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…)
This short analysis piece for CIP Americas Program explores some of the issues on the table during Obama’s Mexico visit. Gracias a Clayton Conn y desInformémonos por publicar una versión en español, titulado “Una guía rápida para entender la visita de Obama a México.”
May 2, 2013
Obama last visited Mexico during the G-20 summit in Los Cabos last June. He and his entourage will touch down again today for talks with Mexico’s new president, Enrique Peña Nieto. Since his election,Peña Nieto’s team has worked to shift media focus away from violence related to the drug war and towards the economy, something that will likely be reinforcedduring this visit.
According to the New York Times, “In Mexico, Mr. Obama plans to meet with President Enrique Peña Nieto for talks that the Mexican foreign ministry said earlier ‘will cover competiveness [sic], education and innovation, along with border infrastructure, commerce, migration and citizen security among other subjects of shared interest.’”
Competitiveness is a preferred term that governments use today to talk about privatization and regulatory reforms designed to benefit the corporate sector. Previously, competitiveness was known as austerity, structural adjustment,or privatization, terms that have fallen out of favor due to the harsh consequences of these programs on the population at large.
So with respect to competitiveness, what might Obama and Peña Nieto discuss? Well, for one, Mexico recently changed their labor laws in order to “increase competitiveness,” pushing down minimum wage to about 60¢ an hourand making it more difficult for workers to receive social security and regular workweeks.
Pemex, Mexico’s state-owned oil firm, will definitely be a topic of conversation. According to the Financial Times, “an opening of Mexico’s highly protected oil sector, which is dominated by state behemoth Pemex, could provide untold opportunities for US oil companies as well as the sort of technology-transfer Mexico desperately needs.” (more…)
Here’s a recent story I did based on interviews in Chihuahua State, in northern Mexico. Published by The Dominion with support from their investigative journalism fund.
BENITO JUÁREZ, MEXICO—It was a day he’ll never forget, but it began like any other for Erick Solorio Solís, an engineering senior at the Autonomous University of Chihuahua (UACh) in Chihuahua, Mexico. He rolled out of bed on Monday, October 22, 2012, and stepped into the warm morning air that graces Chihuahua City through the fall. He had a bite to eat, and took a quick call from his parents, who were heading to the city to visit him and his brothers later that day. Solorio, a tall young man with inquisitive eyebrows and a trace of a beard, went to school and sat through three hours of classes. He recalls that he left campus around noon. With his two brothers, then-21-year-old Solorio spent the next couple of hours at home, waiting for his parents to arrive.
After the morning phone call with their son, Solorio’s parents hopped in their pickup truck and pulled out of Benito Juárez, a rural town a couple hours south of the US border, where the Solorio family has farmed for three generations. Solorio’s mother was due for a check-up in Chihuahua, and his father planned to take advantage of the outing to run a few errands.
Around 2:00 pm, Solorio’s elder brother got a phone call from a local police official. The man said their parents had been involved in an accident. Erick called his uncle, who said his parents had been caught in the middle of a firefight. The brothers went to the offices of El Barzón, a farmers’ rights group their father was involved in, to see what was happening. It was then they found out that their parents had been murdered.
“The first thing we thought was that it was people from our town, the people from the mine,” said Solorio in an interview with The Dominion in Chihuahua City. “The jealousy was too much, the hatred they had towards [my father] because he demonstrated, using facts, that the mine [would be] bad.” (more…)