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Does it really matter?

24 June 2011

A recent article on “Colombia’s ‘New’ Paramilitaries” was an exercise in deja vu.  That color-coded map of the different territories controlled what in Colombian bureaucratese are called “Bacrims” — bandas criminales) looks an awful lot like the same kinds of maps we’ve been seeing over the course of the Calderón Administration of territories controlled by our “cartels”.  Or, rather, of territories in which the various criminal organizations operate.

It’s impossible to find death tolls from the “war on drugs” (and how to separate out the victims of that “war” from the one on labor, on youth, on farmers, on dissidents), but try finding any figures on Colombia’s death tolls, which by percentage of the population are probably much higher than Mexico’s.  But, perhaps the absence of complex ideology among Mexico’s violence entrepreneurs is what makes “our” drug war more news-worthy.  It’s simply easier to write about when  the English-language press only has to consider it in terms of domestic politics:  the U.S.’s confusingly contradictory attitudes towards narcotics and firearms; and its ambivalence towards Mexicans as a people.

I realize Colombia’s Bacrims often have ideological aims far more sophisticated, but no less deadly, than the Ayn-Randian style capitalism of the Mexican “cartels”.  La familia michoacána (and their alleged successors, Los caballeros templarios) are an exception.  However, given that they represent a relatively familiar “American” ideology that mixes Evangelical Christianity and Capitalism, there is nothing likely to force your average media person to do any heavy intellectual lifting.

I appreciate those who send me links to news articles on Mexico, though I seldom acknowledge them.  Nor do I often use them, since most are just about some specific incident in the on-going mayhem (which, in themselves, are probably meaningless) or seek to “explain” the situation purely in terms of the United States.

Little is said about the all-too-common, but much more important story.  Narcotics themselves are not important.  They’re just another commodity, that like sugar or coffee or minerals.  And, like sugar growers, or copper mines, the pursuit of profits depends largely on exploiting rural communities, often leading to their expulsion (whether by narcotics traffickers clearing a path for access to the United States, as happens in parts of Coahuila and Tamaulipas, or by developers, seeking to build tourist resorts, or mining companies looking to expand in farming regions, there isn’t all that much to say), aided and abetted by local officials and/or local profiteers from the commodity.

Once in a while, something does sneak through about this.  While highly, but I hope not fatally, flawed[1], Al Jazeera’s “Faultlines” program recently had a piece on a reaction to that type of exploitation we very, very seldom consider — resistance.

As you can see from the short clip (The entire program can be seen here), resistance to exploitation can be seen as resistance to the state. This brings us back to both the Colombian “war” and to Los caballeros templarios.  Both on the left and right, the Colombian paramilitaries (or guerrillas or whatever you want to call them) often saw narcotics as a means to an end… a way of raising cash to finance their other operations (and, as a point of historical reference, Pancho Villa rejected the idea of selling opium in the United States to finance his operations, but other Mexican revolutionaries were less puritanical about it).  A few, like the Mexican groups, and the guerrillas in the clip, are uninterested in the commodity itself, but are fighting the violence and oppression that comes with exploitation of the suppliers and workers.

And, it is why I say the “drug war” is ending faster than we realize.   Focusing on what gang is in what state, or which gang boss had which police chief bumped off really doesn’t tell us anything beyond some bare — and relatively useless — factoids.

As with most things in Mexico, what matters is what always mattered:  the tension between tradition and modernity, exploitation and resistance is at the heart of a struggle seen by outsiders in terms of only how it affects their own concerns.  The foreign press sees a reluctance to fight the drug war, where here what is seen is a resistance movement against violence and exploitation.  That the resistance is taking so many different forms and springs from so many different ideological bases — from traditional rural guerrillas to  street protests led by metaphysical poets to perhaps those Evangelical Christian hit-men, suggests a mass movement … or rather movements … that the media is unable to comprehend.


[1] The presenter’s inability to pronounce common Mexican names (like Calderón) caught my attention, but it was his mention of somebody named “Arturo Sanchez Sanchez” when he meant Arturo Chavez Chavez (at the time, the Attorney General) that suggests that there are probably other factual errors in the story, and the presenter’s reliability should be questioned.

One Comment leave one →
  1. "craig" permalink
    26 June 2011 12:53 pm

    The story of Columbia’s on-going battles between right-wing death groups (many members of which received training at the infamous “School of the Americas” run by the US military), the left-wing idealists, the rebels, the guerillas, the narco-traficantes, is all complex enough.

    But the US State Department and US military “advisors” and mercenaries (nowadays known as “contractors” or “security detachments”) have no business at all in Columbia. The sooner we stop meddling with other nations, the better. Our policies in Columbia, never really acknowledged openly, are to prop up right-wing, repressive and open-trade-type politicians.

    The USA is waging political campaigns in other nations but with weapons. And people wonder why “they hate us.” Well… take a look at what our country really does.

    For the year 2009 the State Department of the United States will invest approximately $520 million in Plan Colombia. More than half of this money went to private North American contractors charged with developing, promoting and furthering irregular warfare in Colombian territory and in Latin America

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