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.
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…)
A new piece I wrote for Warscapes.
August 8, 2015
This Mother’s Day, Hortensia Rívas Rodriguez wasn’t at home enjoying brunch with her family. Instead, she traveled from her home in Piedras Negras to join thousands of other mothers searching for their disappeared children in Mexico. Rivas Rodriguez, a retired police officer, founded a group called the Association of Families United in Searching and Finding Disappeared People in August, 2013, just over a month after her son Víctor Manuel Guajardo disappeared.
Since its founding, the group has gone from representing eleven families to including over 160 cases of forced disappearances in a region directly across the border from Eagle Pass, Texas, that includes the city of Piedras Negras, and the towns of Allende, Morelos, Nava, Villa Unión, and Zaragoza. Rivas claims that in less than two years, her group has managed to find around eighty of those disappeared. Some were found dead. Others were tracked down to police stations, army bases, and prisons where they were found alive, but tortured and beaten by government officials.
Rivas Rodriguez’ son Víctor was taken from his house while his wife and children watched. The kidnappers were members of Coahuila’s elite SWAT team (Special Weapons and Tactics Group-GATE), which was formed in 2009. When Rivas went to the GATE’s headquarters in Piedras Negras, she was received by one of the men who participated in the disappearance of her son. She managed to catch a glimpse of Víctor in one of their vehicles, but has never heard anything since.
“I know, we all know, it’s an open secret what is happening in Coahuila,” said Rivas in an interview in Mexico City, and it has to do with the SWAT team operating in the state. The GATEs “are a group that the governor allowed to operate in Coahuila, to increase security, he said. But in reality, what they’re doing is disappearing. They are the criminals, because it is them who took my son, all of our disappeared, the majority, were taken by [the GATEs]. It is the authorities, that’s what is happening in Coahuila.” (more…)
Here’s a recent piece I did about events in Tlatlaya, Ayotzinapa, Apatzingán and what they might mean in the context of the War on Drugs in Mexico.
Tlatlaya, Ayotzinapa, Apatzingán: State Terror in Mexico
Dawn Paley, Warscapes
May 13, 2015
The first attack came at 2:30am on January 6, 2015. Federal Police opened fire on members of the Fuerzas Rurales, who were protesting in the central square of Apatzingán, in Michoacán. The Fuerzas Rurales were born of the co-optation of part of the autodefensa movement, the armed uprising in rural Michoacan that caught the world’s attention last January. The men were protesting the fact that they hadn’t been paid.
According to a report by journalist Laura Castellanos, eyewitnesses heard a shout from the Federal Police before they opened fire: “Kill them like dogs.” An unknown number of people were killed, some with their hands up, down on their knees.
Six hours later Federal Police attacked again just down the street from City Hall, this time opening fire on trucks carrying members of the Fuerzas Rurales and their families.
An anonymously posted YouTube video shows the carnage. One man in a red-striped shirt lays face-up on the road. A pool of blood connects him with two other men. He moves his left arm as if scratching his head. The other two lay completely still. All three are on the driver’s side of a bullet-ridden white pick-up. Behind the truck lay two other men, one on his stomach, the other on his back.
Between the two attacks that day, at least sixteen people were murdered by Federal Police in Apatzingán. Dozens more were injured. In a macabre twist, two of the wounded men were dumped on the sidewalk in front of a hospital by bystanders who rescued them. Neither has been seen since.
The official version of events claimed that there were nine deaths in total, and that the killings resulted from “friendly fire” or “crossfire” between Fuerzas Rurales and police. That version held nationally for over three months, until Castellanos released her investigative piece in late April which blew through the government’s line.
Events in Apatzingán mark the third time since last June that federal forces in Mexico are known to have participated in massacres and mass disappearances. (more…)
Couple of updates linked to some media coverage of Drug War Capitalism.
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.
It’s been a busy time, but I thought I’d write up a short update. I am less than 10 days away from putting the last touches on the manuscript for Drug War Capitalism before it goes to the printer. Right now myself and the lovely folks at AK Press are in the excruciatingly tedious and yet crucially important proofing stage. The book will be printed by November, and I’ll do the first launch at the Howard Zinn Memorial Bookfair in San Francisco. After that I plan to tour with the book on the west coast, in December I’ll visit the east coast, and in January, Arizona and south Texas. If you have tips or ideas for the tour you can email me at (all together) dawn paley at gmail dot com.
A couple days ago I did a short interview with teleSUR English about the new Global Commission report on drugs, folks might be interested in checking that out, which you can do here. Below, a short excerpt from the article:
“We should use a new metric to understand the success of Plan Colombia, one that examines how it benefits transnational capital,” Paley told teleSUR English. “If we were to examine the results of Plan Colombia based on how it deepened neoliberalism in Colombia, we would have to recognize that it was a success. This was exactly what inspired the Merida Initiative in Mexico and other, similar drug war policies elsewhere.”
On top of finishing the book and so on I also recently started a PhD program in Mexico, during which I plan to work on a second book that deals with clandestine mass graves and exhumation in Mexico from 2007 to present. But more on that another time!
Thanks everyone for your ongoing support and patience,
I did this review recently for Upside Down World.
Todd Miller. Border Patrol Nation: Dispatches from the Front Lines of Homeland Security. City Lights Books, 2013.
These are wild times to be a border cop. They have big salaries, new toys, and all kinds of powers to roam the country racially profiling people, and detaining those without proof that they crossed the border legally. An increasing number of agents are returned combat vets who fought in Afghanistan or Iraq, who bring warlike attitudes to their work in the U.S. But this (mostly) boy’s club is not without its drawbacks: it is also a place permeated by a culture of militaristic racism where having a different opinion can get you blacklisted.
Border Patrol Nation, Todd Miller’s first book, is an in-depth look at how border enforcement has expanded drastically following 9-11. Since then, he reports, the government has spent $791 billion on Homeland Security, the agency responsible for border control. Miller convincingly argues that the expanding phenomenon of militarized border control is something that should concern all of us. He reports that in 2012, “The $18 billion spent on border and immigration enforcement outdoes all other federal law enforcement bodies combined including the FBI, Secret Service, Drug Enforcement Administration, U.S. Marshal Service, and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.” The money is also flowing outside of the U.S., to agents and client states in order to tighten their borders and prevent migration north.
The statistics are staggering. Border Patrol Nation details that prior to 1986, there were rarely more than 2,000 people deported each year. “By the late 1990s, the U.S. government was deporting more than 40,000 people annually, still only a fraction of what we see today. By the early 2010s, Homeland Security was expelling well over 400,000 people per year from the United States.” This drastic increase in deportations has taken place just as a variety of U.S. states, most famously Arizona, but also Alabama, Georgia, Indiana, South Carolina, and Utah have passed laws obliging local and state police to enforce immigration law. (more…)
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.
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.
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.
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…)
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.