This month, NACLA Report on the Americas has dedicated a chunk of the issue “Currency of Death” to my book Drug War Capitalism. Here’s a snippet from the editorial:
Few texts have more powerfully unraveled the political economy of the drug wars than Dawn Paley’s 2014 tour de force, Drug War Capitalism. With unrelenting clarity Paley reveals just how extensively the war on drugs permeates Latin American politics and society —from Mexico to the Andes—resulting in ever more intrusive and exploitative forms of capitalist accumulation and dispossession. Paley’s arguments—which she elaborates in conversation with sociologist William I. Robinson, journalist John Gibler, and Maya-K’iche’ scholar Gladys Tzul Tzul in the Report—are the centerpiece of this issue.
I invite you to take a look at the entire roundtable, which you can do by clicking here. What follows is my response to the texts written by Dr. William Robinson, journalist John Gibler and Dr. Gladys Tzul.
Response: Fear and Terror as Tools of Capital
On March 24, 2016, thousands of Argentines gathered in the Plaza de Mayo to remember the 40th anniversary of the 1976 military coup that ushered in a dictatorship of terror and torture. At the gathering, a statement written by organizations of family members of some of the 30,000 people who were disappeared in that period was read. The Grandmothers of the Plaza de Mayo, the Founding Group of the Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo, the Family Members of People Detained and Disappeared for Political Reasons, and HIJOS-Buenos Aires wrote with unflinching political clarity about the true aims of the war in Argentina. “With systematic terror as its method, [the military] tried to impose an economic, political, social, and cultural plan of hunger and exclusion, using a recipe written by economic groups, the government of the United States, the upper echelon of the church, and the participation of the judiciary,” the statement reads.
The groups recalled their disappeared loved ones as parents, children, sisters, brothers, but also as activists working towards a country that was “great, just, and free.” Experiences of terror and disappearance in Argentina are understood to have been political, connected to the spread of authoritarian neoliberalism.
Less than two months later, on Mother’s Day, thousands of family members of the disappeared in Mexico marched for the fifth year in a row in the capital of Mexico City, displaying the names of some of the 27,000 people who have been officially recorded as disappeared since 2006. In Mexico, especially since the 2014 disappearance of 43 students from the Ayotzinapa Normal School in Guerrero, slogans at marches implicate the state in disappearances and call for loved ones to be returned alive: ¡Fue el estado! ¡Vivos se los llevaron, vivos los queremos! (It was the state! They were taken alive, we want them back alive!).
But unlike in Argentina, relatively few of the disappeared in Mexico were politically active or belonged to political organizations. Unlike in Argentina, there was no coup d’état, nor is there a military junta. Rather, in Mexico, there is a war on drugs. In the cities and rural areas that have been affected by this war, the impacts have been intense. But the political and economic interests behind the violence have largely been ignored, masked by drug war discourses, and because of the scale of the social emergency generated through state-directed terror. According to the International Institute for Strategic Studies, in 2014 Mexico had the third highest number of fatalities in armed conflict in the world, after Syria and Iraq, and a recent study found life expectancy in Mexico has fallen due to rising homicide rates.