Dawn Marie Paley

Violence is at the Heart of US Drug War Policy in the Americas

Posted in Colombia, Mexico by dawn on 24/04/2016

Here’s a piece I did for teleSUR on the eve of the UNGASS talks in New York last week. This piece is part of a longer piece I am working on that looks at the economics of narcotics prohibition and the funding of reactionary armed groups, which I hope to put out before the end of the year.

Violence is at the Heart of US Drug War Policy in the Americas, teleSUR, April 18, 2016

From April 19-21, the United Nations General Assembly will hold a special session on drugs in New York City. This meeting, called UNGASS for short, is a critical space from which the 193 member states of the U.N. could move toward adopting more humane drug policies worldwide. The special session on drugs was called for by three countries in which the militarized enforcement of prohibition has been at the root of violence and terror: Mexico, Colombia and Guatemala.

Prohibition is not a hands off way of dealing with social, health or economic issues, rather, it is “an extreme form of government intervention,” according to Mark Thornton, author of “Economies of Prohibition.” Narcotics prohibition got its start as laws making certain drugs illegal were passed in the early twentieth century, spearheaded by the United States and later upheld by the U.N. From the outset, narcotics prohibition was a political tool used as a way to criminalize and target communities and individuals based on race and ethnicity.

Prohibitionist logics got a boost in the 1960s and 1970s as they were deployed by countries across the Cold War political spectrum in order to criminalize youth and social movements worldwide. Within the United States, drug prohibition has been a key contributing factor to the realization of what Angela Davis calls the “prison industrial complex” and what Mumia Abu Jamal has deemed “mass incarceration and [the] racialized prison state.”

Over time, the institutions created to enforce narcotics prohibition have become established parts of the U.S. state repressive-judicial apparatus, thus threading a dependence on maintaining prohibition into the fabric of the state. Every year since 2003, United States federal funding for demand reduction (treatment and prevention) has been lower than for supply reduction (domestic policing, interdiction, international), with the vast majority of supply reduction going to police forces nationwide. That balance is slated to shift in 2017.

Today, funding to uphold prohibition is spread across nearly the entire U.S. federal government, with 13 of the 15 Executive Departments that make up the federal Cabinet slated to receive a segment of the $31.1 billion in funding to support the National Drug Control Strategy in fiscal year 2017. The only cabinet level departments in the US government that do not receive money for the fight against narcotics are the Department of Commerce and the Department of Energy. (more…)

Drug War Capitalism in 3 Minutes

Posted in Colombia, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico by dawn on 07/12/2014

Couple of updates linked to some media coverage of Drug War Capitalism. Screen Shot 2014-12-05 at 6.52.44 PM

The talented folks at AJ+ just put out a short video interview with me about recent events.

I can’t get it to embed here, but you can watch it on YouTube by clicking here.

I also did a Q&A with the folks at the UBC School of Journalism, where I studied before embarking on the book project.

Next week I go on tour on the east coast… Check here for details.

Colombian Poor Occupy Lands Slated for Military Base

Posted in Colombia by dawn on 14/05/2014

Most of the reporting I did on the recent trip I took to Colombia will be appearing in my forthcoming book, Drug War Capitalism, but here’s a second, short piece from Arauca Department, near the border with Venezuela.

Published in Upside Down World.

FORTUL, COLOMBIA–Holding down an occupation for five months isn’t easy. Doing so in Colombia, even less so. But members of the community of Héctor Alirio Martínez in the municipality of Fortul, near the border with Venezuela, have raised the stakes even higher: they’re occupying land owned by the Ministry of Defense. The 100 hectare terrain now spotted with wood and plastic homes was slated to become a large military base.

Community Members at the Occupation in Fortul, photo by Dawn Paley.

Community Members at the Occupation in Fortul, photo by Dawn Paley.

Locals say the land originally was purchased by Occidental Petroleum in order to build a large new base to coordinate protection of a new oil pipeline which passes less than a few hundred meters from the lot.

“This land belongs to the Ministry of Defense, it was purchased and sponsored by Oxy, so we as good people from Arauca said that the most viable thing is to take over this plan, and see if the Minister of Defense will give it to us over time, many people needed this land,” said Jhon Carlos Ariza Aguilar, the Vice-President of the community of over 2,000 families. They began the occupation on November 26, 2013.

I met with Jhon and other members of the community on a hot February afternoon, weeks after the community was supposed to have been removed by force. On January 20, the army entered the shack settlement with a tank, and an eviction was scheduled for February 4, but that date came and went with community members in an uneasy calm about what would take place next. (more…)

Air Force Bombings Endanger and Kill Civilians in Colombia

Posted in Colombia by dawn on 25/02/2014

This is the first of a couple short pieces from my recent visit to Arauca, Colombia. I was mostly gathering material for the book but wanted to get a few articles out meantime. This piece was originally posted on Upside Down World and re-posted by Truth Out.

FORTUL, COLOMBIA — On Saturday, November 23rd, Giovanny Yamid Aldana left his humble family home in a rural area in the municipality of Fortul, to take his pregnant wife and son to the clinic. There, she took an ultrasound test, and the young family stayed over night in the city of Saravena, in the department of Arauca, near Colombia’s border with Venezuela.

Giovanny Yamid Aldana holds a photo of his home, destroyed during a bombing by the Colombian Air Force on November 24, 2013. Photo by Dawn Paley.

Giovanny Yamid Aldana holds a photo of his home, destroyed during a bombing by the Colombian Air Force on November 24, 2013. Photo by Dawn Paley.

The next morning, Aldana got a call from a local authority, informing him that his house had been bombed by the Colombian Air Force. One of Aldana’s farmhands was reported dead, and the other injured.

Aldana didn’t dare return to his home until there was a delegation going that would ensure his safety. “On Tuesday we went with a municipal government official and two people from the Red Cross,” said Aldana during an interview in Fortul’s municipal government offices. “What we found there was everything in debris, and even pieces of people, inside and outside of the house, which was totally destroyed.”

Aldana took a single, letter sized piece of paper out of his bag, which had four grainy photos printed on it, showing the charred remains of the house he had lived in for the past year, growing bananas, yuca and other vegetables in order to support his family.

The army reported that nine members of the guerrilla were reported dead in the bombing, and two others were captured. “The Army stated that it was a guerrilla camp, but the owner of the house, Giovanni, who was dedicated to farming, and that’s where they bombed. Yes there were combatants, but there was also civilians there,” said Aide Cristancho, a human rights official with the local government who  provides assistance to victims of the armed conflict in the municipality of Fortul.

While media and government focus on the killings of guerrillas in the bombings, civilians who live in the area are sidelined and stigmatized as guerrilla supporters, regardless of the truth of the assertions. (more…)

Recuerdos represivos: terror, insurgencia y la guerra del narco

Posted in Colombia, En español, Guatemala, Mexico by dawn on 14/01/2014

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.

Autodefensas michoacanas. Fotografía: Heriberto Paredes Coronel

Autodefensas michoacanas. Fotografía: Heriberto Paredes Coronel

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.[1]

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.[2]

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…)

Repressive Memories: terror, insurgency, and the drug war

Posted in Colombia, Guatemala, Mexico by dawn on 27/10/2013

Here’s a short essay I wrote for Occupied London’s fifth issue

Repressive Memories: terror, insurgency, and the drug warpolicebrutality

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…)

El Capitalismo Narco

Posted in Colombia, En español, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico by dawn on 20/08/2012

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…)

Drug War Capitalism

Posted in Colombia, Guatemala, Honduras, Indigenous Resistance, Mexico, Mining by dawn on 02/07/2012


Drug War Capitalism is the main research piece I have been working on over the past few months. Click here to read the PDF version.

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…)

Oil & Gas updates

Posted in Colombia, Mexico, Mining by dawn on 22/03/2012

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…)

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Global Capitalism, Oil, and the Canada-Colombia Free Trade Agreement

Posted in Colombia, Mining by dawn on 24/11/2010

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!