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.
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.
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.
It appears that a mass grave found near Iguala, Guerrero, over the weekend which is said to contain up to 34 bodies, contains the remains of at least some of the 43 students who were kidnapped by police on Friday.
The students were rural youth studying to become teachers. Their student association is known to be one of the most organized and combative in the country. They were brothers, sons, and friends, and some of them were fathers. They were tortured, dismembered and burned before being buried.
This isn’t the first grave of it’s kind to be dug in Mexico, far from it.
There have been hundreds of clandestine mass graves dug and filled with corpses since Felipe Calderón declared the war on drugs in December, 2006. The discovery of some of these graves garnered international attention, while others went under the radar almost completely. There’s no solid, reliable count of bodies, or of graves. Then there are those which have yet to be discovered. Migrant activists go so far as to call Mexico a giant cemetary, claiming that as many as 120,000 migrants could be secretly buried across the country.
The US media is struggling to tell the story of the bad Guerrero police who passed detained students off to crime gangs. The first thing we can do to break the silence about what is happening in Mexico is call things by their name.
The killers in Iguala were not drug gangs. They were cops and paramilitaries. Paramilitaries are non-state armed groups who work with state forces. There can be no clearer example of the horrors of state and paramilitary violence than what has happened to these students.
Parts of Mexico are deeply paramilitarized, a process which was accelerated and fortified by the Merida Initiative as well as internationally sponsored police professionalization programs.
I’m a grad student in Mexico, and in talking with my peers over the past couple days, the fear and the rage is tangible. On Wednesday students around the country will bravely march against this barbarity, this terror at the hands of the state. The worst thing we can do is to be silent about this.
The disappearance of 57 students on Friday last week by municipal police in Ayotzinapa, Guerrero, is in my view easily one of the most scandalous events that has taken place in Mexico over the past seven years. It’s so awful it’s hard to think about.
What started out as a student protest on Friday turned ugly when cops opened fire multiple times, killing six people and wounding 25. They then detained 57, and when I say “detained” I mean kidnapped. Anarchists denounce police kidnappings all the time at protests, well, this case is a worst case scenario as far as these things go. Fourteen of students have since been returned to safety. That means there are still 43 missing students, all young folks from a rural area in Guerrero state who were in a teacher training program. They are no longer officially in police custody, if they’re still alive they are likely to be in the hands of drug cartels (which are inseparable from the police).
According to the Wall Street Journal:
“Every hour that goes by and we don’t find them, the possibilities that we will find them alive get smaller,” said Vidulfo Rosales, a lawyer for a local human rights group. Mr. Rosales said hopes had faded that the missing students have been hiding at the homes of friends following the protests. “The most common hypothesis is that they are in the power of organized crime groups that work with Iguala’s municipal police, which is very penetrated by organized crime,” he said.
Twenty two cops have since been arrested in connection with killings. But that’s a weak, media friendly band-aid solution, and does nothing to bring back the 43 missing students.
The President of Mexico cancelled a visit to the state that had been planned for the weekend, blaming weather. Yeah, right. In terms of the situation with the students, the Latin American Herald Tribune reported “Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto said the state government had to take responsibility for the violence in the region as it was not the job of the federal authorities.
Mr. President, 43 disappeared students, grabbed by cops and handed off to drug gangs/cartels/paramilitary groups is everybody’s business.
This is a national fucking emergency, and a tragic disgrace. It is taking place 46 years after Mexican pigs massacred at least 36 students at Tlatelolco in the lead up to the 1968 Olympics in Mexico City.
There’s thousands of students throughout the country protesting in the streets today, acts which in this context we must understand as being incredibly brazen and brave. All power to the people in the streets.
#BringBackLosNormalistas #El2deoctubrenoseolvide #FTP
Originally posted on the Media Co-op.
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…)