Apr 11, 2015
On the night of September 26 in the southern Mexican state of Guerrero, a convoy of buses carrying students from a nearby teachers college was ambushed by local police in the town of Iguala. The police shot and killed six people, wounded more than 20 and “disappeared” 43 students.
Clearly, the students were attacked because of their political activities. Their buses were headed to Mexico City to commemorate a famous government massacre of students back in 1968. And the students came from a teaching college that had a long tradition of left-wing activism. It was one of a few schools throughout the country that the Mexican government had created after the Mexican Revolution to promote literacy among poor peasants. These schools admit only students from the same social background as the poor peasants they were supposed to educate. Top officials didn’t hide their hostility toward the college and its students. In a television interview in May 2013, Guerrero Governor Ángel Aguirre called the college “...a place that has been used by some groups to indoctrinate the youths and cultivate social resentment amongst them.”
After the attack, the parents of the missing students, as well as other students, immediately began a campaign. They said they believed the students were alive, and they demanded they be returned immediately. They posted the faces of the missing students everywhere. This brought media attention. And this attention forced the state prosecutor to investigate, when ordinarily the state authorities guarantee impunity to the police and politicians.
A week later, state investigators announced they had uncovered four mass graves around Iguala, the town where the massacre had taken place. The parents of the missing students responded by bringing in forensic experts from other countries. The parents then led a series of fierce protests, calling for the return of the “disappeared” students. They blocked federal highways, marched through cities, set fire to the Guerrero state congress and the governor’s offices.
Eventually, the authorities dug up 18 mass graves. Yet, of the hundreds of bodies that were found, DNA analysis confirmed that only one of them was that of a missing student, with his face ripped off– which is typically done by gangs. All the rest were bodies of people who had also “disappeared” – hundreds of people.
This news spurred angry demonstrations throughout the country. To try to contain the unrest, the federal government stepped in, taking over the investigation. Federal police arrested the mayor of Iguala, Luis Abarca, and his wife, Maria de los Angeles Pineda, who both have known ties to organized crime and had fled to Mexico City. President Enrique Peña-Nieto held a well-publicized meeting in the Presidential Palace with the disappeared students’ parents.
At a press conference in early November, Attorney General Jesús Murillo presented his version of the events. According to Murillo, Iguala police had mistakenly thought the students were going to stop in Iguala and try to disrupt a political speech by the Iguala mayor’s wife. So, the mayor gave the order for municipal police to fire on the students. The police then transferred the students who they had taken into custody to members of the Guerreros Unidos (United Warriors) drug gang, who drove the students to another site, killed them, incinerated their bodies and threw their ashes in a river.
This explanation was based on the testimony of gang members, who had clearly been tortured, without any corroborating evidence. During the press conference, Murillo was confronted by reporters’ questions that he could not answer. He abruptly walked out of the press conference with the parting words, “I’ve had enough.” His comment was picked up by protesters, who mocked and threw it back at the government as an accusation.
Obviously the federal government’s version was meant to shift responsibility for the massacre onto local authorities. They tried to make it seem like an isolated, local affair. “A crime of state?… Iguala isn’t the Mexican state,” Murillo declared.
But the hundreds of bodies in Iguala’s 18 mass graves showed this was not an isolated incident. On the contrary, it was typical. In Mexico during the last eight years, the government security forces and gangs have killed over 100,000 people, and “disappeared” an estimated 27,000 people. This violence has been punctuated by 1,300 beheadings and the discovery of corpses that are routinely found hanging in village squares.
Iguala may not be the Mexican state, but Iguala is symbolic of how government authorities, police and criminal gangs have worked together to terrorize the population, and how that terror was used especially against those who oppose or protest government policies.
Certainly, violence by both government forces and drug trafficking gangs against the population is not new in Mexico. Behind the democratic facade, government authorities have a long history of carrying out harsh repression against unionists, peasant organizers, Marxists, Communists, students and teachers. Army troops were used against the Great Railroad Strike of 1958-59, carrying out mass arrests and assassinations. In 1962, police assassinated Reubén Jaramillo, the great peasant leader, who had fought alongside Zapata during the Mexican Revolution and had continued to lead peasant land occupations. The police also slaughtered Jaramillo’s pregnant wife and three sons. They murdered hundreds of students in 1968 at a demonstration in Mexico City just before the Olympic Games. And in areas that they control, drug gangs have long carried out a reign of terror, for example, by kidnapping and slaughtering thousands of migrants from Central America ever year, with the gangs often working hand-in-hand with the police.
But this violence escalated tremendously in December 2006, with President Felipe Calderón’s announcement that he was declaring war on the drug cartels. Whatever actions the Calderón administration took toward the gangs – which we will return to shortly – his first and clearest targets were political oppositionists.
In the years before Calderón took power, widespread discontent and anger had been growing in Mexico, with scattered social movements and political opposition. For example, in the town of San Salvador Atenco, a group protested plans to build an airport, kidnapped police and threatened to kill them until the government backed down. In Oaxaca, striking teachers and their supporters had seized the state capital for five months. And the Zapatistas in Chiapas continued to organize poor peasants against large landowners.
During the 2006 presidential election, this opposition grew, as many put their hopes and aspirations in the candidacy of Calderón’s main electoral rival, Andrés Manuel López Obrador. In fact, López Obrador was a mainstream politician, but he resorted to a populist language to gain support. During his campaign, he promised jobs, extensions of old-age pensions and the construction of affordable housing. Mammoth demonstrations and rallies in favor of López Obrador made his campaign seem like a social movement against the government policy of imposing sacrifices on the population in order to enrich the bourgeoisie.
After Calderón won the election by an extremely small margin, López Obrador charged electoral fraud, and millions responded by filling the streets in Mexico City in demonstrations and protests. For two months, thousands of López Obrador’s supporters blocked Mexico City’s center. In order to avoid protesters before his inaugural address, Calderón was forced to use the back entrance to the Chamber of Deputies. Jeers and heckling greeted his inauguration address.
After Calderón took office, he ordered troops to attack – not drug traffickers, but oppositionists. Calderón’s troops arrested a key Oaxaca rebel leader. And Calderón asked a judge to hand an Atenco militant, who had led the movement against the construction of an airport, a 50-year prison sentence.
This war on drugs, which was a war on the population, was never just Mexico’s policy. The U.S. government was a part of it from the beginning, and the policy never could have gone forward without U.S. military and financial support. Three months after taking office, Calderón sat down with President George W. Bush in the city of Merida, where they signed the famous Merida Initiative. The U.S. agreed to pitch in with 1.6 billion dollars worth of hardware and “training” over three years. The aid included thirteen Bell helicopters, eight Black Hawk helicopters, four transport aircraft and the latest gamma scanners and phone tap gear. Some of the funds went for training programs run by government agencies. The U.S. Department of Justice’s Project Diamante trains federal police and investigators. The Department of Defense’s Western Hemispheric Institute for Security and Cooperation, which is used to train Mexican military officers, was formerly known as the infamous School of the Americas. It changed its name because it had such a bad reputation for openly training army officers on different methods of torture and assassination, often used against trade union officials. U.S. agents are directly embedded with the Mexican police and military, often dressing up in Mexican uniforms to participate in special missions, etc. After Obama took over for Bush, he renewed the Merida accords, adding drones.
The so-called “war on drugs” was a militarization of Mexican society. The army was brought in to cities and towns in order to carry out military operations against the population. And it was a U.S. war.
With Operation Chihuahua, spawned by the Merida Initiative, the military replaced the local police force and occupied entire towns. Under the pretext of eradicating drug traffickers, soldiers targeted peasant leaders of movements to occupy land. The Mexican government made similar charges against groups protesting against the expansion of transnational mining operations in the Sierra Madre mountains. Zapatista communities of La Garrucha, Hermenegildo Galeana and San Alejandro were also attacked by soldiers in an attempt to regain land taken by activists following the 1994 uprising. Over the last years, attacks on Zapatista rebel territory have intensified. Large landowners and developers have created paramilitary organizations that allied with the troops in Chiapas. In order to exploit rich mineral and lumber resources, as well as develop new tourist destinations, they worked to drive the peasants out. In all of this, soldiers claimed they were searching for illegal drugs.
In towns that the military and police occupied or raided, supposedly against drug traffickers, the military and police very often attacked the population. For years, human rights organizations have chronicled a plethora of crimes committed by the federal police and army, including murders, disappearances, torture and rape. In a recent investigation, Human Rights Watch documented 149 cases of “disappearances” in which police or army officials participated directly in the crime.
This terror was supplemented by the terror of criminal gangs and drug traffickers, especially in the industrialized cities near the border, like Tijuana and Juárez. These attacks were often aimed at women workers who make up most of the workforce in the infamous maquiladora factories, which pay a wage of about $5 per day in a city where housing and food costs are not much less than in the United States. Hundreds of these workers were raped and murdered every year with impunity. They were often targeted either on their way to work or returning home. The Mexican government does not keep official statistics on these femicides. But by 2009 and 2010, the number of women in Juárez who were kidnapped, tortured, raped and murdered is said to have reached unprecedented levels. Around 10 per cent of these murders were committed against children and female teenagers.
To “discourage” journalists from exposing this organized violence, government forces and the drug traffickers resorted to murder, often threatening the lives of a journalist’s family, as well. From 2006 when Felipe Calderón assumed the presidency of Mexico until the end of his administration in 2012, 96 journalists were murdered or had disappeared.
In other words, the so-called war on drugs was nothing more than an excuse to militarize Mexican society, crack down on dissent and opposition and silence all those who tried to expose it.
This was never a war to eradicate drugs. Nor was it a war against the drug cartels. No, to the extent the Mexican government took on the gangs, it did so to bring the drug gangs back within the framework of the Mexican state apparatus, in any case, to make them subservient to it.
Mexican government officials and police chiefs have a long history of working with drug traffickers in their locality or region. They have sold what amounts to drug trafficking franchises in return for a cut in the profits. But over the last couple of decades, the drug traffic increased enormously and the gangs with it, with new gangs springing up. Effectively, the old system began to break down. Some of the bigger drug traffickers began to escape the control of government officials. As one senior DEA agent in Mexico City said one year after Calderón’s first year in office, “The cartels are trying to make a statement to the authorities not to interfere with their enterprises. And they are also trying to send a message to the public saying they are in control.”
In order to re-establish something comparable to the old accord between the drug trafficking gangs and their political masters, the government began to support the largest drug gang – the Sinaloa Cartel – and to use it against the other gangs, according to many experts, including Edgardo Buscaglia, a legal researcher with Columbia University and a consultant to the United Nations on crime in Mexico. Calderón’s top cop and drug czar in this policy was Genarro García Luna, who is said to be linked to the Sinaloa Cartel. In 2008, a number of federal police agents drafted a letter to Congress detailing the result of an investigation in which they declared that García Luna was closely linked to high-level traffickers. He must be linked to something! On the salary of a public servant, García Luna was able to afford numerous vehicles, country retreats and luxury homes; and he bought restaurants and made large investments in property.
Needless to say, what have been touted as supposed “successes” in the drug war were phoney. The occasional arrest of a supposed drug cartel kingpin – even if true – only opened the door to a lieutenant or a rival gang to take over. The occasional large drug seizure or seizure of large amounts of cash has merely been like a government tax, part of the cost of doing business.
Certainly, the “drug war” didn’t stop or even reduce the supply of drugs. By the end of Calderón’s term in 2012, the retail price of one gram of pure cocaine had become 74 per cent cheaper than it was 30 years ago, according to Drug Enforcement Administration data. A lower price means that supplies have remained plentiful. In fact, they are more plentiful than ever.
Neither did the crackdown reduce violence in Juárez, where the murder rate was higher than anywhere else in Mexico. It’s true that it came down from the 3,000 gang related executions per year. But that violence had been caused by the fight between two cartels over control of the valuable drug trafficking corridor along the Mexico-U.S. border. As soon as the two warring drug cartels had come to some kind of accommodation under government tutelage, the internecine gang violence dropped. That’s according to findings in the U.S. Congressional Research Service’s 2013 report, “Mexico's Drug Trafficking Organizations: Source and Scope of the Violence.”
Why would the U.S. and Mexican governments seek to reduce or eradicate drug trafficking? They wouldn’t. It’s been too valuable for many parts of the capitalist class.
Drug trafficking currently brings in between 30 billion dollars and 60 billion dollars per year to the Mexican economy. Estimates by different official agencies vary greatly, obviously because of the clandestine nature of the business. But experts generally agree that the revenue from the “drug industry” is comparable to Mexico’s oil industry.
The money made from drugs doesn’t stay inside the drug cartels. Much of it floods into the legal economy. It is a large source of cash for legal businesses either in Mexico or the U.S. Buscaglia says: “One calculation links the Sinalola Cartel to 3,007 legally constituted companies, inside and outside of Mexico....” These include large hotel chains and resorts, large cattle ranches, record labels, football teams, movie companies, racehorses, and more.“Obviously,” said Buscaglia, “the legal businessmen, who in part benefit from these assets, feel that the flow of capital which has been so advantageous for decades is what has fostered their expansion and enabled high rates of return from their activities in the legal economy.”
Above all, drug trafficking is an enormous source of money for banks.“Global banks are the financial services wing of the drug cartels,” a headline in the Guardian stated (July 21, 2012). Banks charge the cartels a premium to launder the money. “Almost any bank will accept huge deposits in cash, wherever in the world they come from, in exchange for a commission that varies between 3 and 7 per cent. None of this is reported anywhere,” wrote Annabel Hernández (Narcoland: The Mexican Drug Lords and Their Godfathers). Laundering drug cartel money is highly profitable for the banks.
This money helps stabilize the Mexican peso. And the hundreds of billions of dollars from the Mexican drug lords, along with the rest of organized crime worldwide, provides stability to the entire financial system. At the height of the 2008 global financial crash that practically shut down the entire global economy, it was the money from organized crime that kept the financial system afloat. At one point, according to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, these proceeds were “the only liquid investment capital” available to some banks on the brink of collapse.
Drug trafficking money is enormously valuable to the entire bourgeoisie. Rather than eradicate it, the Mexican and U.S. state apparatuses want to protect it – and control it.
The horrendous violence by the government and drug gangs helped open Mexico for much greater investment. The major U.S. companies understand fully that they are not the target of this violence, and it obviously has not created any problems for them. They can even establish factories in the midst of it. The violence cleared the ground so that these companies could come in. Today, they are throwing money hand over foot into the Mexican economy in order to take advantage of workers who have been forced to accept wages that are lower than they are in China, heavy speed up and poor working conditions.
“The cost of the work force in Mexico adjusted for productivity has become much more attractive. This allows you to draw more investment,” explained Gabriel Luna, the chief Mexico economist at Citgroup’s Banamex unit.
U.S. companies have been pouring direct investment into the country. Today, the stock of U.S. investment in Mexico is six times higher than it was 20 years ago, growing from 17 billion dollars up to 101 billion dollars. And much of this investment is along the 2,000 mile U.S.-Mexican border, that is, cities like Tijuana and Juárez where some of the worst violence is. Once an economic backwater, these border cities have been growing at a faster clip than any other part of Mexico. They are a part of the center of trade with the U.S., where each day thousands of trucks and a billion dollars of merchandise cross back and forth. They are also an important center for manufacturing.
U.S. companies have integrated Mexican industry into the production process of the U.S. economy.
At the heart of Mexican industry is auto manufacturing. Mexico now produces more cars than any other country in Latin America, bypassing Brazil last year – even though Brazil’s population is 65% bigger than Mexico’s. And while Brazil sells most of the cars it produces domestically, most of the cars that are produced in Mexico are exported – another indication that much of the poorly paid Mexican workforce is not able to buy what it produces.
In Mexico, among the largest manufacturers are Ford, GM and Chrysler. These companies depend on vast networks of hundreds of suppliers, as parts are combined into components, components into systems or modules, and finally modules into cars. As a result, in the process of the manufacture of a car, its elements cross the border not once, but multiple times. Often, the most labor intensive work is performed in Mexico. But 40 per cent of the content of cars or car parts that are “Made in Mexico” still comes from the U.S.
Yet, this economic opening and billions in foreign investment has not led to greater economic development. The industrial development is totally artificial, based on the needs of the multinational companies and not integrated into the rest of the Mexican economy... even as these industries grow and factories move beyond simple labor intensive production to more complex goods.
And even though there has been a growth of employment in manufacturing, overall employment has not grown. This is because the greater number of manufacturing jobs largely offset losses elsewhere, particularly in the countryside – also because of tighter integration with the U.S. economy. Mexico used to be a major producer of corn, which is its main staple. But today, most of the corn consumed in Mexico is imported from giant U.S. farms, where production is heavily subsidized by the federal government. This has resulted in millions of peasants being forced off the land. Only a small fraction of them are able to get work in the countryside, and it is usually as migrant workers, producing the growing amounts of high quality fruits and vegetables destined for the U.S. on giant, modern farms, where wages and working conditions are so squalid, they are straight out of the 19th century.
Neither has economic integration spurred spending on infrastructure beyond the narrow needs of the multinational companies. More than 40 per cent of the roads remain unpaved, with most of the paved roads servicing the multinational companies. More than one-third of the population still lacks adequate sanitation services. And there are routine blackouts, particularly during the summer rainy season.
Because the workforce is so poorly paid, there has been no growth in the broader consumer market, nor growth in the economy. GDP in Mexico has grown even more slowly than in other Latin American countries comparable in development, like Chile. Most of the workforce in Mexico still has to survive on jobs in what is called the “informal sector,” which continues to constitutes more than half the workforce. That is, most people do not have regular work, not even regular low paid work. And they lack health, pension and other benefits.
This informal sector has been a fertile recruiting ground for the drug trafficking gangs. In fact, drug trafficking is the fifth largest sector of employment in Mexico, with close to half a million people. The drug trafficking sector employs five times as many people as the lumber industry and three times as many as PEMEX, the oil company with the largest workforce in the world.
The end of the six-year Calderón administration in December 2012 was supposed to bring a big change. Obama hurriedly offered congratulations to Calderón’s successor, Peña-Nieto, even before he was officially declared the winner. Within a week after Peña-Nieto took office, he and the leaders of Mexico’s three main parties signed on to a package of sweeping new reforms, called the Pact for Mexico.
In reality, the reforms were another huge giveaway, especially to big multinationals. At the top of the list, the energy reform opens up exploration and production of Mexico’s oil and gas industries to private companies for the first time since 1938. PEMEX, the state-owned Mexican oil company, was created in 1938 when the Mexican state seized control from American and British oil companies following huge workers’ strikes. Control of that vital resource meant that the Mexican nation wasn’t totally under the domination of U.S. imperialism. Of course, over the decades, the U.S. oil companies and banks ate away at this control. But with the energy reform, the big international oil companies and banks are about to take those resources back. Vast new tracts of oil and gas reserves are to be auctioned off to outside companies “like candy,” said one oil executive quoted in the Financial Times. Besides that, the reforms will bring about electric power deregulation and privatization. Reforms in education, which are backed by the biggest Mexican and American companies, constitute a big attack on students and teachers.
To impose these “reforms,” the government has only one answer – terrorism against the Mexican people. During Peña-Nieto’s first year, the bloodbath initiated under the previous president, Calderón, has continued, with more than 18,000 violent killings and more than 2,500 kidnappings.
The continued flourishing of government forces working with gangs, buttressed by U.S. aid, goes along with the lowering of the standard of living of most of the population, which is increasingly what imperialism has in store for the peoples of the underdeveloped countries.
This shows the parasitic nature of imperialism in its full bloom.
Economic integration, a global division of labor and sharing of resources, could represent a huge benefit for humanity, and long ago it became an absolute necessity for economic development and progress. But under capitalism, economic integration becomes a form of plunder only to enrich the capitalists. The most modern and highly developed industry, technology and agriculture spring up in the midst of misery and squalor... and actually make it worse!
In Mexico, U.S. companies as well as big companies from other countries are increasingly incorporating Mexico into the U.S. economy, as the sector where the cost of labor is by far the lowest in every way possible. And they are imposing this through militarization, gang violence and terror. The violence that for decades has been unleashed against the female workforce in Juárez is a statement of what can happen to anyone.
Where is this going to go? It’s not obvious.
Certainly, the Mexican population has a long history of resisting and fighting back. The question is for those fights to be able to grow and spread in the face of the violence of the state and gangs, the agents of the capitalists class. How will that happen? Nobody can say in advance.
But one thing is certain: any fights that start in Mexico can have an impact in the U.S. And visa-versa. Increasingly the workforces are tied together, working for the same companies, the same bosses and on the same products. That’s true of the three U.S. auto companies, GM, Ford and Chrysler. It’s also true of the European and Asian transplants, such as VW, Nissan-Renault, Audi, Mercedes-Benz, Toyota, Honda, Hyundai, Kia. It’s true of all the parts manufacturers, including Dana, AC Delco, Johnson Controls, Global Electronic, Bosch, TRW. Mexican companies are also in both countries, such as San Luis Rassini, that makes springs for Chevy and Ford SUV’s and trucks in Plymouth, Michigan and Montpellier, Ohio. Another Mexican transplant, Nemak, employs 2,000 workers in the U.S. making engine block and transmission parts.
Workers from both countries have common interests that can only be defended in common.