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Chapo, we hardly knew ye

28 February 2014

I don’t move in the right (or wrong) social circles to write on Chapo’s personal life (and, frankly, it’s never particularly been an interest of mine).  However, at a time when my own family affairs are taken precedence over other things for the next few day, living in Sinaloa and having been recently tagged (by another foreign observer of the Chapo saga)  “al mejor blog gringo sobre México“, it seems I’m expected to make some kind of public comment on the seemingly  perverse reaction here in Sinaloa to Guzmán’s arrest.

Alma Guillermoprito — much more suited than I am to putting the story into an intellectual frame — presents a much more realistic sense of  “the most wanted man in the world” than what I’ve seen even in our local media,  in the New York Review of Books:

Rummaging in the National Archives in Mexico City, the Sinaloan historian Froylan Enciso recently found charges, never acted on, filed in Culiacán in 1975 by several women from San José, a hamlet just downhill from La Tuna, Guzman’s birthplace. The women were protesting the incursion of Mexican army troops into their village—population about four hundred. The troops, they said, had come looting and pillaging into their homes. One young boy was shot, the men fled, the women were forced to strip naked and molested, a woman who had just sold some cattle was robbed of her money. The last name of one of those women was Loera.  Joaquín Guzmán Loera would have been around seventeen years old then, and Enciso speculates that this woman could have been a close relative. The account is, in any event, typical of the period. Army operations in rural Sinaloa have been recurrent ever since that time, and it is fair to say that Guzmán, like thousands of Sinaloans, has lived his adult life in a state of war and his use of violence comes naturally.

I  know Froylan Enciso has been working on a  history of the Sinaloan narcotics trade, and still have some hopes of publishing an English language edition, but otherwise, outside of crime reporters, not much really has been said about the social framework in which the Sinaloa “cartel” and Chapo Guzmán arose.  University of Sinaloa Professor  Luis Astorga’s 1997 “Drug Trafficking in Mexico: A First General Assessment” mentions that marijuana and opiate exports have long been part of the Sinaloan economy, and — even though illegal — had been tolerated when not tacitly encouraged because of its importance to the rural economy.

Atorga’s paper appeared at a time when the violence associated with “narcos” was hardly an international issue, something that has only taken off since NAFTA.  Enciso’s discovery of state violence — possibly directed against a member of Chapo’s own relations — is important for two reasons.

First:  the sense one gets from Astorga is that the Sierra Madres narcotics trade was

AFP Photo

AFP Photo

seen by the Culiacan bourgeois as a “investment”, while it was the “Sinaloan Hillbillies” ( a term popularized by Sim Quinones) like the Guzmáns of La Tuna who provided the raw material.  That one of the Guzmán’s was smart enough … and, yes, ruthless enough… to wrest control of what was an nice investment that dare not speak its name away from the ruling class did make him something of a local hero.  Not just in Mexico are successful people from the wrong side of the tracks, or the law, celebrated.  “Success” is worshiped in other economic spheres, and seldom is thought given to what actions led to that success.  Even successful criminals, from the mythical Robin Hood to John Dillinger to those who later achieved some semblance of “respectability” like Pancho Villa in Mexico or Phoolan Devi in India are celebrated as much for fighting the “system” as they are romanticized for merely being successful.

Like hill-country people throughout the world, the Sinaloan “hillbillies” who took control of the narcotics trade had little concern for the approval of the outside world, nor did the outside world see them as anything but backwards and expendable laborers.  Like other hill folk (the Afghans, to pick another such people), they were rather puritanical in their own way, with little tolerance for using their own exports except to exchange for needed goods (and luxuries), and a code of ethics in which violence is met with violence.

Via Sin Embargo, comes this “manifesto” from one of the pro-Chapo protesters in Culiacán (my translation):

Those who criticize Chapo and his organization  surely have never known nor suffered from the deprivation and lack of opportunity found both in  rural and urban communities . Most often, the motivation for doing something “illegal” is to avoid paying taxes to the government on one’s business — high taxes that seldom are put to any useful end.  Hard work for low pay, coupled with the unjust price of food and clothing does nothing to improve one’s lifestyle.  
Lack of food , clothing and housing FORCES people to admire characters such as Chapo .  WHY?  Because the federal , state and local government have not been truthful, effective  or  efficient in promoting the welfare of those living either in the countryside and in the city.  This is also reflected in the discriminatory treatment given to people who have no money in relation to the rich (eg in hospitals).

El Chapo’s drug trafficking business provides OPPORTUNITIES for a better -paid job :  a dream come true when the government that does not give a helping hand ( there are exceptions).  And I write “drug trafficking”, because that is Chapo’s business:  extortion, kidnapping, etc, are the actions of those who have distorted the business.   But hey, you critics are only supposed to be aware of what is reported in the commercial media, and televison news prefers to dwell on stories like ” SETTLING ACCOUNTS” or “HOMOCIDE”.  Narcotics is not the main cause of death in the country:   MORE DIE OF HUNGER AND CHRONIC DEGENERATIVE DISEASES  largely caused by the government …….

I was born and raised in Culiacan, and he came from a tiny hamlet.  We both love our state and despite various setbacks,  have succeeded here.  Many people do not have the sorts of opportunities I had, or Chapo had.   And the vast majority of the people in this state believe their hero, Chapo has earned what he has.  What those people want to hear from EPN [Enrique Peña Nieto] is the answer to the question, “What is he going?  Where are WE going??  These are the people paying for water, electricity, home loans,  trying to maintain a quality of life, paying for gasoline, and paying your salary.”  

I do not criticize those who that judge us “wrong,” nor do I need to try to convince anyone that what I say is correct.  I just hope that people reflect on what this, and do not write in an effort to offend us, believing themselves superior to those of us attending this march.   We simply know that our fellow Sinaloan, Chapo Guzmán, has in fact helped his people and his state.  And just remind you of one of his recent  and most generous displays of his affection for his people.  19 September 2013 (Hurricane Manuel ) when he helped more people than the President of Mexico.

Worker in Sinaloa's "respectable" agricultural export sector... photo by Javier Valdez for The Los Angeles Times.

Worker in Sinaloa’s “respectable” agricultural export sector… photo by Javier Valdez for The Los Angeles Times.

I just saw on an “ex-pat” website the question asked in reference to the protests, “What’s wrong with these people?”. Perhaps instead of — as our local media tells us — the governor is ordering an investigation of WHO is behind the protests, what needs to be looked at is WHY they are protesting. What is wrong with “these people” is that they come from a culture of violence perpetrated by the state, a threat to a way of life from the outside, a sense of abandonment by their own government, hunger, poverty, under-employment … and, if they seem to be celebrating a criminal, they are also celebrating the fact that one of their own managed to thrive in spite of the odds against them all.

6 Comments leave one →
  1. 1 March 2014 4:33 am

    Great post, Richard!

    Sent from my iPhone


  2. 1 March 2014 7:24 am

    This makes total sense to me…and I had struggled to understand how he could be so revered. Thank you.

  3. 25 March 2014 5:56 pm

    Excellent article. I’m going through some of these issues as well..

  4. 2 April 2014 7:09 am

    Aw, this was an extremely nice post. Taking the time
    and actual effort to create a very good article… but what can I say… I procrastinate a lot and
    never seem to get anything done.

  5. 19 April 2014 2:53 pm

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    Great blog, keep it up!

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