When we tally the horrors of narco-state terror in Mexico, we must also count the 250+ victims of 25 massacres in Ciudad Juarez. Since 2007, more than 12,000 people have been murdered in Juarez… A city with about one percent of the population of Mexico accounted for 9 percent of the murder victims between 2007-2012…
Andrew Kennis is an international journalist, researcher, and professor at University of Texas, El Paso. Dr. Kennis is currently the border correspondent for teleSUR’s English division and has written for a variety of publications including Al Jazeera English, The Christian Science Monitor, Proceso (Mexico), Time Out, and emeequis (Mexico). Learn more about his work by visiting his profile and follow him @andrew_kennis
Interviewed by Virginia Isaad
You’ve said that a lot of what you cover isn’t included in mainstream media. What would you say is an important story (or stories) that you feel the general public needs to know about regarding the violence in Mexico?
This is not an easy question, as there are so many stories in Mexico that the U.S. public deserves to know about, with accessible reporting and investigations. Yet, given the close relationship that the U.S. has with Mexico, and its importance as a client state, there is little that most U.S. citizens know about what is actually going on south of the border.
There is a principle about powerful nations which U.S. journalism should especially abide by: one can learn a lot about themselves by taking a close look at how one’s neighbors are treated. Mexico is one of the U.S.’s most important allies and U.S. policy is clearly fueling a lot of the violence in Mexico. A frightening, tremendous amount. Yet, we read little to nothing about these connections … or even just about the violence itself. When and if there is reporting, it depicts the situation as chaotic, anarchic, out-of-control and with little to no responsibility by high-ranking officials.
The most recent and striking example is what is being called the worst student massacre since 1968, which occurred in the drug war-torn and poverty-stricken state of Guerrero. If ever there was a more powerful display of the “narco estado” bearing itself full on, it was this one. UPDATE: Therein, the mayor and chief of police are already fugitives of the law for having fled soon after it was announced that they were leading suspects for masterminding this gruesome tragedy. It is understood that local officials facilitated a leading street gang to do the dirty work of the kidnapping, torture and eventually burning to death of at least 43 student activists and demonstrators.
Mexico is one of the leading recipients of U.S. weapons, training and crucial diplomatic support. The White House has barely breathed a word about this massacre and the rest of the U.S. news media is largely following in step. The outcry in Mexico is tremendous and the official admittances to crimes is also significant, which has resulted in a few op-eds and reports. But the White House reaction has been mum and thus, this has limited what should be far more extensive coverage and leading story investigations, and priorities. It simply has not been. Were it not for the strong reaction in Mexico, coverage would probably be even less significant and probing.
The U.S. itself is even cast off as a victim of Mexican spill-over violence or immigration or whatever nuisance can be conjured up, of course with the sole fault lying with Mexico itself. There’s little to nothing about U.S. culpability for the drug war being fueled by U.S. leading policies, or for too much of the violence that Mexico has to weather and endure.
I don’t want to mislead, Mexican officials indeed have plenty of culpability themselves, but the overwhelming amount of attention (if any) goes to just that … Mexican culpability, as opposed to the U.S. role. Instead, a wayward Mexican state is depicted, a “failed state,” as some U.S. officials have put it. If coverage was more accurate, the term “failed state” wouldn’t be the description … more apt would be, “a failed client state of the U.S.”
You recently wrote an article on the CBP where you mention “Over 8,000 new agents were brought into the ranks of the CBP over a three-year period, from 2006 to 2009. What were the standards they “relaxed” in order to hire so many new agents?
“Relaxed” is actually a conservative description. According to whistle-blowers such as the recently demoted and former Internal Affairs CBP chief, James Tomsheck, screening was all but completely gutted. Previously, a lie-detector test was a standard screening procedure for hiring practices and as many as 50% of applicants were filtered out. The rush to recruitment, to be sure, has been significant.
Is there any through line with the civilian victims? Are they mainly youths like Jose Antonio?
The only consistency between the victims is that they were mostly accused of rock-throwing. But even U.S. officials have denounced their own allies for the use of fatal force against rock throwers, as was the case with Hillary Clinton in respect to Israel using fatal force against rock-throwing youth in Palestine. In plenty of the cases where video evidence was unearthed, however, it was found that there was no evidence whatsoever of rock-throwing having been involved.
Several other CBP testimonies have also been proven false, including one famous case which involved an unarmed man that was beaten to death and subsequent Congressional action. That case actually wound up being of significant importance, as it led to a snowballing chain of events that finally resulted in some reforms being implemented.
According to the lawyer of many of the families of many Mexican nationals killed by the CBP, whom I actually recently interviewed, significant precedents will be set by what is likely to be a Supreme Court case which will decide whether Mexican nationals have the right to sue the U.S. government when killed in Mexican territory.
Is the corruption directly correlated to the hiring of untrained agents or are there other key factors involved?
It is not just untrained agents, if not, discarded, suspended and literally fired and former policemen. But yes, between the discarded policemen hired and also the lesser trained agents, civil rights advocates, families of the victims and their lawyers all argue that this is very much the root of the problem … relating of course to the more general and long-running trend of the militarization of the border during the post 9-11 era.
What can you tell us about the cameras CBP has promised to start using?
I can’t tell you much at all about them, since a year after the first promises of their implementation by the CBP, they are still not in use. I was recently pulled over by federales in Mexico and was asked for an international travel auto permit when I drove a bit outside of Juarez. Interestingly enough, I noticed that there was a camera affixed to their car. Everything was being recorded. The cops were more nice, courteous, understanding and reasonable than any other Mexican law enforcement authorities with whom I have spoken.
The CBP has claimed that implementation of what would still be a pilot program has been “complicated” and “expensive.” That sounds like mere excuses to me. In any case, even with cameras, given the CBP’s proclivity to redact and/or simply not release important information to the public, the cameras may only be of limited, internal use. Again, the lawyer I spoke to today said that the clearest video showing that Sergio Adrián Hernández did indeed not throw any rocks, contrary to CBP testimony, is still under wraps and unreleased by the Department of Justice. We only know what the video’s footage reveals from the DOJ telling the family, verbally, that this was the case, when it met with them to deliver the sordid news that it would not prosecute the CBP agent that killed their unarmed son on Mexican soil.
What cameras should be utilized for is for publicly accessible and transparent access by at least the human rights community, if not the public at-large. As of now, it does not seem that there are any indications that this will be the case and as incredible as it may seem, even cameras may not be enough to eliminate a long-running problem of CBP impunity.
Considering that it seems no CBP agent has been punished for civilian deaths, what reforms needs to be made in order to rectify this?
For a while, we had to write “it seems” in respect to no CBP agent being punished for civilian deaths. But just last month, Tomsheck’s replacement to head up the Internal Affairs department confirmed beyond a shadow of a doubt that no prosecutions or even punitive measures of any type have been undertaken toward any agent. As anonymous sources both inside the CBP and the State Department confirmed to me … there is most certainly an air of impunity within CBP … an embattled agency these days given increased attention and criticism of its often trigger-happy agents.
First things first then, impunity must be stopped. But eventually, the militarization of the border, as well as the public health problem of drug addiction, both need to end. No solutions for border-based issues, immigration and the illicit drug issues will ever be realized through militarization. Drugs need to be treated as a public health problem, not as an issue of war. Immigration needs to brought out of the shadows and guest-worker / path-to-citizenship programs must be established. Finally, and as important as anything else, NAFTA must be ended so that Mexico can develop its own economy and not be at the behest of multinational capital and investment which continues to flee toward China, anyhow. As Chuck Bowden would often say, Juarez is a laboratory of the future and the future is now. The results are in: NAFTA doesn’t work, as Laura Carlsen elegantly explained in a rare granted entry into the New York Times.
You’ve covered the trial of Vicente Zambada which isn’t covered extensively in mainstream media. What do people need to know about Zambada and how has his trial affected the drug trade?
Most U.S. people don’t even know who Vicente Zambada is, much less his more well-known father, Mayo Zambada (while the opposite is nearly the case with Mexico-based citizenry). Some people recognize the name El Chapo, but on the tip of everyone’s tongues should also be Vicente Zambada too. Given the paltry amount of news coverage on the trial, however, I am not surprised that this is not the case.
That notwithstanding, the Zambada trial was still dubbed as the drug trial of the century by leading U.S. officials, the most important mafioso trial in Chicago since Al Capone himself was tried. Why was this the case?
One measure which shows the importance of the trial to the government is the simple fact that the trial never actually happened. The government’s worst fear was that this case would actually go to trial. For years, the trial was stuck in “pre-trial” phase and went through endless motions to stay the actual trial, the prosecution and defense finally came to a plea agreement which is still in effect to this day. After having attended several of these pre-trial hearings myself, I was struck by how much the court room was controlled by the prosecution and how Judge Castillo, a Clinton appointee and recently promoted, seemed to follow their lead more than anything else. This was a DEA-controlled legal case, it clearly seemed to me.
The plea agreement conditions Zambada’s eventual release on how useful he is as a DEA-informant. This is ironic because Zambada’s whole pre-trial defense rested on being a protected informant. Curiously enough, shortly after the plea agreement was finally announced, which was in actuality a year after the agreement had actually been brokered, El Chapo himself was arrested. Was there a connection between the two? Most of us narco-journos presume that there was.
More than just presume, however, there is some compelling evidence behind Zambada’s claims. One of the most interesting claims is that one of the benefits of his agreement and service to the DEA as an informant was to receive “Fast and Furious” weapons in exchange for his intel on rival cartels. There is sworn testimony under oath, which supports these claims. An investigation I’m in the midst of finalizing will be published next month with some more details about this. Finally, during pre-trial discovery, the prosecution admitted that the Sinaloa cartel’s leading lawyer was a DEA-informant for no less than ten years (from 2001 to 2011). Interestingly enough, this lawyer was present with Vicente Zambada the night both of them met with DEA agents. Later that same night, Zambada was arrested in an apparent DEA double-cross.
Provided Vicente continues to prove useful as a behind-bars DEA-informant, he will be out of prison within a handful of years and will be a free man again. Perhaps at that point, he will be a high-ranking deputy again in the Sinaloa cartel, running it along with his father. It will be interesting to see what happens there.
Six years have passed today since the murder of El Diario reporter, Armando Rodriguez. The Chihuahua state authorities continue to say that his death was not related to his work as a journalist. The Special Prosecutor for crimes against journalists in Mexico (a federal authority) says that there is evidence that he was indeed targeted for his reporting. “El Diego” a lieutenant for La Linea (Juarez cartel) was arrested in 2011 and extradited to the US where he is serving 10 life sentences for various crimes. There is information (not officially confirmed by the state authorities) that El Diego said that he ordered the murder of Rodriguez for writing stories that damaged his organization…
Adam Goodman is a Miller Center National Fellow and PhD candidate in the Department of History at the University of Pennsylvania. Find more of his writing at http://adamsigoodman.com, and follow him on Twitter at @adamsigoodman.
Ya Me Cansé
Last Friday Mexican Attorney General Jesús Murillo Karam announced at a press conference that officials believe they have found the remains of the 43 normalistas from Ayotzinapa.
The basic story the government has put forth is that police turned the students over to Guerreros Unidos, a local drug gang with ties to the former mayor of Iguala and his wife (who officials recently apprehended). Members of Guerreros Unidos killed the students, chopped up their bodies, added branches and trash to the pile, and then doused it in gasoline and set it aflame. They kept the fire burning for more than twelve hours, until all that remained was ash, some teeth that “turned to powder” when touched, and some bone fragments. Three of the men who supposedly carried out this heinous, unthinkable crime provided information that helped authorities recover black plastic garbage bags filled with human remains.
It is not yet clear whether or not the remains in those bags are those of the 43 normalistas. The students’ families do not believe the government–with good reason, based on history and how the investigation has gone thus far–and demand proof. (A special lab in Austria is supposed to test the remains in hopes of providing a conclusive answer.)
At Friday’s press conference journalists peppered Murillo Karam with questions about the government’s latest story about what happened to the 43 normalistas. A weary Murillo Karam, hunched over the podium, answered some questions, but was dismissive of many others, and finally, in an attempt to cut the press conference short, said, “Ya me cansé.” (Enough, I’m tired.)
Mexican citizens and others responded immediately, with outrage, on social media and in the streets. People on Twitter used the #YaMeCansé hashtag to share what they are tired of: corrupt government, impunity, indifference, inept politicians, complicit media outlets, violence, poverty, inequality, the failed Mexican state … the list goes on, and on, and on. And last night, outside the Procuraduría General de la República (Murillo Karam’s office), someone painted “#YaMeCanse Del Miedo.” (I’m tired of being afraid.)
Murillo Karam may be tired, but many questions remain, and it is his job as Attorney General to answer them. He, along with Mexican and US officials–including President Peña Nieto and President Obama, need to be held accountable. The families of the 43 normalistas demand and deserve answers. The Mexican people demand and deserve answers. Concerned people around the world demand and deserve answers.
I demand answers to the following questions:
- What happened to the 43 normalistas is obviously not an isolated incident, nor a lone act committed by a few “monstrous” individuals. There are the 72 migrants killed in the San Fernando Massacre of 2010, the unsolved murders of dozens of journalists, and all of the bodies that have turned up in mass graves while searching for the normalistas–just to name a few examples. On Friday Murrillo Karam denied this was a state crime, but the state — we must not forget the 71 years of continuous PRI rule in the 20th century and the party’s return to power in 2012 — has played an important role in creating the political culture where something like this can happen; in creating a Mexico in which corruption runs deep through all levels of government and impunity reigns. It’s hard to imagine a Mexico free of corruption and impunity, but maybe things can improve. What concrete actions does the Mexican government need to take to make things better to the point where it would make a difference, and to ensure nothing like Ayotzinapa ever happens again?
- The drug war implemented under former Mexican President Felipe Calderón–with the support of the United States through the Merida Initiative–has unquestionably failed, with disastrous consequences for the Mexican people. More than 100,000 have been killed and, in addition to the 43 normalistas, an estimated 22,000 or more have been disappeared. Up until Ayotzinapa, the current Peña Nieto administration has ignored the drug war and focused on promoting Mexico as an economic success story instead. This, of course, has done nothing to reduce or eliminate the ongoing violence and killings. But ignoring a problem does not make it disappear; even though the drug war failed, pretending it does not still exist is no solution. So what’s the way forward? Given the US’s involvement in creating the situation in the first place — by providing a market for drugs north of the border, sending guns south of the border, and funding the drug war through the Merida Initiative — what role should it and the rest of the international community play, and what responsibility does it have, in forging the way ahead?
I hope you’ll add your questions, in Spanish or English, in the comments section below. We demand answers. We deserve answers.
Thanks to Jim for sending these links and analysis. – Molly
Comments from Jim:
Padre Alejandro Solalinde is proving to be a one-man wrecking crew undermining the Peña Nieto government attempt to push the Ayotzinapa massacre into the background.
He was the first one to report that the students had been executed and burned with diesel fuel (three weeks? before the Murillo Karam press conference).
And yesterday he addressed a group of students in Guadalajara and reported that the arrest of ex-Alcalde Abarca was a staged event for political reasons and an attempt to control the agenda.
> El gobierno “ha estado administrando esta información para aprovechar tiempos políticos. No es cierto que le interese la tragedia; lo que le interesa es sacar provecho electoral
> Se trata de un control de daños políticos, un control de daños partidistas. Han estado manipulando toda la información para beneficio del PRI-gobierno.–
According to Padre Solalinde, Abarca and his wife were captured in Vera Cruz. If you remember, I had previously sent out an email indicating that Abarca was arrested in Vera Cruz and I had based my information on an internet item that was briefly reported by ejecentral.com and at least one other daily. But those reports did not lead to any national coverage or follow-up of this report.
According to Padre Solalinde, the arrest of Abarca and his wife was staged in Itztapalapa in D.F. in hopes of gaining a political advantage. Basically, the argument is that the PRD was targeted by the PRI (…in spite of PRD cooperation in most for the Enrique Peña Nieto political agenda in the first 18 months). Itztapalapa is a PRD stronghold (based on demographics – it’s poor, and it has voted PRD consistently). Arresting Abarca in this “urban zone” would make it look like he had PRD help in hiding. He and his wife were supposedly hiding in a house owned by a family that has benefitted from PRD contracts (towing contracts). The circumstances of the arrest are strange – there was pre-arranged press-coverage, and Abarca emerged wearing a perfectly pressed suit from a hovel.
Unfortunately for the PRI, Padre Solalinde keeps bringing forward accusations that are backed up by evidence. And even more unfortunately, Enrique Peña Nieto has his own Marie Antoinette (La Gaviota) living in his own personal Versaille and doing much more than eating cake. -James (Jim) Creechan
Below are Jim’s comments on the pieces attached. Also below is Alma Guillermoprieto’s article in the NYRB, published before the latest announcement from the Mexican AG on the confessions as to the murders and the burning of the bodies of the students. I would also like to point out that in early October, just a few days after the students disappeared, Borderland Beat reported on OCTOBER 5 in a translation of an article from La Jornada that the normalistas had been killed and their bodies burned with diesel fuel. I posted this piece to Frontera List on October 7. This is essentially what the AG reported to the world yesterday. News that has been known for more than a month… molly
- First, there are several pieces covering a news conference headed by Jesus Murillo Karam where the PGR presented a statement that the missing students were taken to an area between Iguana and Cocula and executed and incinerated for up to 15 hours before remains were thrown into a river. Murillo reports that the capture of 3 narcos (Guerrero Unidos) led to confessions pointing to this spot, and in the absence of forensic evidence the PGR has accepted this testimony as sufficient proof. The evidence presented (video confessions, pictures) supports this version (narrative) of the days beginning September 26 through the 28th. It points a finger squarely at “narcos” and lays most of the blame there.
- Murillo Karan also uttered a phrase “Soy cansado” which has been appropriated by protestors and used as the latest hashtag to point out how the government is doing its best to avoid responsibility for any of the events in Guerrero – #YaSoyCansado and #YaEstamosCansado have become the latest protest phrase pointing to disgust with the government.
- International groups, especially Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have quickly pointed out that “the government of Peña Nieto” has not admitted that it played an active role- and continues to look for a line of explanation that points to narcos.
- The parents of the Normalistas have flatly rejected the evidence presented by Murillo Karam. A couple of reports describe their reaction (and I also included the Alma Guillermoprieto essay from NY Review of Books). These parents will not allow the PGR and the government to walk away from this mess untouched. Their persistence is amazing, and it is the “glue” holding together the diverse protest movements together. One of the strongest arguments that the parents have made is that Enrique Peña Nieto has put together a hasty narrative so that he can hop in his new presidential airplane and go off to a trade mission in China and Australia.
- I did not include a specific article from Padre Solalinde, but he has also called out the Catholic Hierarchy and said that they need to do more than pray.
- One of the articles I included is a column from Raymundo Riva Palacio pointing out that the criminal charges brought against ex-mayor Abarca and his wife are likely to fail. He makes an interesting point that the PGR is following the same strategy (and making the same mistakes) as they did in the Ruiz Massieu – Raul Salinas case from 2 decades ago.
- Some of the reports in this attachment include “online comments” and observations. The social media world has literally exploded with comments and observations – most of them angry. The anger is literally white-hot. I encourage everyone to go online and pay attention to this anger. It’s also clear that there is an organized attempt to “reconstruct” the narrative in cyberspace: there are comments (repetitive) and signed with strangely patriotic names arguing that the State cannot be blamed and that these killings and disappearances are simply the acts of evil men and narcos. Those “apologias” are always dismissed and shouted down (…especially on Twitter).
Proceso has been one of the leading sources and most detailed in its coverage, and its journalists are regular tweeters. Carmen Aristegui has also been a good source of information.
LINKS below to recent op-ed articles by John Ackerman in Mexico. -molly
Links embedded in titles. Each article is a stand alone, separately crafted piece.
“A call for authentic democracy in Mexico”, Los Angeles Times, October 30th, 2014
“Massacred democracy in Mexico”, Huffington Post, October 7th, 2014
“Le soutien aveugle de la France au président mexicain”, Libération, October 16th, 2014
“Gefahrliche Komplizenschaft”, Suddeutsche Zeitung, October 23rd, 2014.
“Fin al narcogobierno”, La Jornada, October 13, 2014.
Three people were killed today near San Isidro in the Valle de Juarez…the bodies, bound at the hands and feet and shot multiple times, were left on the side of the road in a pool of blood. In the past several days there have been at least one killing each day. On Sunday, the tally for October stood at 37, so with these new killings, there have been 40 victims so far this month. molly
The 2014-2015 issue of the Mount Marty College’s national literary journal, PADDLEFISH is now available. The current issue includes stories, letters, essays and poetry from award-winning authors such as Charles Bowden, Molly Molloy, Dante Di Stefano, Lori DeSanti and David Lee, amongst others.
PADDLEFISH is edited by Jim Reese and associate editor Dana DeWitt, along with selected Mount Marty College faculty and students. Students play a major role in the publication and gain hands-on editing and publishing experience through the process. Over 2,000 submissions were received for the 2014 issue.
This issue is dedicated to the late Charles “Chuck” Bowden who believed in our journal and mission.
To purchase a copy of the 2014 journal or to subscribe to PADDLEFISH send $14.00 to the following address:
Mount Marty College
1105 W 8th Street
Yankton, SD 57078
Please make checks payable to Mount Marty College.
Previous Issues of interest by Charles Bowden and Molly Molloy: ($14.00 each)
1) “That Time in Paris” by Charles Bowden, 2014 Issue
2) “A Letter to Students from Molly Molloy and Charles Bowden” 2014 Issue
3) Jericho by Charles Bowden (Illustrations by Alice Leora Briggs), 2013 Issue
4) “Rhapsody/Dead Man’s Curve and the Wild Blue Yonder by Charles Bowden (Illustrations by Alice Leora Briggs), 2012 Issue
5) “Give Us This Day Our Daily Massacre…” by Molly Molloy, 2010 Issue
For more information, click here
Jim Reese, Ph.D.
Associate Professor of English, Mount Marty College
1105 West Eight St.
Yankton, SD 57078
Director: Great Plains Writers’ Tour
National Endowment for the Arts Writer-in-Residence,
Yankton Federal Prison Camp
Guillermo Jimenez is the owner of Brush Fire Media and tracesofreality.com as well as host of Demanufacturing Consent, an exclusive weekly podcast on Boiling Frogs Post. In 2012 he served as a National Delegate for Ron Paul and is involved in grassroots activism. Follow him @tracesofreality
Interview by Virginia Isaad
In your bio you state that TOR is an “educational tool to inform others of the dangers of the expanding national security state and threats to our civil liberties.” How do you frame your coverage of the violence in Mexico with this in mind?
Young people in the United States, and to some extent throughout the world, should keep in mind that before there was a “war on terror” there was a war on drugs. The expansion of the national security state, and the subsequent loss of liberty, can be directly attributed to government policies associated with the drug war.
My approach to most issues, including the drug war violence in Mexico, usually begins with two questions in mind: how is my (the US) government involved, and how is this a threat to civil liberties?
US involvement in Mexico’s drug war, both directly and indirectly, is well documented, though perhaps not well understood. TOR Contributing Editor Danny Benavides coined the term “narconoia” — the fear of “narco-terrorism,” or more broadly speaking, the fear of the illicit drug market and those who trade within it. We believe this to be the pretense through which civil liberties have been attacked in the United States for generations.
In one article, you mention the capture of El Chapo as a PR stunt. How much of what is written about the Mexican drug war in U.S. media is, in your opinion, accurately representing what’s happening in Mexico?
It’s important to note that we at TOR were not the only ones to describe El Chapo’s capture as a publicity stunt by the Peña Nieto administration. Former DEA agents Hector Berrellez, Phil Jordan, and Cele Castillo have all expressed similar doubts about the Mexican government’s account of Chapo’s arrest. Berrellez, in fact, told Narco News that the whole thing was “arranged,” according to his sources.
As for the US media’s coverage of the Mexican drug war, I think it varies. Most traditional US media outlets make the mistake of framing the issue in terms of “good guys” and “bad guys.” They do their readers a disservice by not explaining how these “bad guys” came to power, and how a corrupt government and financial system enables them.
What do you think is the root of the problems in Mexico? Why? What, if any, are some solutions?
The drug war violence in Mexico results from a combination of state-imposed prohibitions on drugs and migration, government corruption, and US intervention.
Drug prohibition creates the black market. Without it, we would not be having this discussion right now. Wherever there is a black market, there are, of course, huge profits to be made. This is also a breeding ground for violence and corruption. Once the violence reaches a tipping point, as it has in Mexico, limits on migration make it difficult for people to flee and seek refuge elsewhere, namely the United States.
US intervention has also played a role in Mexico’s problems, as it has in so many other places around the world. Whether it’s “above board” cooperation through the Merida Initiative, or a history of covert action by the CIA, FBI, DEA, ICE, etc., the United States has in many ways exacerbated — and even directly caused — Mexico’s drug war related problems.
In other words, the problems are systemic. It does not matter how many drug lords the authorities catch, or how many drug shipments are taken off the street, the problems will continue for as long as the system remains intact.
While long-lasting solutions will be as complex as the problems themselves, part of that solution must be a shift in drug policy. In short, end the drug war, and end prohibition. Of course, this alone does not fix everything that is wrong in either Mexico or the United States, but it is undeniable that an end to the war on drugs would have a significant, beneficial effect in the daily lives of millions of people living on either side of the Rio Grande.
What would you like the public to know about the drug war in Mexico that is not often talked about, if at all?
As mentioned previously, the public deserves to know about the relationship between drug cartels, big business, the banking system, and high levels of government. It cannot be reduced to simply “bad guys” trying to control turf to make money.
The public deserves to know how the CIA, for example, had a working relationship with the leaders of the Guadalajara Cartel, including the recently freed Rafael Caro Quintero, during the 1980s. The public needs to know that, according to our own DEA and CIA contractor Tosh Plumlee, the agency used Quintero’s ranch land in Veracruz not only to train Guatemalan guerrilla fighters, but as a point of contact to fly plane loads of Colombian cocaine back into the United States.
They should know that when DEA agent Enrique “Kiki” Camarena came close to exposing this scheme, CIA-connected narcos captured, tortured, and killed him. The fallout from Camarena’s murder led to the collapse of the Guadalajara Cartel, which then splintered and gave rise to the modern-day Sinaloa, Juarez, and Gulf cartels.
It was this same US government intervention in the 1980s, training Guatemalan death squads to fight its dirty wars in Latin America, that later led to the rise of Los Zetas. Many of the founding members of Los Zetas have their roots in the US-trained Guatemalan “special forces” unit, the Kaibiles.
This is all largely forgotten history, but necessary to understand the modern-day drug war in Mexico in its proper context. The UN believes the drug trade generates roughly US$400 billion on the international market, which in my opinion is a conservative estimate. With so much money involved, it goes well beyond which cartel controls what part of Mexico. Any significant interruption to this market threatens global economies, and the banks that finance those economies. It would be incredibly naive to think there aren’t powerful forces involved who have a vested interest in maintaining this status quo.
What do you think has been a pivotal turning point in the drug war in Mexico and how does your opinion of this event differ from the mainstream narrative?
Undoubtedly, the Felipe Calderon administration’s escalation and militarization of the Mexican drug war in 2007 was a crucial turning point in recent history. However, at this point, you’ll be hard pressed to find anyone who does not recognize this for the absolute disaster that it was.
More recently, the rise of the autodefensa movement in Mexico’s southern states has been a remarkable development. The mainstream narrative is, of course, to depict the autodefensas as “vigilantes,” “rebels,” and potentially dangerous — perhaps even as dangerous as the cartels themselves.
However, if it were not for the Mexican government’s ineptness and complicity in its drug war madness, there would have been no reason for small groups of ordinary citizens to band together in an effort to rid their communities of their criminal element. The autodefensas are not without their problems, no doubt, and recent developments show how the Mexican government has tried (and in many ways succeeded) to infiltrate, co-opt, and delegitimize the movement.
But if nothing else, the autodefensas are a powerful symbol of Mexico’s failed institutions, and the failure of US-Mexico drug policy in general.
Looking forward, there are potentially major shifts on the horizon, especially with regard to marijuana legalization and changes in societal/cultural norms with regard to drugs. When the United States eventually legalizes marijuana nationwide — and all signs indicate that it eventually will — it will be interesting to see how this affects Mexico’s drug policy. The legalization of recreational marijuana in Colorado and Washington has already caused tension with the Mexican government. As more US states follow suit, Mexico’s prohibition on marijuana and its military campaign against those who traffic in it, will become politically untenable.
My concern is that this momentum likely stops with just marijuana legalization, and this would be a mistake. As I mentioned earlier, this doesn’t end until we put a stop to prohibition entirely. For as long as we allow the black market to exist, criminals will continue to thrive and the body count will keep rising. An end to prohibition is the only way forward.