I did this review recently for Upside Down World.
Todd Miller. Border Patrol Nation: Dispatches from the Front Lines of Homeland Security. City Lights Books, 2013.
These are wild times to be a border cop. They have big salaries, new toys, and all kinds of powers to roam the country racially profiling people, and detaining those without proof that they crossed the border legally. An increasing number of agents are returned combat vets who fought in Afghanistan or Iraq, who bring warlike attitudes to their work in the U.S. But this (mostly) boy’s club is not without its drawbacks: it is also a place permeated by a culture of militaristic racism where having a different opinion can get you blacklisted.
Border Patrol Nation, Todd Miller’s first book, is an in-depth look at how border enforcement has expanded drastically following 9-11. Since then, he reports, the government has spent $791 billion on Homeland Security, the agency responsible for border control. Miller convincingly argues that the expanding phenomenon of militarized border control is something that should concern all of us. He reports that in 2012, “The $18 billion spent on border and immigration enforcement outdoes all other federal law enforcement bodies combined including the FBI, Secret Service, Drug Enforcement Administration, U.S. Marshal Service, and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.” The money is also flowing outside of the U.S., to agents and client states in order to tighten their borders and prevent migration north.
The statistics are staggering. Border Patrol Nation details that prior to 1986, there were rarely more than 2,000 people deported each year. “By the late 1990s, the U.S. government was deporting more than 40,000 people annually, still only a fraction of what we see today. By the early 2010s, Homeland Security was expelling well over 400,000 people per year from the United States.” This drastic increase in deportations has taken place just as a variety of U.S. states, most famously Arizona, but also Alabama, Georgia, Indiana, South Carolina, and Utah have passed laws obliging local and state police to enforce immigration law. (more…)
Aquí la traducción de un articulo que escribi por Occupied London el año pasado. Para ver más fotos, visita la página de SubVersiones. Por Dawn Paley. Traducción: Nicolás Olucha Sánchez. Fotografías: Heriberto Paredes.
En 2010 y en 2011 varias granadas de mano explotaron en los ayuntamientos de Reynosa, Matamoros, Nuevo Laredo y Ciudad Victoria, cuatro localidades fronterizas mexicanas en el estado de Tamaulipas.
Se señaló al crimen organizado como autor de las explosiones, concretamente a miembros de los Zetas o del Cártel del Golfo. Visité la zona a comienzos de 2011, intentando averiguar qué podría estar conduciendo a grupos de delincuentes a enfrentarse a los gobiernos locales que, a efectos, están bajo su control.
Las piezas no comenzaron a encajar hasta que conocí a Francisco Chavira Martínez en 2011. La primera vez que quedamos propuso que fuéramos a comer a un restaurante de Reynosa conocido por sus huéspedes de altos vuelos. Camareros con esmoquin a lo pingüino iban y venían con bandejas mientras las demás mesas estaban, en su mayoría, ocupadas por hombres mayores. Chavira hablaba en voz alta y sin miedo. Entrevisté al menos a doce personas más, pero Chavira fue el único de todos los entrevistados que permitió que su nombre real fuera utilizado.
Los gobiernos locales “utilizan lo que es los roba-carros para todo aquel que esta en contra de ellos, les mandan a robar su carro, los ladrones de casa, los ladrones domiciliarios que le llaman, entran a robar tu casa para espantarte, los narcotraficantes, que los utilizan ellos como una forma de que la gente tenga miedo, para que no participes, para que no alces la voz, para que no estés en contra del gobierno, incluso se mandan ellos mismos a tirar granadas a las presidencias municipales”, relató Chavira.
Quizá vio mi incredulidad reflejada en el rostro. Todavía no había captado la mecánica del terror y los intereses a los que sirve. “¿Por qué?” Se preguntó a sí mismo, para hacer una pausa acto seguido. “Para que la gente se asuste y no vaya a exigir a la presidencia, ni exijas transparencia de las cuentas publicas, en qué se gastan el dinero, por que si no, si lo hago, me van a matar, me van a meter una granada.” Meses después de nuestra entrevista, Chavira, candidato del Partido Revolucionario Democrático (RPD), presuntamente de carácter izquierdista, fue arrestado bajo falsas acusaciones y encarcelado hasta que pasaron las elecciones, un episodio que él describió como un “secuestro legalizado” por parte del Estado.
La segunda vez que me reuní con Chavira fue dos años después, en 2013. Nos encontramos casualmente frente a la puerta de la embajada estadounidense en México D. F. en una manifestación organizada por familiares y amigos de migrantes que trabajan en los Estados Unidos sin papeles. Nos dirigimos a una cafetería cercana y le hice una pequeña entrevista. Mientras íbamos de camino se maravillaba de poder caminar tranquilamente por la calle sin miedo, algo impensable en su ciudad de origen.
Las palabras que Chavira me brindó en aquel encuentro requieren una pequeña introducción. La versión oficial de la guerra del narco o guerra contra las drogas, la cual, los gobiernos y los medios de comunicación no paran de repetir una y otra vez, es que la guerra que hay en México es entre los malos (los traficantes de drogas) y los buenos (la policía y el ejército, que cuentan con el apoyo de Estados Unidos, Canadá y países de la Unión Europea). Según esta versión de los hechos, los “malos” siguen la siguiente estructura jerárquica: en lo alto de la pirámide están los capos o señores de la droga, luego vienen los generales o jefes de seguridad, los cuales protegen al jefe y sus zonas; después vienen los jefes de plaza, jefes locales que se encargan de una zona fronteriza en particular o de una zona de distribución concreta.
Esta versión (que es la principal) es lo que yo llamo el discurso sobre la guerra entre cárteles. Este discurso posee unos rasgos reseñables: confianza casi exclusiva en las fuentes de información gubernamentales y/o estatales, creencia en que todos son culpables hasta que se demuestre lo contrario y que hay víctimas que se ven envueltas en tráfico de drogas y una amplia percepción de que los policías implicados en actividades delictivas son la excepción y no la norma, y que más presencia policial aumenta la seguridad.
Hace algo más de dos años que comencé a informar e investigar sobre las diferentes facetas de la transformación que vive México, que en mi opinión es una especie de contrarrevolución y una prolongación del Tratado de Libre Comercio de América del Norte que se lleva a cabo mediante un intenso proceso de militarización. Una vez que uno analiza las consecuencias sociales y económicas de la “guerra del narco”, las versiones oficiales de lo que sucede dejan de tener sentido casi por completo. Dichas versiones tratan de oscurecer la dinámica real en lugar de arrojar luz. Lo que aprendo de gente como Chavira es lo que me permite conocer lo que realmente sucede en este México en guerra. (more…)
Here’s a short essay I wrote for Occupied London’s fifth issue…
Published October 24, 2013
In 2010 and 2011, grenades exploded at city hall buildings in Reynosa, Matamoros, Nuevo Laredo and Ciudad Victoria, four cities in the Mexican border state of Tamaulipas.
Organized crime was blamed for the explosions, particularly members of the Zetas or of the Gulf Cartel. I visited the region in early 2011, at a loss for what could be driving criminal groups to fight against local governments that are, for all intents and purposes, under their control.
It wasn’t until I met Francisco Chavira Martínez in early 2011 that things began to become clear. The first time we met, he suggested we eat together at the back of a Reynosa restaurant that caters to well-heeled locals. Waiters dressed like penguins bowed in and out, while other tables were occupied mostly by older men. Chavira spoke loudly, unafraid. He was the only person out of over a dozen I interviewed in the city who agreed to let me use his real name.
Local governments “use car thieves to steal the cars of anyone who opposes them; house thieves who will rob your house to frighten you; narcotraffickers, who they use as a way to create fear in the people, so that you don’t participate, so that you don’t raise your voice or go against the government; they even send their own to throw grenades at city halls,” Chavira explained.1
Maybe he noticed the quizzical look on my face. I didn’t yet grasp how terror works, and the purposes it serves. “Why?” he asked himself, pausing for a moment. “So that the people are scared and don’t go to City Hall to make demands; they won’t go and demand that public accounts be transparent, or [ask] what the money is being spent on.” Months after our interview, Chavira, a candidate for the left-leaning Democratic Revolutionary Party (PRD), was arrested on trumped up charges and held in jail until after the elections, in what he referred to as a “legalised kidnapping” by the state.
The second time I met with Chavira was two years later, in early 2013. We ran into each other in front of the US embassy in Mexico City at a demonstration organized by families and friends of people who are working without papers in the US. I took him to a nearby café where we did a short interview. While we walked he marveled at how wonderful it felt to be able to walk down the street without fear, something no longer possible in his hometown.
Chavira’s comments to me that afternoon need some introduction. (more…)
I recently had the good fortune to contribute a short essay to Stay Solid! A Radical Handbook for Youth, edited by Matt Hern and the Purple Thistle Collective and published by AK Press. My piece is really short and regular readers of my work will be familiar with the thrust of it. Stay Solid is a big book with nice large print, filled with insightful essays, images, letters, and short pieces like mine, which I’m reposting below. Highly recommended if you’re out looking for a little something for a teenager or young adult in your life.
Maybe you’ve heard of something called the war on drugs. Maybe not. Either way, here’s a sketch: words “war on drugs” were first uttered disgraced U.S. President Richard Nixon in 1969. The logic of the war on drugs is based around the idea of prohibition, or that making certain narcotics illegal protects the population.
Prohibition is based on moral and social panics, and not based on science or medical research, which has generally pointed to the fact that drug addiction is a medical issue and not a criminal issue.
Last week’s capture of Miguel Ángel Treviño Morales made news all over the world, and was celebrated in the mainstream press as a blow against Los Zetas and a decimation of their leadership. The New York Times went so far as to claim his capture could represent a “crossroads” in the four-decade war on drugs.
These media reports are mainly based on anonymous official sources and analysts who spend too much time on YouTube. Thankfully, there are still some people out there whose bullshit detectors work. These are the folks who can help us get beyond the official line and understand the on-the-ground impact of apprehending a guy nicknamed Z-40 and putting him in jail.
First, it’s important to have a sense of Treviño’s true role in the organization, a nuance that seems to escape even the most hardened stay-at-home keyboard warrior analysts. I asked Guadalupe Correa Cabrera, who teaches in the governance department at the University of Texas in Brownsville, across the river from Matamoros, Tamaulipas, if the mainstream media has oversold the importance of men like Treviño Morales and the role of hired killers within Los Zetas.
“The problem is the media is looking at the lil sicario as if he were the whole organization,” said Cabrera. She’s writing a book titled Zetas Inc., where she compares their structure and operations to that of a corporation. The way she sees it, the assassins who work for the Zetas are basically like a marketing department, and, far from a cartel overseer, Treviño Morales was more like a top salesman. (more…)
My review of Dirty Wars, published by Upside Down World.
Scahill, Jeremy. Dirty Wars: The World is a Battlefield. Perseus Books, 2013. (Epub edition).
Though Jeremy Scahill’s latest book, Dirty Wars: The World is a Battlefield, is firmly rooted in the Arab world, it is a valuable volume for those wishing to better understand how current and past events in Mexico and Central and South America connect to the so-called war on terror.
A must-read for anyone wanting to learn more about the US drone wars and targeted kill programs, Dirty Wars is a bit slow going off the top, but before long, Scahill introduces compelling characters and provides readers with access to entire families who have been adversely impacted by US war policies in Yemen and elsewhere.
Dirty Wars also contains a number of items of specific interest to folks whose interests lie south of the US border.
Using carefully gathered evidence, Dirty Wars makes it clear that American military campaigns do little more than exacerbate existing situations. Sadly, this is as true in the Western hemisphere as it is in the Middle East.
Scahill carefully documents how the militaristic approach taken by the US government towards perceived terror threats in Somalia, Yemen and elsewhere has served to drive up the influence of local armed groups.
“By 2004, the [CIA's] outsourced Somalia campaign was laying the groundwork for a spectacular series of events that would lead to an almost unthinkable rise in the influence of al Qaeda in the Horn of Africa,” writes Scahill. He later describes how Ethiopian and US special forces intensified their attacks on members of Somalia’s Islamic Courts Union, in January 2007. This aggression created a welcoming climate for al Qaeda: “With the Somali ICU leaders on the run, al Qaeda saw Somalia as an ideal front line for jihad and began increasing its support for al Shabab.”
Reading from Mexico, one cannot help but be reminded of how the US campaigns against drug traffickers in one region inevitably result in a strengthening of the same groups in another part of the same region. (more…)
Here’s a piece that goes a little way towards explaining the HUGE financial reform package presented by Mexico’s Finance Ministry in May.
‘Til Debt Do Us Part’– Mexico Financial Reforms Favor Big Banks, Deny Credit to Millions of Farmers
CIP Americas Program, July 10, 2013
A package of financial reforms proposed in Mexico has quietly been presented to congress. Although it hasn’t garnered much attention anywhere but in the business press, the proposal hasn’t escaped the attention of the U.S. financial sector. But critics argue the reforms could increase consumer debt and repossessions in Mexico, and lead to publicly funded bailouts of foreign-owned banks.
On May 8, Mexico’s Finance Ministry (SHCP) presented the financial reform to congress. The reform is 927 pages long, consisting of 13 decrees, which will amend 34 federal laws. The same day as the reform was published, Fitch Ratings raised Mexico’s credit rating to BBB+, citing “greater than anticipated commitment of the new administration and Congress to pass structural reforms.
The financial reform follows controversial labor and education reforms that lowered minimum wage and introduced standardized testing for teachers.
In a speech delivered the day the financial reform was presented, Finance Minister Luis Videgaray explained that the reform aims to increase competition in the banking sector and create incentives for lending. Videgaray twice pointed to Chile, long the Latin American poster child of neoliberalism, as a model for Mexico’s financial system.
“A poor track record of paying back loans, limited consequences for non-payment and a challenging legal environment for collections also dull lending in Mexico,” reads an article in the Wall Street Journal. Among the key objectives of the bill, according to U.S. law firm Gardere Wynne Sewell LLP, is “Improving trial procedures, seeking faster resolution of controversies and granting enhanced rights to lenders through the courts, which are likely to expedite collections.”
The Mexican Banking Association (ABM), which represents the largest banks in the country, immediately expressed its support of the proposal.
But not everyone is convinced that Mexico’s financial reform is everything its boosters pretend. Dr. Luis Ignacio Román, a professor and researcher in the department of economics, administration and finances at the Western Institute of Technology and Higher Education (ITESO) in Guadalajara, Mexico, says it is the big banks that will come out stronger with the reform. (more…)
Hey folks — here’s a recent review I did on the translation of Anabel Hernández’ book Los Señores del Narco for Upside Down World. Read, share, enjoy.
Reviewed: Narcoland: The Mexican Drug Lords And Their Godfathers, by Anabel Hérnandez,Verso. Forthcoming: September 2013. (Epub edition).
If there is a sacred cow grazing in the fertile pasture of Mexican writing about the drug war, Los Señores del Narco is it. Written by investigative journalist Anabel Hernández and published in Mexico in 2010, it will come out this fall in English as Narcolandwith Verso.
Backed up by secret files obtained by the author, high-level interviews conducted over a five-year period, and access to deeply involved informants, Hernández sets out a version of the drug war that has become an increasingly popular interpretation of the events that have transformed Mexico over the past years.
After former president Felipe Calderón declared a war on drug traffickers in December 2006, the army and federal police were deployed throughout the country on the premise of combatting narcotrafficking. Over the same six years, the murder rate spiked, and at least 120,000 people were murdered, as well as over 27,000 disappeared. Since 2007, the US and Mexico have tightened security cooperation, and Washington stepped up anti-drug funding to Mexico through the Mérida Initiative.
Dense, sprawling and detailed, Narcoland is a worthwhile read, though the narrow, sometimes moralistic bent of Hernández’ analysis can result in an oversimplification of the actors – and victims – of this war. Her version of events implicates high-level officials in acts of corruption and complicity that have favored one particular drug trafficking organization: the Sinaloa cartel, run by Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán Loera. (more…)
I had the chance to participate in an Observation Mission looking at the situation for Central American migrants traveling through southeast Mexico during the last week in May. I’ve written two pieces from the trip, the first, titled “Mexico: Risking Everything to Migrate North” is a look at an attack on migrants that took place in Veracruz on May 1st of this year. The second is below. More soon…
Report Dubs Mexico “A Graveyard for Migrants”
CIP Americas Program, May 4, 2013
One of the women lay face up, her torso cutting a diagonal line across the railway track. The other lay face down, her right leg splayed over the same track at the thigh. Both wore reddish tank tops and pants that went down just below the knee. A police officer with an automatic weapon watched over the bodies.
It was far too late to do anything to help. Little yellow numbers, from one to six, were placed on each piece of ballistic evidence, grim reminders of how Mexico is refashioning its police after the US model.
According to local media, the women were murdered by stab and bullet wounds in the late afternoon on May 30. A preliminary report suggests they refused to pay the quota charged by a criminal group after climbing up on the train. Their bodies were found later that same day just north of the Mexican tourist town of Palenque, in Chiapas.
Both women were from Honduras–Mexicans don’t risk traveling on cargo trains when they migrate through their country toward the United States. Most Central Americans traveling through Mexico do so as undocumented migrants. This means they are not afforded the right to free movement.
If they board a bus, undocumented migrants in Mexico can be pulled off and deported by soldiers at numerous checkpoints dotting northern-bound highways. Without paperwork, they can’t make it past the airport service counter. Thus, the train remains the most accessible means of transport for Hondurans, Guatemalans, Salvadorans, Nicaraguans, and others who hope against hope they’ll make to the US and find employment.
The double murder on the train tracks in Chiapas took place on the heels of an Observation Mission into the conditions of migrants in southern Mexico, coordinated by the Mesoamerican Migration Movement. The Mission, led by activists and members of the Catholic Church as well as journalists based in Veracruz and Mexico, made its way from Orizaba, in Veracruz state, to Tenosique, a municipality in Tabasco state, which borders Guatemala. (more…)
For six years, Juan Carlos Trujillo Herrera worked alongside his three brothers as an undocumented migrant in the United States. When he was deported back to Mexico in 2001, Trujillo Herrera went to work in his home state of Michoacán, with the dream of building a small business where his brothers could eventually return home and join him.
Over time, he managed to get a business started buying and selling gold and precious metals and convinced his youngest brother, Raúl, to return to Mexico. Less than four months after his return, Raúl was kidnapped, together with another brother, Salvador, and five others from their work crew while driving through Guerrero state, never to be seen or heard from again. In September of 2010, two more of Trujillo Herrera’s brothers were kidnapped while on their way to work in Veracruz, along with two others.
“All that’s come to us by moving back to Mexico is to lose our family,” said Trujillo Herrera. For the Trujillo Herrera family, the desire to be reunified and together in their home country resulted in the tragic disappearances of four brothers.
According to Marco Antonio Castillo, who works with the Popular Association of Migrant Families in Mexico City, the spike in murders and disappearances that accompanied the United States-backed war on drugs has had a devastating impact on migrants and their families. “It’s very ironic that Mexican and US governments speak about a war on drugs when the numbers and the consequences of it have shown that this war is against people and migrants,” Castillo told Truthout during an interview in Mexico City.
Castillo and others who support the rights of migrants and their families in Mexico, organized events and a protest timed with Barack Obama’s arrival last weekend in the country. (more…)