Dawn Paley

Obama’s Central American Rescue Plan Will Only Make Life There Worse

Posted in Uncategorized by dawn on 06/02/2015

This piece is a short explainer and critique on the recently announced Alliance for Prosperity in Central America, published yesterday with The New Republic.

February 5, 2015

When Americans began noticing a deluge of unaccompanied migrant children flooding to the U.S.-Mexico border, the immediate U.S. response was a stopgap. Youth were placed in shelters by the thousands, sometimes set up on military bases, which critics likened to detention centers and emergency hurricane shelters. Later, kids were placed with sponsors while their cases were processed.

Now, a longer-term response is taking shape. The Obama administration has recently jumped on board with the Alliance for Prosperity, a plan that touts development and peace for Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador. It promises to address the violence that’s forcing children to flee in such Biblical numbers. Vice President Joe Biden’s op-ed in the New York Times last week confirmed that President Obama would ask Congress for $1 billion to fund the Alliance For Prosperity, a name that recalls JFK’s controversial Alliance for Progress. “Confronting these challenges,” Biden wrote, “requires nothing less than systemic change …”

But the essence of what the Alliance for Prosperity promises is that more of the samemore local spending on infrastructure to facilitate foreign investment, more corporate tax breaks and free trade zones and more regulatory harmonizationwill allow Central America to pull itself up by its bootstraps. And, yes, that outcome is as unlikely as it sounds.

Driving the public U.S. support for the Alliance for Progress is the ongoing humanitarian crisis of children fleeing their home countries. Between October 2013 and October 2014, 60,000 unaccompanied minors crossed the U.S.-Mexico border. Most of them were from Honduras, followed by Guatemala, El Salvador, and Mexico. These arrivals marked a spike in Central American minors trying to cross the border. (The number of Mexican minors has remained relatively stable; Mexican children are deported without a court hearing and thus not detained for significant lengths of time.)

Many of the youth held in custody by U.S. Customs and Border Patrol (CPB) were subjected to measures that would be considered objectionable against anyone, convicted adults or otherwise. Accusations against the CPB, in a complaint filed in June on behalf of 100 children by the American Civil Liberties Union and other rights groups are truly grotesque. They include “denying necessary medical care to children as young as five-months-old, refusing to provide diapers for infants, confiscating and not returning legal documents and personal belongings, making racially charged insults and death threats, and strip searching and shackling children in three-point restraints during transport.” The ACLU proceeded to file a class action lawsuit in October challenging the federal government’s failure to provide legal representation to the youth.

After reaching a peak in June of 2014, the number of unaccompanied minors arriving to the United States has fallen off from more than 10,000 to a few thousand a month. This owes in large part to Mexico deporting more Central American minors. As fewer Central American kids arrived at the U.S. border, the issue and the plight of these children slid out of view.

Enter the Alliance for Prosperity. In his op-ed, Biden wrote that the Alliance for Prosperity promotes security, good governance and economic growth in El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala. (The plan was authored this past fall by those countries’ presidents.) The security proposal is thin on specifics, but aims to train and equip police, something the United States has been doing in the region for decades. The plan trots out classic promises to increase tax collection and transparency, toward improving government. It describes a renewed effort to invest in education, a sector decimated by austerity programs, including by promising cash to students who stay in school.

But by far the most polished segment of the document details the sweetheart deals the three countries will roll out for international investors. Biden compared the Alliance to a kind of Plan Colombia for Central America. Plan Colombia was a six-year, $9 billion experiment that used anti-drugs policy as a pretext for bettering investment conditions in Colombia, both through militarization and political reforms. In short, this is not a comparison that should necessarily inspire confidence for Central Americans.

In my book Drug War Capitalism, I explore how Plan Colombia was a foreign policy innovation that created a new blueprint for U.S. intervention on behalf of the corporate sector, guised as an anti-drugs initiative. In fact the success of Plan Colombia has little to nothing to do with drugs, but could be measured by examining growing levels of foreign direct investment and investor security. Biden’s memory of Plan Colombia confirms my argument. Far from recalling an anti-drugs program, he lauds Plan Colombia such: “The Colombian government cleaned up its courts, vetted its police force and reformed its rules of commerce to open up its economy.”

Today’s measure of success is distinct from the messaging about Plan Colombia at the time. It is also distinct from what we are told today about the Merida Initiative, the first re-incarnation of Plan Colombia, this time in Mexico. In an interview in 2007, former U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Robert Charles explained: “The aim of ‘Plan Colombia’ was to reduce overall cultivation in the country in the first five years by 50 percent. We’ve actually reduced it by more than 50 percent.” Plan Colombia began in 2000, and ran through to 2006, after which U.S. funding to Colombia began to decrease and shift towards Mexico and the Merida Initiative, beginning in 2008.

The U.S. State Department hawked the Merida Initiative as a way to strengthen courts and improve police odds in their fight against drug traffickers. Instead, those institutions’ failures and cruelties have only deepened as U.S. largesse, to the tune of over $2.35 billion, has fostered increased violence across the country. Meanwhile, on the metrics that matter most directly to investors and politicians, the Merida Initiative has been a success: Mexico has passed reforms in finance, education, labor and energy that have cleared the way for foreign investment. But to people living here in Mexico, the Merida Initiative has only exacerbated an already grim daily reality.

Biden’s op-ed failed to mention the Merida Initiative, or its current incarnate in Central America, the Central America Regional Security Initiative (CARSI). When the Merida Initiative began, part of the funding was destined for Central America. In 2010, the Central America program was separated from the Merida Initiative, and re-packaged as CARSI. But CARSI did little to stem the violence or to reduce the tide of migrants. If anything, it did the opposite. In Honduras and Guatemala, homicide rates climbed steadily as U.S. funding for militarization via CARSI began to flow. Remember that Honduras sent the largest number of kids to the U.S. border, followed by Guatemala. In 2012, two solid years into CARSI, there were 7,172 recorded homicides in Honduras, marking the most violent year in the country’s recent history. (That is, a country with 5 percent of the United States’s population generated 56 percent as many murders as the United States saw that year.)

Central America has been here before. Many of the features of CARSI and previous U.S. initiatives in Central America are recycled in the Alliance for Prosperity, albeit with a bigger budget and a more explicit focus on improving conditions for foreign investors. “Obviously the neoliberal program was not structured to reduce poverty, or to generate employment, or so that there would be no migrants,” Guatemalan researcher Luis Solano wrote in an email interview. “But the public discourse was that of the famous ‘trickle down policy,’ a trickle down that never arrived except to the handful who benefited.”

Far from providing new opportunities for regular people in Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador, the measures proposed in the Alliance for Prosperity are likely to worsen the social and economic realities for the region’s poor majority. This is likely to lead Central Americansadults and children aliketo continue to seek out survival by heading north.

Dawn Paley is a writer based in Mexico and the author of Drug War Capitalism.


A War against the “Last”

Posted in Uncategorized by dawn on 30/01/2015

Dear readers,

Happy new year! I share with you a new review of Drug War Capitalism, published on Counterpunch. I also just updated the site with some information on upcoming speaking events in Sacramento, McAllen, Texas, and Puerto Rico.

Hope to see you around!


A War Against the “Last” by ANDREW SMOLSKI, January 30, 2015

The false narrative read regularly by a “reporter” follows a popularized representation; the poor, typically minorities, are users and dealers who create the necessity for government intervention in their lives. It is a narrative well within the boundaries of the dominant ideology, which upholds capitalists as representatives par excellence of morality, therefor negating police presence in their neighborhoods, except as property’s protectors. The pernicious false narrative is international, as is the drug war it cruelly justifies.

In Drug War Capitalism, Dawn Paley does not subscribe to such ideological fodder. Instead, she creates “a more useful framework through which we can make sense of the drug war south of the US-Mexico border”. She begins with the jugular, spilling reality all over us and tarnishing the capitalists’ white linens with the blood of every innocent brutally murdered for profit. Paley demonstrates that whether in Mexico, Colombia, Guatemala, Honduras or the United States this drug war ideology and its real effects are only meant to instill fear in the naïve middle class and militarize life for neoliberal capital and extractivism. That is all it does. That is all it has ever done.

It is an assemblage for war against the oppressed in service to transnational capitalism and United States imperialism, and continue the accumulation through dispossession. It is then, as put succinctly by Dawn Paley, “a long-term fix to capitalism’s woes, combining terror with policymaking in a seasoned neoliberal mix, cracking open social worlds and territories once unavailable to globalized capitalism.” It is a premise already well understood by the “last” themselves.dwc-cvr-small_72web-e1419040310862

For instance, the first chapter opens with a story about a small town in Colombia, Santa Domingo, where the Colombian military has been bombing “cartel members”. The “cartel members” are really the indigenous campesinos who live around Santa Domingo. The residents of Santa Domingo perceive the bombings as part of a plot to get them off their land and let the oil companies come in. They know drilling is going on around them and that their land is valuable. Of course, the campesinos are right and the government nothing more than a puppet, or as Marx said, “nothing more than the form of organization which the bourgeois necessarily adopt…for the mutual guarantee of their property and interests.”

What Paley gives the reader then is something beyond the “objectivity” of the New York Times; she presents an analysis of interests, of what people will do when they follow the maxim “forget all but self” and have the institutional backing to do so. By understanding such a cruel, egotistical maxim as present within liberal capitalist institutions, no longer must we play the morality game capitalists would want us to play. For Paley the game is how capitalism overcomes its crisis by being brutal, by taking, by negating the very freedom it ideologically claims.

Current events represent this “necessary” violence for capitalist expansion in Mexico; Ayotzinapa (the book is dedicated to the 43 students) and Tlatlaya. These events only prove Human Rights Watch’s point (quoted in Paley’s book) that the drug war “had led to a dramatic increase in grave human rights violations committed by the security forces sent to confront them”. The human rights violations are part and parcel of a war against the “last” for the benefit of those who already possess too much.

Under Plan Merida, security forces are further militarized with weapons bought by the US. These weapons are purchased to support the US military-industrial complex and then given to the Mexican military. Paley points out that a counterpart to the increased militarization of the conflict is that the narcos become paramilitary organizations. Ayotzinapa demonstrates quite readily how the narcos are put at the service of government, sicarios paid to kill whomever is deemed a “threat” by those who have formal institutional power.

Echoing Paley, Proceso and La Jornada have long put forward the hypothesis that the government picks cartels to support, and even further utilizes them to their advantage. For example, Los Zetas were stopped because they were too savage and unwilling to be act in service to the real centers of power. All the while, the Sinaloa Cartel was consolidating territory further, even if there was the spectacle of El Chapo’s arrest. Furthermore, Anabel Hernandez, author of Los Señores del Narco and referenced in Paley’s book, points out that high level government officials participated actively in the drug trade. Of course, they are not prosecuted for such connections. The law, as Marx wrote long ago, is there to allow the “ruling class assert their common interest”, and thus protects even the most vicious of them.

Going beyond those protections for the ruling class, Paley shows how alterations to legal frameworks in Central and South America have further enabled both the drug war and capital’s expansion. These frameworks have been altered following trade agreements, such as NAFTA, which destroyed traditional economic activity, thus making drug cultivation a viable activity and creating a necessary labor pool for drug traffickers. Marx’s reserve army is thus diverted to illegal economic activity, which doesn’t affect wages in the social whole, and therefor acts as a self-flagellating release valve for worker anomie.

The only thing unaccounted for by Paley is something recognized in The House of the Spirits by Isabel Allende. For Paley the elites, and all the players, they seem all too perfect and too able to control the situation. Rather, many of them are like Esteban Trueba, a conservative who unleashes fascism and then loses his power as well. Many Mexican politicians are of this sort, unleashing black magic they can’t control and eventually consumes them. Paco Ignacio Taibo II said it best (paraphrasing) that Calderon was a special kind of dumbass for taking corrupt police to a corrupt fight for a corrupt system.

Even accounting for that, what Paley gives us, without ideological fantasy, are the mechanisms by which “the drug war advances the interests of neoliberal capitalism: through the imposition of rule of law and policy changes, through formal militarization, and through the paramilitarization that results.” Thus, the brilliance of Dawn Paley’s book is in revealing the concoction, the poisonous potion said to make us safe, but always instead increasing our insecurity. By doing so, she disabuses us of the narratives meant to justify the unjustifiable. The drug war can’t bring safety, because the drug war is not a war against narcos, cartels or drug dealers. The drug war unleashes violence as a way to crush dissent and increase economic opportunity for certain powerful actors.

Simply put, we all die, so that capital can survive.

Andrew Smolski is a writer.


Two reviews of Drug War Capitalism

Posted in Uncategorized by dawn on 17/12/2014

Dear readers,

The first couple of reviews of Drug War Capitalism have recently come out.

The first was in Baltimore’s City Paper, here’s a snippet:

She argues that the war is about much more than simply stopping the flow of drugs to the United States… It is a complicated argument that Paley explains well, and an important one to make in that it refuses to separate the U.S.-backed wars in Colombia, Mexico, and elsewhere from the overall economic context. Paley’s book walks the reader through this history in chapters about Colombia, Mexico, Guatemala, and Honduras and then asks how we might think “peace” in the context of this war without end.

A second review was featured in the Vermont Digger today, here’s a taste:

Paley subverts the traditional government versus cartel narrative and presents exhaustive research that suggests collusion between the U.S. and local governments, transnational corporations, militant groups and establishment media. Beginning with Plan Colombia, a U.S. military and aid initiative started in 1999, and continuing on through the modern war on drugs in Mexico and Central America, Paley’s research brings a forceful and fresh perspective to this violent chapter in U.S. relations in Latin America.

Hope you’ll pick up the book, if you haven’t already. I’m just wrapping up my east coast tour, with an event tonight in Burlington and a final talk tomorrow in Montréal.

Drug War Capitalism in 3 Minutes

Posted in Colombia, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico by dawn on 07/12/2014

Couple of updates linked to some media coverage of Drug War Capitalism. Screen Shot 2014-12-05 at 6.52.44 PM

The talented folks at AJ+ just put out a short video interview with me about recent events.

I can’t get it to embed here, but you can watch it on YouTube by clicking here.

I also did a Q&A with the folks at the UBC School of Journalism, where I studied before embarking on the book project.

Next week I go on tour on the east coast… Check here for details.

Drug War Capitalism East Coast Tour

Posted in Uncategorized by dawn on 03/12/2014

After a great tour on the West coast, I’m heading East with Drug War Capitalism. Please let your friends and anyone you think would be interested in coming out know!


December 11 at 7pm: Location to be Confirmed, DC
Facebook event here: https://www.facebook.com/events/1719096904982745/

December 12 at 7:30pm: Red Emma’s Bookstore Coffeehouse, 30 W. North Ave., Baltimore, MD
Facebook event here: http://www.facebook.com/events/1475451959400744/

December 14 at 7pm: Wooden Shoe Books & Records, 704 South Street, Philadelphia, PA
Facebook event here: http://www.facebook.com/events/771572699575121/

December 15 at 7pm: Brooklyn Base, 1302 Myrtle Ave., Brooklyn, NY
Facebook event here: http://www.facebook.com/events/1487437301544080/

December 17 at 6pm: Fletcher Room (top floor) at Fletcher Free Library, 235 College St., Burlington, VT
Facebook event here: http://www.facebook.com/events/797783370284486/

December 18 at 6pm: Concordia University – Hall Building, 1455 De Maisonneuve W., Montreal, QC
Facebook event here: http://www.facebook.com/events/482831758521325/

West Coast Tour: Drug War Capitalism

Posted in Uncategorized by dawn on 12/11/2014

Hey folks! I’m about to head to the west coast on a book tour. Please spread the word. More info here.

November 15 at 11am: Howard Zinn Bookfair @ Mission High School, 3750 18th Street, San Francisco
More info at http://howardzinnbookfair.com/

November 17 at 5pm: Portland State University, Smith Memorial Student Union (SMSU) 296

November 18 at 7pm: Reading Frenzy, 3628 N Mississippi Ave, Portland, OR
Facebook event here: http://www.facebook.com/events/688662534581314/

November 20 at 7pm: Orca Books, 509 W. 4th Street, Olympia, WA
More info at http://www.orcabooks.com/…/thursday-november-20th-700pm-daw…

November 23 at 6:30pm: Left Bank Books, 92 Pike St., Seattle, WA
Facebook event here: http://www.facebook.com/events/1559096520969217/

November 25 at 7pm: 38 Blood Alley Square, Vancouver, BC
Facebook event here: http://www.facebook.com/events/837201479665137/

November 26 at 7pm (with Julián Cardona): SFU, Harbour Centre RM 7000, Vancouver, BC

November 27 at 4pm (with Julián Cardona): UBC Liu Institute for Global Issues, Case Room, Vancouver, BC
More information at http://juanitasundberg.wordpress.com/november-workshop-on-…/

Pre-Order Drug War Capitalism Today!

Posted in Uncategorized by dawn on 29/10/2014

Screen Shot 2014-10-29 at 11.12.40 AMDrug War Capitalism, my first book, has finally gone to the printers. You can pre-order a copy today from AK Press for 25% off the regular price.

I’m in the process of confirming dates for a west coast tour in November and an east coast tour in December. As soon as things firm up a bit, I will post dates here.

I wrote an update a little while back about events in Guerrero regarding the 43 students who remain disappeared in a state crime that has shaken (and continues to shake) Mexico. There is a need for funds to support families of the 43 young men as well as students of the Ayotzinapa school, if you are able to donate, you can do so here.

Thanks for your support and expect a new update very soon.

Cops and Paramilitaries Tortured, Burned, Massacred Mexico Students

Posted in Uncategorized by dawn on 07/10/2014

It appears that a mass grave found near Iguala, Guerrero, over the weekend which is said to contain up to 34 bodies, contains the remains of at least some of the 43 students who were kidnapped by police on Friday.

The students were rural youth studying to become teachers. Their student association is known to be one of the most organized and combative in the country. They were brothers, sons, and friends, and some of them were fathers. They were tortured, dismembered and burned before being buried.

This isn’t the first grave of it’s kind to be dug in Mexico, far from it.

There have been hundreds of clandestine mass graves dug and filled with corpses since Felipe Calderón declared the war on drugs in December, 2006. The discovery of some of these graves garnered international attention, while others went under the radar almost completely. There’s no solid, reliable count of bodies, or of graves. Then there are those which have yet to be discovered. Migrant activists go so far as to call Mexico a giant cemetary, claiming that as many as 120,000 migrants could be secretly buried across the country.

The US media is struggling to tell the story of the bad Guerrero police who passed detained students off to crime gangs. The first thing we can do to break the silence about what is happening in Mexico is call things by their name.

The killers in Iguala were not drug gangs. They were cops and paramilitaries. Paramilitaries are non-state armed groups who work with state forces. There can be no clearer example of the horrors of state and paramilitary violence than what has happened to these students.

Parts of Mexico are deeply paramilitarized, a process which was accelerated and fortified by the Merida Initiative as well as internationally sponsored police professionalization programs.

I’m a grad student in Mexico, and in talking with my peers over the past couple days, the fear and the rage is tangible. On Wednesday students around the country will bravely march against this barbarity, this terror at the hands of the state. The worst thing we can do is to be silent about this.

Originally posted to The Media Co-op.

43 Students Still Disappeared in Mexico as Marches Commemorate 1968 Massacre

Posted in Uncategorized by dawn on 02/10/2014

The disappearance of 57 students on Friday last week by municipal police in Ayotzinapa, Guerrero, is in my view easily one of the most scandalous events that has taken place in Mexico over the past seven years. It’s so awful it’s hard to think about.

What started out as a student protest on Friday turned ugly when cops opened fire multiple times, killing six people and wounding 25. They then detained 57, and when I say “detained” I mean kidnapped. Anarchists denounce police kidnappings all the time at protests, well, this case is a worst case scenario as far as these things go. Fourteen of students have since been returned to safety. That means there are still 43 missing students, all young folks from a rural area in Guerrero state who were in a teacher training program. They are no longer officially in police custody, if they’re still alive they are likely to be in the hands of drug cartels (which are inseparable from the police).

According to the Wall Street Journal:

“Every hour that goes by and we don’t find them, the possibilities that we will find them alive get smaller,” said Vidulfo Rosales, a lawyer for a local human rights group. Mr. Rosales said hopes had faded that the missing students have been hiding at the homes of friends following the protests.  “The most common hypothesis is that they are in the power of organized crime groups that work with Iguala’s municipal police, which is very penetrated by organized crime,” he said.

Twenty two cops have since been arrested in connection with killings. But that’s a weak, media friendly band-aid solution, and does nothing to bring back the 43 missing students.

The President of Mexico cancelled a visit to the state that had been planned for the weekend, blaming weather. Yeah, right. In terms of the situation with the students, the Latin American Herald Tribune reported “Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto said the state government had to take responsibility for the violence in the region as it was not the job of the federal authorities.

Mr. President, 43 disappeared students, grabbed by cops and handed off to drug gangs/cartels/paramilitary groups is everybody’s business.

This is a national fucking emergency, and a tragic disgrace. It is taking place 46 years after Mexican pigs massacred at least 36 students at Tlatelolco in the lead up to the 1968 Olympics in Mexico City.

There’s thousands of students throughout the country protesting in the streets today, acts which in this context we must understand as being incredibly brazen and brave. All power to the people in the streets.

#BringBackLosNormalistas #El2deoctubrenoseolvide #FTP

Originally posted on the Media Co-op.

Update on Drug War Capitalism & Don’t Just Decriminalize, Demilitarize

Posted in Mexico by dawn on 23/09/2014

Hey folks!

It’s been a busy time, but I thought I’d write up a short update. I am less than 10 days away from putting the last touches on the manuscript for Drug War Capitalism before it goes to the printer. Right now myself and the lovely folks at AK Press are in the excruciatingly tedious and yet crucially important proofing stage. The book will be printed by November, and I’ll do the first launch at the Howard Zinn Memorial Bookfair in San Francisco. After that I plan to tour with the book on the west coast, in December I’ll visit the east coast, and in January, Arizona and south Texas. If you have tips or ideas for the tour you can email me at (all together) dawn paley at gmail dot com.

A couple days ago I did a short interview with teleSUR English about the new Global Commission report on drugs, folks might be interested in checking that out, which you can do here. Below, a short excerpt from the article:

“We should use a new metric to understand the success of Plan Colombia, one that examines how it benefits transnational capital,” Paley told teleSUR English. “If we were to examine the results of Plan Colombia based on how it deepened neoliberalism in Colombia, we would have to recognize that it was a success. This was exactly what inspired the Merida Initiative in Mexico and other, similar drug war policies elsewhere.”

On top of finishing the book and so on I also recently started a PhD program in Mexico, during which I plan to work on a second book that deals with clandestine mass graves and exhumation in Mexico from 2007 to present. But more on that another time!

Thanks everyone for your ongoing support and patience,



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