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La patria chica

29 December 2010

Recently writing about one of the “old school” Sinaloa marijuana exporters, Ernesto “Don Neto” Fonseca Carillo, who is presently serving a lengthy prison sentence, Malcolm Beith says “But one look at Don Neto’s history, his place in a society neglected by government, and one can begin to understand just why the average Sinaloan might support a guy like that.

… in that homeland [the rural Sinaloa sierras], he’s seen as a hero. There is no doubt that he has put more money into the community, created more jobs, and given people more hope than the government has ever tried to do. There is no doubt that he is the patron, a man who kept crime down (even if by force and brutality) and kept society (albeit one founded on illicit activity) running…

I’m not saying it’s right, but I do understand it.

Whether Fonseca Carillo is “old school” is probably a matter of semantics.  The history of Sinaloa narcotics exports goes back to the 1880s, and Don Neto was hardly a traditionalist, being one of the  pioneers of a new neo-liberal “free trade” system.  He spent most of his business career in Ecuador, handing cocaine exports to the United States via his own organization in Guadalajara. What seems “old school” perhaps is that Fonseca Carillo never forgot where he came from, and was generous to his hometown, and/or was supported by his “homies.”

I’m not saying it’s right, either, but being on the wrong side of the law, or even morals, is no barrier to being seen as a hometown legend… Jesse James has been dead for over 125 years and is still a hometown hero to many in Clay County, Missouri.

Malcolm quotes a “U.S. official” as asking why Mexicans would support a person who “poisons your society” — meaning narcotics are also sold in Mexico (although, even at double the present rate, still a fractional use of that of the United States, or any of the wealthy nations) and admits its a “good question.”  I think it misses the obvious answer.

Fonseca Carillo’ is “old fashioned” perhaps in that he was a patrón . Because “El Neto” was involved in an illegal trade, perhaps the word “patrón” conjures up an image of the fictional Don Corelone in Mario Puzo’s “The Godfather”), but he might be something more along the lines of the haciendado Don Jacinto in B. Traven’s “The White Rose”, or the very real Juana Catalina Romero.

The 19th century illiterate Zapotec business-woman  “Doña Cata”, like our contemporary Sinaloan Don Neto, made herself very rich exploiting foreign demand for Mexican agriculture (and exploiting Mexican labor), but is a heroine to her people.    It wasn’t her business acumen and innovation introducing new crops and industries to the Isthmus of Tehuanatepec, financing infrastructure developments  and lobbying for the Trans-Isthmus railroad) that made her a much memorialized local figure, but her role as “patróna”.  She founded schools and hospitals, and fostered and protected — not Mexican — but traditional Zapotec values and culture while participating in the global economy.

Doña Cata,  was able to obtain her near-feudal control of the isthmus largely through personal connections (as a teen-aged cigarette vendor, she was the girl-friend of a young soldier named Porfirio Diáz) in an era when the state was unable to provide services in isolated communities.  How personal and close the ties are between today’s patróns of the narcotics trade and the “powers that be” is speculative, but — with the Revolutionary goal of providing for the isolated communities, and the abandonment of rural Mexico since NAFTA — rural services have declined or disappeared, and it is no surprise that those providing for these communities are local heroes.

Don Neto is old-fashioned in another way.  He doesn’t seem to have ever thought of giving an ideological basis to his patronage that would legitimize his role within his patria chica beyond the purely feudal lord and servant model.  “La Familia Michoacana” , whatever I may think of their puritanical U.S. model (Focus on the Family), does.

Terror and/or intimidation is certainly part of the package, but then any resistance group — from the Zapatistas to the Taliban — has to deal roughly with those that resist their attempts to create an alternative to the larger state.  Neither financing a movement though criminal acts against the outside world (as if resistance to the state was not, in itself, criminal), nor an eccentric ideology is any bar to the “success” of these kinds of small-scale insurgent movements.  Really, the only thing that makes “La Familia” seem like a serious threat is that they are up-front about their motives.  With the loss of their “drug lord” leader recently, they have been making overtures to the federal government, offering to give up their struggle, asking only for guarantees of  security in Michoacan.

Naturally, one should be skeptical of the “good faith” of “la Familia”, but — with the present administration balefully ignoring “security” in the broad sense (of social security, reasonable educational and economic prospects for youth and the chance to maintain a decent life in the country, within a patria chica, while taking advantage of what the wider world has to offer), those who do offer at least a minimal of “security” in those senses to their patria chica are going to continue to thrive.

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