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.