financed and armed from the United States.  This sound depressingly familiar to anyone who knows their recent Latin American history, and all too believable.  In no way is it a “new twist” on anything.

3 Comments leave one →
  1. 21 January 2009 5:43 pm

    Oh, no. This sounds a bit like taking things a la Guatemalteca. Not only village mobs, but paid squads of hit ment (50 to 200 US per hit) have not done much to improve the quality of life there.

  2. Bob permalink
    22 January 2009 12:16 pm

    It’s hard to imagine that an empty headed slogan “just say no”could turn into such a colossal goat fuck.Let’s recap.
    We have a large segment of chronically ill U.S.population that is medicating its self with street drugs.
    Through a loophole in U.S.law (straw sales,having nothing to do with our 2nd.ammendment rights)we have 6700 federally licensed carpetbaggers selling guns to drug cartels just across the border.
    We are demanding that Mexico clean up its side of the border mostly with its own resources.
    This just scratches the surface.There are the deaths of thousands of innocent people,price protection for the cartels,and corruption on both sides of the border.
    Geez Mexico,”just say fuck you.” Legalize drugs on your side and let the chips fall where they may on this side.
    I’ll never happen.

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