Dawn Paley, The Nation, December 21, 2016.
t took a few tries before the taxi driver taking me to meet Lorena Cabnal found his way to her address. We drove up and down streets along the outskirts of Guatemala City, directions made confusing by the profusion of closed-off neighborhoods. Here, residents simply block streets and put up barriers to prevent cars from circulating, paying a guard to monitor who goes in and out. These aren’t the private gated communities of the rich, but rather survival strategies of the poor and working class in Central America’s largest metropolis. I
Finally, we found Cabnal’s apartment, and I called up to where she was staying. I was buzzed in and climbed a flight of stairs, where I waited on a modest loveseat in the narrow entryway. A lit candle burned beside a printed photograph of murdered Honduran activist Berta Cáceres.
Cabnal is a Maya-Xinca woman who considers herself a communitarian feminist. She works with a network of healers in Guatemala, and she lives in this unlikely location, far from the buzzing core of activism in downtown Guatemala City, for her own protection after threats related to her political activism.
“It’s not true that in [Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador] there has been an economic stimulus that has developed and strengthened education, health, and infrastructure,” said Cabnal, looking at me from behind thick framed glasses. “Quite the contrary: Impoverishment has gotten worse, and the big security problems haven’t been resolved.” (more…)
Dawn Paley, September 29, 2016, The Nation
The small copper horseshoe Mario Vergara Hernández keeps in the pocket of his jeans isn’t there for good luck. It has another purpose altogether. “Since I started looking for graves, I carry this horseshoe in my pocket, because if they find me in a common grave, the metal won’t disintegrate,” said Vergara Hernández, palming the charm as we sat beside a hole he was helping to dig. “I told my mother that if I disappear, she should tell the government to look for the metal. I just hope they bury me with my pants on.”
With that, he stood and declared that the hole he and two other men—both of them fathers whose sons had been disappeared—were digging didn’t contain any corpses. With pick and shovel, they had dug to a level of clay that was undisturbed; there could be nothing buried further beneath it. While the men dug, the women waited under a tree, a light breeze relieving the near 100-degree heat and extreme humidity. They had come to this spot after a tip by a local drug runner, who said his own family members had been secretly buried near a large tree in a field outside of the city of Iguala, in the southern Mexican state of Guerrero.
Every Sunday, Vergara Hernández leads a group organized under the name Los Otros Desaparecidos de Iguala (The Other Disappeared of Iguala) into the hills surrounding the city. They’re akin to a self-taught search team, comprising family members of people who have been disappeared from the region. The group works off hand-drawn maps, messages on WhatsApp and Facebook, and tips from folks who, somehow or another, have seen bodies being buried late into the night. When we arrive at the site the searchers fan out, expertly scanning the ground, looking for upturned soil or disturbed plants as they hunt for mass graves, with the hope of identifying a loved one. (more…)
It has been far too long since I updated here. I’ve been working on a new project (details soon) in the north of Mexico, traveling here and there to talk with all different folks about Drug War Capitalism, and trying to get in some family and friend time.
A few months ago I published a piece on the Transgender Day of Remembrance, highlighting the experience of Latinx trans folks in the US. A huge amount of my time this fall went into co-organizing the first Congreso Internacional de Comunalidad in Puebla, Mexico.
I’ve done a few interviews of late, with Open Democracy (aquí en español) and Counterpunch. Finally, an Italian journal recently put out a longer piece that I co-wrote with my friend and mentor Dr. Raquel Gutiérrez called “La transformación sustancial de la guerra y la violencia contra las mujeres en México” which you can peep or download at academia.edu.
I am hoping to make it up to Historical Materialism in Toronto in May to talk about the book and some other work I’m doing around prohibition economies in the context of the “war on drugs.” Hope to see some of you there.
I share with you today a new afterword to the forthcoming Spanish edition of Drug War Capitalism, as well as a six-minute Q&A (and a more extended online only interview) I did earlier this week with the fine folks at Free Speech Radio News. At the first link, find also a printable PDF of the afterword, in case you’d like to share it with folks offline.
Ayotzinapa, Paradigm of the War on Drugs in Mexico
Completed August, 2015, published September 26, 2015 by AK Press.
Mexico one year after Ayotzinapa
“It is necessary that we take action now, because they are annihilating us. It is necessary that we do something.” Nadia Vera, social anthropologist, tortured and assassinated alongside journalist Rubén Espinosa, Alejandra Negrete, Yesenia Quiróz and Mile Virginia Martín on July 31, 2015, in Mexico City.
In the year since we put the final touches on the manuscript for the English edition of Drug War Capitalism, the campaign of terror directed against the people of Mexico in the name of fighting drugs has continued. This essay will serve as the epilogue for the forthcoming Spanish edition of the book, and looks back over the 10 months since it was published.
As the first edition of Drug War Capitalism was in its last stages before printing, there were rumblings that the army had massacred 22 people in Tlatlaya, in Mexico State, in June, 2014. Initial media reports presented the killings as having taken place during a firefight, and the governor of Mexico State initially claimed the army had, in “legitimate self-defense, taken down the criminals.” One witness, whose daughter was among the dead, later claimed that soldiers had in fact lined up 22 before executing them one by one. The eyewitness said she told the soldiers not to do it, not to kill those being interrogated. Their response, she said, was that “these dogs don’t deserve to live.” The cover-up that ensued involved bureaucrats from various levels of government. It was only because of reporting by Esquire magazine and the work of local journalists in Mexico that the truth came out. Eight soldiers are believed to have been directly involved with the killings in Tlatlaya. Seven soldiers have been charged, three of them for murder.
After the emergence of the army’s role in slaughtering civilians in Tlatlaya came the disappearance of 43 students and the murder of three others in Iguala, Guerrero. On the night of September 26, 2014, six people were killed, three of them students at a nearby teacher-training college. One young man who was killed had his face pulled off and yanked down around his neck. Others were wounded and denied medical treatment. By the next day, 43 more students from the Raúl Isidro Burgos Rural Teachers’ College of Ayotzinapa were missing. The students were last seen as they were arrested by municipal police, allegedly for participating in taking over buses to use for transportation to a march in Mexico City. The police handed off the students to a local paramilitary group that the media dubbed Guerreros Unidos (United Warriors).
The remains of one of the missing 43 have been discovered and confirmed, but the other 42 students remain disappeared. In the search for the missing 43, groups of community police and other non-state organizations initiated one of the country’s first searches for clandestine graves. In the weeks and months following the massacre and the mass disappearance of the students, search parties made up of community police and families of the disappeared discovered mass graves containing dozens of recently buried bodies.
The impact of the forced disappearance of the 43 students from the Ayotzinapa normal school cannot be underestimated. It sparked the largest crisis of legitimacy the Mexican government has faced since the war on drugs began in December 2006. (more…)
Here’s a piece I did for teleSUR English on recent events regarding the legal status of babies born to undocumented parents in Texas.
July 25, 2015
Ever Duarte’s youngest daughter was born in McAllen, Texas, on December 11, 2014, the last of three children in the Duarte family. Duarte, who is from Reynosa, Mexico, just across the border from the city of McAllen, has lived on the U.S. side of the border for over 10 years. He and his partner are both undocumented, but until the birth of their third child, they had sought – and received – Texas birth certificates for their children, who are also U.S. citizens.
“It has been seven months since she was born, in December, and they continue to deny us the birth certificate,” said Duarte in a phone interview from McAllen. His other two children were issued birth certificates when both parents presented their Mexican passports and what is called a Matricula Consular, an identity document issued by Mexican consulates. “We feel that we’re being discriminated against, we need her birth certificate, we want to baptize her and in the parish they require the birth certificate, and she’ll need it in the future, for her vaccines and to go to school,” said Duarte.
Duarte said they have gone four times to request their baby daughter’s birth certificate, and that the city and county officials issuing the documents told them the order not to accept matriculas came from Austin, the Texas state capital. Like others, the family was told the child could return when she is 18 years old to collect her birth certificate. It was media reports that first alerted Duarte to the fact that his family wasn’t the only one facing this situation.
The Duartes are among a dozen of families joining a lawsuit with over 40 plaintiffs, which was filedJune 11 in a Federal District Court in West Texas.
“We had reports of people being denied birth certificates in 2013, but then it really started picking up in late 2014, and then early this year,” said Efrén Olivares, an attorney with the South Texas Civil Rights Project, which is representing the parents. “I don’t know what caused that, but the timing coincides with the flood of Central American immigrants and refugees last summer, and then with the the President’s announcement of executive action, and specifically DAPA [Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents], in November of last year.”
DAPA would prevent Homeland Security from deporting parents of Americans, though it’s implementation is being blocked by a separate Texas court order.
Before the reports of undocumented families being denied birth certificates were sporadic and people were having problems but they were not being turned away for good, according to Olivares. But now city and county officials are turning parents away for good, affecting dozens if not hundreds of youth and children. (more…)
Happy new year! I share with you a new review of Drug War Capitalism, published on Counterpunch. I also just updated the site with some information on upcoming speaking events in Sacramento, McAllen, Texas, and Puerto Rico.
Hope to see you around!
A War Against the “Last” by ANDREW SMOLSKI, January 30, 2015
The false narrative read regularly by a “reporter” follows a popularized representation; the poor, typically minorities, are users and dealers who create the necessity for government intervention in their lives. It is a narrative well within the boundaries of the dominant ideology, which upholds capitalists as representatives par excellence of morality, therefor negating police presence in their neighborhoods, except as property’s protectors. The pernicious false narrative is international, as is the drug war it cruelly justifies.
In Drug War Capitalism, Dawn Paley does not subscribe to such ideological fodder. Instead, she creates “a more useful framework through which we can make sense of the drug war south of the US-Mexico border”. She begins with the jugular, spilling reality all over us and tarnishing the capitalists’ white linens with the blood of every innocent brutally murdered for profit. Paley demonstrates that whether in Mexico, Colombia, Guatemala, Honduras or the United States this drug war ideology and its real effects are only meant to instill fear in the naïve middle class and militarize life for neoliberal capital and extractivism. That is all it does. That is all it has ever done.
It is an assemblage for war against the oppressed in service to transnational capitalism and United States imperialism, and continue the accumulation through dispossession. It is then, as put succinctly by Dawn Paley, “a long-term fix to capitalism’s woes, combining terror with policymaking in a seasoned neoliberal mix, cracking open social worlds and territories once unavailable to globalized capitalism.” It is a premise already well understood by the “last” themselves.
For instance, the first chapter opens with a story about a small town in Colombia, Santa Domingo, where the Colombian military has been bombing “cartel members”. The “cartel members” are really the indigenous campesinos who live around Santa Domingo. The residents of Santa Domingo perceive the bombings as part of a plot to get them off their land and let the oil companies come in. They know drilling is going on around them and that their land is valuable. Of course, the campesinos are right and the government nothing more than a puppet, or as Marx said, “nothing more than the form of organization which the bourgeois necessarily adopt…for the mutual guarantee of their property and interests.”
What Paley gives the reader then is something beyond the “objectivity” of the New York Times; she presents an analysis of interests, of what people will do when they follow the maxim “forget all but self” and have the institutional backing to do so. By understanding such a cruel, egotistical maxim as present within liberal capitalist institutions, no longer must we play the morality game capitalists would want us to play. For Paley the game is how capitalism overcomes its crisis by being brutal, by taking, by negating the very freedom it ideologically claims.
Current events represent this “necessary” violence for capitalist expansion in Mexico; Ayotzinapa (the book is dedicated to the 43 students) and Tlatlaya. These events only prove Human Rights Watch’s point (quoted in Paley’s book) that the drug war “had led to a dramatic increase in grave human rights violations committed by the security forces sent to confront them”. The human rights violations are part and parcel of a war against the “last” for the benefit of those who already possess too much.
Under Plan Merida, security forces are further militarized with weapons bought by the US. These weapons are purchased to support the US military-industrial complex and then given to the Mexican military. Paley points out that a counterpart to the increased militarization of the conflict is that the narcos become paramilitary organizations. Ayotzinapa demonstrates quite readily how the narcos are put at the service of government, sicarios paid to kill whomever is deemed a “threat” by those who have formal institutional power.
Echoing Paley, Proceso and La Jornada have long put forward the hypothesis that the government picks cartels to support, and even further utilizes them to their advantage. For example, Los Zetas were stopped because they were too savage and unwilling to be act in service to the real centers of power. All the while, the Sinaloa Cartel was consolidating territory further, even if there was the spectacle of El Chapo’s arrest. Furthermore, Anabel Hernandez, author of Los Señores del Narco and referenced in Paley’s book, points out that high level government officials participated actively in the drug trade. Of course, they are not prosecuted for such connections. The law, as Marx wrote long ago, is there to allow the “ruling class assert their common interest”, and thus protects even the most vicious of them.
Going beyond those protections for the ruling class, Paley shows how alterations to legal frameworks in Central and South America have further enabled both the drug war and capital’s expansion. These frameworks have been altered following trade agreements, such as NAFTA, which destroyed traditional economic activity, thus making drug cultivation a viable activity and creating a necessary labor pool for drug traffickers. Marx’s reserve army is thus diverted to illegal economic activity, which doesn’t affect wages in the social whole, and therefor acts as a self-flagellating release valve for worker anomie.
The only thing unaccounted for by Paley is something recognized in The House of the Spirits by Isabel Allende. For Paley the elites, and all the players, they seem all too perfect and too able to control the situation. Rather, many of them are like Esteban Trueba, a conservative who unleashes fascism and then loses his power as well. Many Mexican politicians are of this sort, unleashing black magic they can’t control and eventually consumes them. Paco Ignacio Taibo II said it best (paraphrasing) that Calderon was a special kind of dumbass for taking corrupt police to a corrupt fight for a corrupt system.
Even accounting for that, what Paley gives us, without ideological fantasy, are the mechanisms by which “the drug war advances the interests of neoliberal capitalism: through the imposition of rule of law and policy changes, through formal militarization, and through the paramilitarization that results.” Thus, the brilliance of Dawn Paley’s book is in revealing the concoction, the poisonous potion said to make us safe, but always instead increasing our insecurity. By doing so, she disabuses us of the narratives meant to justify the unjustifiable. The drug war can’t bring safety, because the drug war is not a war against narcos, cartels or drug dealers. The drug war unleashes violence as a way to crush dissent and increase economic opportunity for certain powerful actors.
Simply put, we all die, so that capital can survive.
Andrew Smolski is a writer.
The first couple of reviews of Drug War Capitalism have recently come out.
The first was in Baltimore’s City Paper, here’s a snippet:
She argues that the war is about much more than simply stopping the flow of drugs to the United States… It is a complicated argument that Paley explains well, and an important one to make in that it refuses to separate the U.S.-backed wars in Colombia, Mexico, and elsewhere from the overall economic context. Paley’s book walks the reader through this history in chapters about Colombia, Mexico, Guatemala, and Honduras and then asks how we might think “peace” in the context of this war without end.
A second review was featured in the Vermont Digger today, here’s a taste:
Paley subverts the traditional government versus cartel narrative and presents exhaustive research that suggests collusion between the U.S. and local governments, transnational corporations, militant groups and establishment media. Beginning with Plan Colombia, a U.S. military and aid initiative started in 1999, and continuing on through the modern war on drugs in Mexico and Central America, Paley’s research brings a forceful and fresh perspective to this violent chapter in U.S. relations in Latin America.
Hope you’ll pick up the book, if you haven’t already. I’m just wrapping up my east coast tour, with an event tonight in Burlington and a final talk tomorrow in Montréal.
After a great tour on the West coast, I’m heading East with Drug War Capitalism. Please let your friends and anyone you think would be interested in coming out know!
December 11 at 7pm: Location to be Confirmed, DC
Facebook event here: https://www.facebook.com/events/1719096904982745/
December 12 at 7:30pm: Red Emma’s Bookstore Coffeehouse, 30 W. North Ave., Baltimore, MD
Facebook event here: http://www.facebook.com/events/1475451959400744/
December 14 at 7pm: Wooden Shoe Books & Records, 704 South Street, Philadelphia, PA
Facebook event here: http://www.facebook.com/events/771572699575121/
December 15 at 7pm: Brooklyn Base, 1302 Myrtle Ave., Brooklyn, NY
Facebook event here: http://www.facebook.com/events/1487437301544080/
December 17 at 6pm: Fletcher Room (top floor) at Fletcher Free Library, 235 College St., Burlington, VT
Facebook event here: http://www.facebook.com/events/797783370284486/
December 18 at 6pm: Concordia University – Hall Building, 1455 De Maisonneuve W., Montreal, QC
Facebook event here: http://www.facebook.com/events/482831758521325/
Hey folks! I’m about to head to the west coast on a book tour. Please spread the word. More info here.
November 15 at 11am: Howard Zinn Bookfair @ Mission High School, 3750 18th Street, San Francisco
More info at http://howardzinnbookfair.com/
November 17 at 5pm: Portland State University, Smith Memorial Student Union (SMSU) 296
November 18 at 7pm: Reading Frenzy, 3628 N Mississippi Ave, Portland, OR
Facebook event here: http://www.facebook.com/events/688662534581314/
November 20 at 7pm: Orca Books, 509 W. 4th Street, Olympia, WA
More info at http://www.orcabooks.com/…/thursday-november-20th-700pm-daw…
November 23 at 6:30pm: Left Bank Books, 92 Pike St., Seattle, WA
Facebook event here: http://www.facebook.com/events/1559096520969217/
November 25 at 7pm: 38 Blood Alley Square, Vancouver, BC
Facebook event here: http://www.facebook.com/events/837201479665137/
November 26 at 7pm (with Julián Cardona): SFU, Harbour Centre RM 7000, Vancouver, BC
November 27 at 4pm (with Julián Cardona): UBC Liu Institute for Global Issues, Case Room, Vancouver, BC
More information at http://juanitasundberg.wordpress.com/november-workshop-on-…/
Drug War Capitalism, my first book, has finally gone to the printers. You can pre-order a copy today from AK Press for 25% off the regular price.
I’m in the process of confirming dates for a west coast tour in November and an east coast tour in December. As soon as things firm up a bit, I will post dates here.
I wrote an update a little while back about events in Guerrero regarding the 43 students who remain disappeared in a state crime that has shaken (and continues to shake) Mexico. There is a need for funds to support families of the 43 young men as well as students of the Ayotzinapa school, if you are able to donate, you can do so here.
Thanks for your support and expect a new update very soon.