I figured a short update was in order… It has been a while since I updated here. Over the summer, I wrote two longer pieces and co-wrote a third on Mexico and Guatemala, none of which have come out yet. I’ll post those when they’re published.
When I finished my Masters in Journalism in late 2010, I decided to write a book. I pretty much knew what it would be about: the “drug war” in Mexico and how it is linked to what took place in Colombia through the 2000s in particular.
Since then, I’ve travelled throughout Mexico and Guatemala gathering info for the book, which has as a tentative title Drug War Capitalism. I now 160 pages in, and am hoping to get 75 per cent of the manuscript completed by November 1, 2013. I’m a couple weeks and a lot of words short of the deadline. Hence all the silence around these parts.
The book is a much expanded version of an essay I published in 2012 by the same title. Links to the essay are below.
Click here to read Drug War Capitalism in English.
Haz click aquí para leer El Capitalismo Narco en castellano.
Cliquez içi pour lire La « Guerre contre la drogue », alibi néolibéral en Colombie et au Mexique en français.
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…)
Here’s a piece on legal reforms in Mexico connected to the Mérida Initiative that I just published with the CIP-Americas program.
June 13, 2013
It has been five years since Mexican legislators approved a series of changes to Mexico’s constitution relating to security, the justice system, and organized crime. The changes, it was promised, would make the courts system more reliable and open, and protect the rights of citizens. The reforms introduced spoken arguments in trials, the presumption of innocence and an adversarial criminal process, marking what experts call a “paradigmatic shift in Mexican jurisprudence.”
While the new system has support in high places, it also has its detractors, many of whom point out that the legal reforms were “Made in the USA.”
It’s “the Monroe Doctrine applied in our courts, and, in short, all the way to the Supreme court,” according to Francisco Rodriguez, a Mexican columnist.
For Oscar Castrejón Rivas, President of the Lawyers College of Chihuahua, the constitutional adjustments and the changes to the Mexican legal system that they imply have done little to improve access to justice in Mexico. His organization represents eight law associations in Chihuahua State.
“What has happened, in our view as community members from Chihuahua and also as members of lawyers’ forums, is a counter reform, something very distinct from what was promised by Washington through USAID,” Castrejón said during an interview earlier this year. (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…)
Paved with Good Intentions:
Canada’s development NGOs from idealism to imperialism
By Nikolas Barry-Shaw and Dru Oja Jay
Fernwood Publishing, Black Point, NS, 2012
302 pages, $24.95 (Canadian) paperback.
IN ONE SENSE, I came of age with regard to the problems with Canadian Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) around the same time that Nikolas Barry-Shaw and Dru Oja Jay’s new book Paved with Good Intentions was conceived. In late 2003 I had stayed for four months in Johannesburg, South Africa on a journalism internship where I hung around with dedicated grassroots activists who, after years of struggle against apartheid, were organizing against the policies of the African National Congress.
Their struggles were against privatization and displacement, and in favor of economic justice. Every meeting, demonstration, dinner and march meant an inspiring mix of old school trade unionists and commies, militant women, and younger anti-capitalist and anti-colonial fighters. I began to learn what popular resistance against the state and capitalist democracy looks like.
The Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) would not have approved, but it funded the trip and a monthly stipend, organized through the Montreal-based NGO Alternatives. Yet not long after I returned from South Africa, I learned that the same person responsible for setting interns up with the comrades and fighters in Africa was also promoting groups in Haiti hostile to the leftwing Lavalas movement, publishing an article reprinted in a major Montreal newspaper criminalizing the resistance movements and those close to ousted president Jean Bertrand Aristide.
Upon learning about this seeming contradiction, I joined other former Alternatives interns in signing off on a letter expressing my discontent with the organization’s role in Haiti. It seemed to me at the time that the people and organizations of Haiti were being sacrificed by Alternatives staff in order to secure money that would allow them to do the projects they really cared about, in South Africa or elsewhere.
My experience with Alternatives taught me that very few things with regards to Non-Governmental Organizations are clear cut or straightforward. Barry-Shaw and Jay’s new book is a useful starting place from which activists can broaden our understanding around one segment of what INCITE Women of Color Against Violence dubbed “the non-profit industrial complex.” (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…)