Not just drugs
Beefed up state security extends beyond counter-narcotics efforts, and includes economic objectives that journalist Dawn Paley has dubbed “drug war capitalism.” The incentives include assuring foreign investors of the safety of their investments, supporting privatization, and enriching military contractors and arms manufacturers. Militarized security also facilitates the political repression of groups resisting historical exploitation and neoliberal policies, including activists, trade unions, teachers, and indigenous and campesino communities fighting dispossession, such as those in the impoverished state of Guerrero that is home to the Ayotzinapa teachers’ school. In fact, reports suggest that the vanished students may have been targeted in part because of their poor, rural left-wing school’s activism against regressive educational reforms.
Mexico’s war on drugs also plays out against the backdrop of U.S. trade policy. For example, the North American Free Trade Agreement has had a devastating effect on the country: Depressing wages, displacing small farmers, increasing migration to the U.S. and exacerbating poverty, which in turn fuels continued activism against the government.