Violence in Mexico

The Amnesty International reports that in Mexico there are human rights violations by the army and the paramilitary forces, allegedly linked to the government, in terms of law enforcement, anti-narcotics and counter-insurgency operations. Besides, there are gang violences and retaliations between the members of rival narcotraffickers groups.

The cause of the narcotrafficking and guerrilla activities in the country is many times the poverty, huge inequality, marginalization and lack of opportunities. The country is suffering from enormous poverty. According to the report of the Mexican ‘National Council for the Evaluation of Social Development Policy’, 52 million people, which equals to 46,2% of the population, lived in poverty in 2010. Amongst them, appr. 12 million lived in extreme poverty. The Council defines poverty as a monthly income of about $180, extreme poverty about $83. This situation is aggravated by the fact that the Mexican population is very young. More than 40 % of the country’s population, appr. 48,5 millions people, are younger than 24 years. Furthermore, around 7,5 millions youngsters between the age of 15 and 29, neither have a job nor pursue studies. There is lack of opportunities and huge poverty. As a result, many turn to narcotrafficking, hoping to earn a decent amount of money.

Poverty is a consequence of certain economic policies. On Mexico neoliberal policies were imposed, which culminated in the creation of the NAFTA, the North American Free Trade Agreement in 1994. As a result, a significant part of the US manufacturing production has been relocated to Mexico, where Mexican workers are exploited working for a slave wage. NAFTA literally destroyed the Mexican agriculture, and it had an especially adverse effects on poor corn farmers, who were drowned by US dumping of subsidized corn. Cheap grains from the US, however, did not mean cheap food for the Mexicans, as big traders in monopoly position determined the end prices and did not pass the benefit of the import on to the consumers. Consequently, NAFTA agricultural policies not only destroyed the local agriculture, but also created food dependency and food insecurity.

The indigenous population is even more vulnerable. They not only suffer from poverty, but also from exclusion, marginalization, stigmatization and an assimilist policy of the state. In Mexico, there are several guerrilla groups in territories, mainly rural ones, with high percentage of indigenous population. In these areas, social activism requesting social justice were brutally repressed by the state for decades, which led these people to go underground, form guerrilla groups and turn to violence. The tactics of the guerrillas have been targeting the military and the police, kidnapping wealthy Mexicans, and setting bombs off in empty buildings and targeting gas facilities. The government responded with executions carried out by paramilitary death squads. Ramiro, the leader of the guerrilla group Ejército Revolucionario del Pueblo Insurgente (ERPI, Insurgent People’s Revolutionary Army) concluded that “But if an armed movement exists, it is because the conditions for it also exist: poverty, injustice, and repression. That is why guerrillas arise. It is not something we do for fun.” . In fact, the purposes of the guerrilla groups are connected to social justice. ERPI fights for ‘poder popular’ (people’s power). Its ‘mother organization’, the Ejército Popular Revolucionario (EPR, Popular Revolutionary Army) is anti-neoliberal, and positions itself against US imperialism and the existence of external debt. The most well-known guerrilla group, the Ejército Zapatista de Liberación Nacional (EZLN, Zapatista Army of National Liberation) based in Chiapas, is also anti-neoliberal and supports the alter-globalization, an alternative globalization without the negative effects of the neoliberal economic globalization. They organized an armed uprising on January 1, 1994 in order to protest against the promulgation of the NAFTA agreement. They argued that this would aggravate inequality and make the selling and privatization of indigenous land possible. The uprising was repressed by the army, however, EZLN changed tactics, and went non-violent, through which they acquired support from different music bands and NGOs from all over the world. The Zapatistas launched several internet campaigns, and elaborated political initiatives calling for the democratization of the Mexican politics, land reform, and autonomy for Chiapas. Furthermore, they demand that the extracted natural resources of Chiapas benefit the people of the same Chiapas.

Most of the international headlines deal with the narco-bloodshed, silencing various issues in connection with the violence in Mexico. Officially, the Mexican government is fighting against narcotrafficking and the drug cartels. In Mexico, there are 8 major drug cartels, each of one having its allied and rival cartels. As a result, there is violence between government forces and cartels, and between different cartels for the control of territories and markets. The Juarez Cartel, for example, has been battling with the Sinaloa Cartel for controlling the drug trade route in Ciudad Juárez, opposite the Texas city El Paso. That is all what the international mainstream media reports of.

What is silenced and/or camouflaged is the existence of the guerrillas and that the Mexican government also carries out counter-insurgency operations against the guerrilla groups. A 2009 article ‘Mexican Army Using Torture to Battle Drug Traffickers’ of The Washington Post reports that a brutal war is going on, … in which the government, led by the army, is using harsh measures to battle the cartels that continue to terrorize much of the country.” It details the torture and violence inflicted on the villagers of Puerto Las Ollas by the Mexican soldiers. In reality, however, this violence was not connected to ‘battle the cartels’, but to catch the leader of the ERPI, Ramiro.

On the other hand, the mass media obediently do not mention the important role of the US in the Mexican violence. The drug cartels are getting the weapons from the US, and the flow of arms has not been cut off by the US. Moreover, the whole drug problem is a problem of demand by the Americans. Without demand there is no supply. It is simple economics. Demand could be lowered by offering opportunities to the vulnerable population – a way out of poverty and desperation – , by education, prevention and treatment. This would be a more cost-effective, and in general a more effective solution than handling the problem outside the US by using violence. In spite of this, the money flows to make police and military actions harsher. In 2008, the US Congress under the presidency of George W. Bush approved the Merida Initiatives, which is a $1,4 billion counter-narcotics package to Mexico. As expected by independent experts, the aid proved to have no impact at all on narcotrafficking and drug use. The only thing, which was achieved, is the exacerbation of violence, the militarization of Mexico, more civilian suffering, more homicides and human rights violations.

Chomsky suggests that “When leaders carry out policies for decades that have no consequences for the stated goal and are very costly, you have to ask whether they are telling you the truth or whether the policies are for a different goal, because they are not reducing drug use (…). You first have to ask what the Mexican government is trying to do, and that’s a little opaque. It looks to some extent as if they’re supporting one of the cartels against the other. If that’s what they are trying to do, then there is no justification. If they want to stop the drugs, the drug rackets, I think they know how to proceed, and it’s not with military action.” Ramiro, the leader of the guerrilla group ERPI, said directly supporting the assumption of Chomsky that the Sinaloa Cartel led by “Chapo” Guzman and the government work together with the aim of both eliminating the competition (such as the Zetas) and carrying out counterinsurgency operations against the guerrillas. “Here El Chapo Guzman’s cartel is working for the state and vice versa.” Other sources also indicate the connection of the political elite with the cartels, claiming that the cartels finance the political campaigns of some candidates. The government’s anti-narco fight is also questioned by the fact that drug trafficking is the second most important economic activity in Mexico after the petroleum industry and precedes foreign investment, remittances and tourism. Without narcotrafficking, the country’s economy would collapse or at least severely damaged.

How can this nightmare to be stopped? How can the violence, cruelty, inhumanity and despair to be stopped? In response, the words of Erich Fromm came to my mind:

“A new society can be brought about only if a profound change occurs in the human heart – if a new object of devotion takes the place of the present one.” If love and justice take the place of injustice, the pursuit for money and power.

Sources: Los Angeles Times (2011): Poverty grew in Mexico to nearly half the population, study finds, July 29, 2011, http://articles.latimes.com/2011/jul/29/world/la-fg-mexico-poverty-20110730; UNHCR (1999): Amnesty International Report 1999 – Mexico, http://www.unhcr.org/refworld/category,COI,AMNESTY,,MEX,3ae6aa0228,0.html; Zcommunications (2009): The Hidden Side of Mexico’s Drug War, October 2009, http://www.zcommunications.org/the-hidden-side-of-mexicos-drug-war-by-john-gibler; The Washington Post (2009): Mexican Army Using Torture to Battle Drug Traffickers, Rights Groups Say, July 9, 2009, http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/07/08/AR2009070804197_4.html?sid=ST2010101906835; Guernica (2011): Noam Chomsky: Drug Cartels and the Growing Border War, August 15, 2011, http://www.guernicamag.com/blog/2970/luis_fernando_c225rdenas_noam/; Reclaiming Democracy: The Social Justice and Political Economy of Gregory Baum and Kari Polanyi Levitt, edited by Marguerite Mendell, 2005.

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