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Change… of scenery

7 November 2010

(Chart:   Reforma posted by Inca Kola News )

The Mexican murder rate — taken as a whole — is not all that alarmingly high for the Americas — hovering at about 10 to 12 per 100,000.   With a slowly aging population, and better economic conditions than its neighbors to the south, it has been slowly declining since the 1990s. What is alarming is the steep rise in the homicide rate attributed to a single event: 10,000 plus homicides attributed to “narcotics violence” this year alone with 30,000+ deaths since the Calderón Administration launched the “War against (some) narcotics (exporters — but maybe not so much against Chapo Guzmán*)”.

Although in the United States, people want to blame start of the “War on Drugs” on either J. Edgar Hoover or Richard Nixon — depending on which of the two rogues is their favored villain — Mexican narcotics have been an export commodity for a long time and neither Hoover’s 1920s anti-dope kick, nor Nixon’s “War on Drugs” had all that much effect on Mexico.  Heroin and marijuana were certainly Mexican exports, but from the 1930s onward, even after Mexico was convinced to poison marijuana fields with paraquat, the effects on the Mexican exporters was minimal.  That cocaine later became a popular drug in the United States really had nothing to do with Mexico (not directly anyway) until the Clinton Administration.

Ostensibly, “Plan Colombia” was meant to curtail Colombian cocaine exports to the United States (in itself a failure, cocaine exports having remained relatively stable or growing since the start of the U.S. funding in 1996) its purpose was to combat “left-wing insurgency”.  Although Colombian President Andrés Pastrana originally proposed (in 1998 when what had been just military assistance was repackaged as a formal foreign policy initiative) a plan for “social development” that would supposedly replace coca cultivation as a export crop, the plan was sold in the U.S. as a boon for military suppliers.  Given that there had been a leftist insurgency in Colombia since the 1940s, Clinton — anxious to placate the right wing in the United States at a relatively low domestic cost, pumped up the militarily insignificant threat posed to the United States by Colombian insurgents (and incidentally, to foster exports) began pumping money into Colombia.

Insurgents have always called on the services of criminals to assist in their financing.   Stalin staged bank robberies back when the Communists were the insurgents, and the anti-Bolsheveks robbed Communist banks during Lenin’s time.  The Irish nationalists, during their fight against British colonialism, were no strangers to kidnapping and armed robbery.  Basque Anarchists, on behalf of the besieged Republicans during the Spanish Civil War, were know to have pulled off some spectacular insurance frauds.  The French Resistance called on the services of forgers, safecrackers, hitmen and other decidedly anti-social types in their struggle against Fascism.  Pancho Villa, that most puritanical of insurgents, stole cattle, robbed banks  and permitted “gambling dens” and whorehouses catering to the gringos to flourish — although, interestingly enough, he drew the line at narcotics dealing.  The Contras of 1980s Nicaragua —  with the connivance of White House operatives during the Reagan Administration — were less fussy, as were the  Colombian left-wing insurgents.

That it was easy to justify the anti-insurgent activities in Colombia as an anti-narcotics operation filled needs for both the Colombian and the U.S. government.  Re-branding the insurgents as “narcotics dealers” has allowed the Colombians to claim the (presumed) defeat of the insurgents as a political victory.  The United States — ignoring the uncomfortable fact that narcotics sales have really not diminished, and are still managed by gangsters — could at least claim “Plan Colombia” has succeeded in disrupting some smuggling rings.

And, naturally, no one wanted to talk about Colombia having more displaced internal refugees than anywhere else on the planet, nor the appalling human rights record of its “forces of law and order” or the erosion of civil rights and political culture.

Of course, “Plan Colombia” was mixed up with a move towards a “Free Trade Association” with the United States… some saying that was “the plan” all along: create a client state by removing any potential opposition, under the guise of “restoring order”.  “Restoring Order” in Mexico — Calderón’s “Mano duro”, after the failed attempts to blame the left (specifically Andrés Manuel López Obrador) for crime in Mexico City failed, found it’s rationale in political unrest — in Oaxaca and elsewhere.  Having “restored order” — or rather tamped down dissent – in Oaxaca soon after assuming the Presidency, but still needing to destroy opposition to “Free Trade” is seen by many to have figured into Calderón’s proposed “Plan Mérida”.

Although it looked initially much like Pastrana’s 1988 “Plan Colombia”, in that funding was supposedly for building “civil society,”  the promised court reforms and educational and job creation parts of “Plan Mérida” never were more than window dressing (and really never required U.S. funding in the first place).  Arms purchases did.

"We must halt the dirty money and arms coming from the U.S.!" ".... So, that means you're canceling 'Plan Mérida', right?"

With the new reactionary U.S. congress, and the rightward drift in U.S. policy since Ronald Reagan, there’s no reason to expect the United States to reign in “Plan Mérida” for political reasons, nor to expect the U.S. government to rein in the taxpayer subsidies it is providing to U.S. military suppliers for the Mexican “drug war.”

What is interesting about it is that the gangsters here, never having any particular political ties (except maybe to neo-liberal “free trade” thinking of the most primitive sort) are being repackaged as “insurgents”, much as Colombian insurgents were repackaged as gangsters.

Consider Hillary Clinton’s description of drug cartels as ” showing more and more indices of insurgencies”. For that matter, consider the use of “cartels” to describe criminal gangs.  Gangsters are bad people, but — in the United States, with its fascination for crime stories (and the romanticism of films like “The Godfather” or “The Untouchables”) “gangsters” are not evil, where a “cartel” — with overtones of political enemies like OPEC — suggests a more organized economic, social and political challenge.    In case anyone missed the point, Ms. Clinton later referred to the Mexican gangsters as “having the same propensity for violence that the Taliban does.”  Meaning, I suppose, that Mexican gangsters, like the Taliban, kills people in gruesome fashion in pursuit of their goals… as did Al Capone and every other gangster, as well as a lot of political groups of one sort or another, including most of the “respectable” ones at one time or another.

Ben Erenreich’s review of Malcolm Beith’s The Last Drug Lord (which, although Jason Dormandy has dismissed it as a “tired little book”   would have a lively and wide-awake audience here in Sinaloa, dealing as it does with our neighbor, Chapo Guzmán)  in the 21 October 2010 London Review of Books “A Lucrative War” is described by Chris Floyd as “one of the best  articles on the current situation in Mexico that I have seen”.

The LRB article is, alas, available only by subscription, but Floyd not only has a subscription, he is able to quote the article at some length in his own excellent article, “Manufacturing Mayhem in Mexico: From Nixon to NAFTA and Beyond” (Empire Burlesque):

As Ehrenreich points out in the succinct but detailed historical background he provides, the current Drug War-fueled destruction is just part and parcel of a larger assault on the underpinning of Mexican society — a wider campaign that includes brutal economic war, and the relentless militarization of society on both sides of the border. On the U.S. side, it is again a thoroughly bipartisan affair, ranging from Richard Nixon to Clinton’s NAFTA and beyond.

Calderón… has promised to keep the troops on the streets until the end of his six-year term. His support from the north has been unflagging. Obama has proposed extending the Merida Initiative, and has requested an additional $310 million for 2011. His administration appears to situate Mexico within the discourse of failing states battling insurgencies and requiring American help. It’s a bad fit – the cartels are not revolutionary cells so much as organisations of global capital – but the rhetoric provides a domestic pretext for folding Mexico into US security protocols. Carlos Pascual, the new US ambassador to Mexico, last summer confidently proposed ‘a new role’ for the Mexican military in Juárez, one consistent with counter-insurgency tactics employed by the US across the globe: they would secure the perimeter of five-block-square ‘safe zones’, and push that perimeter outward block by block.

I don’t quite believe that the Calderón Administration, despite it’s claims to the contrary, really wants to “bring down” Chapo Guzmán, but it does want to keep this “war” going.  Is it any wonder then that the United States has “intelligence advisors” in Mexico… presumably not just the DEA agents that have been here for years?  I know it’s another of Dr. Dormandy’s “tired little books”, and I dismiss it an unpalatable mix of war porn and a true-crime book, but it’s worth the pain of re-reading Mark Bowden’s Killing Pablo, which in celebrating the exploits of “intelligence advisors” in Colombia is a nightmarish foretaste of what could happen here as the Obama administration seeks to satiate the right-wing’s need to blame others for the U.S. drug problem, and mask the imposition of “free trade” policies under the rubric of national security.

* With the demise of “Tony Tormenta”, said to be the leader of the Gulf Cartel, another of Chapo’s rivals has been eliminated.

5 Comments leave one →
  1. 7 November 2010 7:37 am

    Just found some very confusing statistics on the murder rates through 2008.

    Click to access 5.pdf

  2. 7 November 2010 9:43 am

    Kind of weird that Reforma sticks with that number, when the government’s own total is roughly 30,000 in the same span. I guess it would have been a pain for Reforma and the rest to go back and recalibrate everything after the revised total from the govt came out, but there is a difference of 7,000 or 8,000 now.

  3. 7 November 2010 11:47 am

    I see where there was a problem with my wording. 30,ooo over the sexennial. 10K this year… the body count is uh… shooting up.

  4. 8 November 2010 6:35 am

    No I dont mean your wording, but rather the graph…that’s Reforma’s data right?

  5. El Chismoso permalink
    8 November 2010 9:08 pm

    Calderon forgot to protect this sinaloa cartel member.


    Distrito Federal— Luego de varios operativos en el estado de Sinaloa, policías capturaron a Manuel Fernández Valencia, apodado ‘la Puerca’, presunto operador del narcotraficante Joaquín ‘el Chapo’ Guzmán Loera, líder del cártel del Pacífico

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