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…)
Gracias a los editores y voluntarios asociados al proyecto Upside Down World, mi articulo “Drug War Capitalism” ya esta disponible en castellano. Aquí esta la version publicada en Upside Down World en Español, aquí la version publicada por Agencia SubVersiones en México DF, y aquí la version publicada por ALAI desde Quito, Ecuador.
El Capitalismo Narco
Dawn Paley sondea por debajo de la superficie de la guerra contra las drogas en Colombia y México. Explora los mecanismos empleados, cuantifica la devastación humana y económica, analiza las posibles razones por las que la guerra continúa además de sugerir otras áreas de investigación.
Tanto en los Estados Unidos como en Canadá ha habido esfuerzos sostenidos de grupos de base para destacar las injustas encarcelaciones en masa y la criminalización de la gente pobre, sobretodo la gente pobre de color, en cuanto a detenciones relacionadas con drogas. Pero se ha encontrado muy poco análisis sobre las razones detrás de los mecanismos de esta guerra y el impacto económico que tiene sobre México y más allá.
Incluso antes de que la retirada de Irak o Afganistán se hubiera alcanzado, los Estados Unidos ya estaban involucrados en una serie de conflictos desde la frontera norte de México hasta Perú. Tanto los gobiernos como los medios de comunicación la han catalogada como la “Guerra contra las drogas.” Es importante examinar como la creciente “Guerra contra las drogas” se conecta con la expansión de empresas transnacionales que toman control de mercados, obreros y recursos naturales.
En Honduras cuatro indígenas fueron asesinados a balazos en mayo, cuando la policía hondureña abrió fuego desde un helicóptero del Departamento de Estado estadounidense, todo bajo la supervisión de agentes uniformados de Estados Unidos. En México con la orientación de Estados Unidos, Canadá, Israel y Colombia, la policía y el ejército han sido transformados.
En Colombia la guerra ha durado ya cuatro décadas y se han gastado billones de dólares estadounidenses, pero ahora se está calificando como lucha contra el crimen. Durante la década de los 1980s el Estado colombiano se convirtió en un estado paramilitarizado, en un proceso que según el historiador German Alfonso Palacio Castañeda”se manifiesta con amenazas, atentados y asesinatos selectivos y masacres colectivas de funcionarios gubernamentales (principalmente pero no exclusivamente de la izquierda), y de líderes políticos populares, obreros, campesinos, profesores, activistas de derechos humanos y miembros de organizaciones no gubernamentales.”
En la forma de financiación para programas antinarcóticos, la asistencia de EE.UU. en Colombia resultó en el fortalecimiento de grupos paramilitares y de policías no oficiales, los cuales según informes patrullaban junto al ejército de Colombia y se vieron involucrados en la gran mayoría de masacres y desplazamientos forzados en el país.
“Decir que la guerra contra las drogas ha fracasado es no entender algo,” comentó Noam Chomsky, en un discurso en el mes de mayo. “Uno tiene que preguntarse qué está en la mente de los planeadores ante tanta evidencia de que no funciona lo que dicen que están intentando lograr. ¿Cuáles son las intenciones probables?”(1)
Los comentarios de Chomsky apuntan hacia un área urgente de investigación para los y las activistas y periodistas que desean entender las guerras actuales contra las drogas. Cada vez es más claro que hay mucho trabajo por hacer para reconstruir juntos los motivos de la militarización liderada por Estados Unidos en las Américas.
Una reconsideración de la llamada guerra contra las drogas requiere entre otras cosas una evaluación de la forma en que ha favorecido la expansión de la inversión extranjera directa y de las industrias extractivas en Colombia, México y Centroamérica.
La guerra, cuando los golpes no bastan
“Así es como se sentía el inicio del neoliberalismo,” dijo Raquel Gutiérrez, reflexionando sobre lo que es tratar de entender la guerra en curso en México. Ahora catedrática de la Universidad Autónoma de Puebla, Raquel era militante clandestina en Bolivia a mediados los años 80, cuando las primeras políticas neoliberales tuvieron efecto en aquel país, creando una pauperización de la clase obrera. Han pasado 10 años desde que regresó a México.
Raquel se detiene y da una pitada a su cigarrillo, como si tratara de recordar un idioma que ha olvidado. No viene. Luego me pregunta si he leído el libro de Naomi Klein La doctrina del shock. Asiento con la cabeza. Silencio. “La cosa es que en México, los choques no funcionaron,” dice ella. (more…)
Dawn Paley probes beneath the surface of the drug war in Colombia and Mexico. She explores the mechanisms employed, reports on the economic and human devastation, analyzes the possible reasons for continuing the war and suggests further areas of inquiry. PDF of an extended edition for the web.
In both the United States and Canada there have been sustained grassroots efforts to spotlight the unjust mass incarceration and criminalization of poor people, and especially poor people of color, for drug-related arrests. But there has been too little analysis about the reasons behind and mechanisms of this war, and its economic impact on Mexico and beyond.
Even before a withdrawal from Iraq or Afghanistan has been achieved, the United States has become involved in a series of intensifying conflicts taking place from Mexico’s north border through Peru. Governments and mainstream media label it a “war on drugs.” It is important to examine how the expanding “war on drugs” connects to the expansion of transnational corporate control over markets, labor and natural resources.
In Honduras, four Indigenous people were shot and killed in May, when Honduran forces opened fire from a U.S. State Department helicopter, all under the supervision of uniformed U.S. agents. In Mexico — under the guidance of the United States, Canada, Israel and Colombia — the police and army are being transformed.
In Colombia, the war has gone on for decades and involved billions of U.S. dollars, but is being rebranded as a fight against crime. Through the 1980s, the Colombian state became increasingly paramilitarized, a process which “manifested itself as threats, bombings, and selective assassinations or collective massacres of government officials (principally but not exclusively from the left), and of popular political leaders, workers, peasants, professors, human rights activists, and members of nongovernmental organziations.”
U.S. assistance to Colombia in the form of anti-narcotics program funding resulted in the strengthening of paramilitary and unofficial police groups, reported to have patrolled alongside the Colombian Army and involved in the vast majority of massacres and forced displacements in the country.
“Saying that the drug war has failed is to not understand something,” remarked Noam Chomsky in a speech this May. “One must ask oneself what is it that the planners have in mind given the amount of evidence that what they are trying to achieve doesn’t work. What are the probable intentions?”(1)
Chomsky’s comments point to an urgent area of research for activists and journalists wishing to understand today’s drug wars. It is increasingly clear that there is more work to be done in order to properly piece together the reasons for U.S.-led militarization in the Americas. (more…)
Been working on a fair bit of oil and gas related stuff recently, at this link you can download a piece I did for Watershed Sentinel on Canadian oil companies in Latin America, and below, a piece on fracking in south Texas. What brought me on to the gas-in-Texas story is that I wanted to understand first hand a little more about fracking, which I hadn’t written about before. In addition, this shale play crosses the border into Mexico, so it was a way of getting my hands dirty a little on a story I plan to pursue.
Finally, it’s been one week since Bernardo Vásquez Sánchez was killed in Oaxaca. I wrote a short piece that night, which you can read here. Protests against his assassination and Canadian mining companies in Oaxaca took place yesterday in various locations in Oaxaca and also at the Canadian Embassy in Mexico City.
Report from the Texas Energy Boom
The Tyee, March 19, 2012
British Columbia isn’t the only place where government and industry have ambitious plans to build pipelines to exploit shale gas reserves for the lucrative export market. Texas is booming again, and it’s setting its sights on Asia.
Yet while U.S. politicians and oil executives talk about ensuring energy self-sufficiency with cheap natural gas from shale, their long-term plans suggest a future where natural gas prices might soar — to the benefit of oil and gas companies rather than the domestic American economy.
Deborah Rogers, a financial analyst and advisory committee member at the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas, reckons that today’s natural gas boom may become tomorrow’s consumer squeeze. While high-profile industry players push the Pickens Plan, which proposes mass conversion of U.S. power plants and truck fleets to natural gas, the industry’s move to export natural gas will eventually drive up domestic prices. (more…)
At this link, you can find a PDF of the full text of a talk I gave on November 20th about global capitalism, oil, and the Calgary & Toronto based companies making good off of the Canada-Colombia Free Trade Agreement.
The talk took place at the Parkland Institute’s 14th Annual Conference in Edmonton, Alberta on November 20th of this year.
Thanks to everyone who came and listened, and especially to everyone who shared their ideas, research and time with me!
Here’s my latest, which I did for the North American Congress on Latin America. This piece is a bit of a follow up on the testimony I gave before the Standing Committee on International Trade shortly before Canadian parliamentarians (with a few exceptions) decided in the name of outdated and oft disproven “facts” about the benefits of “free trade”(but in the interests of transnational corporations, a few of which are mentioned below) that it would be best to go ahead and sign a deal with the most brutal government in South America. Sigh.
Oil, Gas, and Canada-Colombia Free Trade
Aug 11 2010
Canada has been involved in oil and gas in Colombia since the 1920s, when the Canadian-based International Petroleum Corporation (IPC), then a subsidiary of Standard Oil of New Jersey, owned Tropical Oil and the Andian Pipeline Company. When ownership of these companies was due to revert back to the Colombian state in 1951(concessions at the time were for 30 years), IPC feared that it was going to lose both companies. So the foreign company tricked the Colombian government into believing that Andian was a separate company from Tropical, even though they shared the same parent company. These shenanigans earned Andian National a new concession, who then established its new head office in Canada until the 1970s.
A new free trade agreement between Canada and Colombia and the strong presence of Canadian companies in Colombia’s oil and gas sector indicates that the Colombian government no longer has to be tricked into handing over its natural resources to Canadian corporations. Instead, it will continue to do so willingly, in the name of increasing foreign direct investment. (more…)
I figured I might as well share a couple of pieces I’ve worked on over the past little while.
First, my testimony before the Standing Committee on International Trade on the Canada Colombia Free Trade Agreement. The deal has passed now, and many witnesses including Indigenous Colombians and Afro-Colombians were never given the opportunity to speak. I spoke mostly about Calgary based oil and gas companies and their connection to the politicos pushing the deal. After I gave the testimony, riot police broke up a strike in the south of Colombia, and I adapted it to write this piece. It is an absolute shame that the Canadian government has signed a deal with the Uribe/Santos regime that will likely enable the U.S. government to pass a similar agreement, which will mean more Colombians murdered, disappeared, tortured and displaced for profit.
Second, a talk I gave yesterday evening about Canada’s evolving relationship to Mexico. It touches on Canada’s hypocrisy regarding visas for Mexicans, Felipe Calderón’s recent meetings with Stephen Harper, mining, biofuels, and climate change policy, as well as resistance and our hopes for survival.
Finally, I wrote a quick analysis piece on the Toronto Declaration, the final document of the G-20. If you second guessed why folks were in the streets to resist the G-20, have a look.
By Dawn Paley, This Magazine, July/August 2009
“You know that here in Colombia, there are many human-rights violations,” says José Oney Valencia Llanos, who earns his living cutting sugar cane in Colombia’s fertile Cauca Valley. “Business people, through multinational and transnational corporations, have violated human rights and attacked workers, directly and indirectly.”
Oney told me this on a humid afternoon in El Placer, a small town in the heart of Colombia’s sugar-cane growing region. Among many of the cutters gathered nearby, there was a tangible sense of nervous apprehension. They had every reason to be nervous: about a month previously, the approximately 12,000 sugar-cane cutters in the Cauca Valley had gone back to work after a historic two-month labour strike. Their working situation, from wages to working conditions, was still tenuous. Oney had been a prominent spokesperson for the workers during the strike, a dangerous role to play in Colombia. (more…)
A story I did for the Vancouver Sun from Colombia last year.
Working today with the hope of a brighter future; Sugar cane cutters and their families find themselves in a constant struggle to survive
Dawn Paley. The Vancouver Sun. Vancouver, B.C.: Dec 26, 2008. pg. B.9
Christmas is a difficult time for the Hernandez family, and this season has been especially tough. Carlos, the family’s breadwinner, is a sugar-cane cutter, whose survival is tied to his ability to work hard and fast under the hot sun and hard rains in Colombia’s fertile Cauca Valley.
Carlos takes home about $250 a month, working a minimum of twelve hours a day, six days a week, cutting sugar cane. His day starts at 4 a.m., and he arrives home sometimes as late as 7 or 8 in the evening. Cane cutters are paid by the tonne, so the amount that Carlos earns each day depends on how much he can cut.
The evening I visited Carlos in the cane fields, he had cut about five tonnes of cane, for which he would eventually take home $16.75. “The cane is very thick, and when it’s thick, it’s difficult to do
the job,” he said. (more…)