FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Drug War on the Poor

by LAURA CARLSEN

A wounded man, blood-covered and frantic, approached a military checkpoint in San Fernando, Tamaulipas, 100 miles south of Brownsville, Texas, with a horrifying story. Reportedly shot in the neck himself, the Ecuadorian would-be migrant to the United States led members of the Mexican Naval Forces to an even more horrendous scene.

Seventy-two migrants from Central America, Brasil and Ecuador lay piled on each other in a large room, dead from gunshot wounds.

From the man’s testimony it seems that the 58 men and 14 women murdered refused to comply with extortion demands from a drug cartel that President Calderón has identified as most likely being the Zetas. According to the “plata o plomo” (money or bullets) law of organized crime, the migrants got the bullets.

The migrants likely did die at the hands of Mexico’s most brutal drug gang. But they also died as a result of both U.S. and Mexican policies that foment violence and have led to a previously unimagined state of lawlessness and brutality south of the border. U.S. immigration and trade policies and Mexico’s U.S.-supported drug war and human rights crisis all played a role in their deaths.

The seventy-two migrants’ names will pass to the growing list of civilians who have become the casualities of a war entered into without thought to its consequences or a coherent strategy for success.

That is, if we ever know their names.

Representatives from the countries of origin are working to identify the rest and have demanded a full investigation, calling the Mexican government’s information to date “insufficient.”

Preying on the most vulnerable

These latest victims come from the ranks of the human beings considered superfluous to an economic system that drives them from their homes and communities to seek work in the United States, despite the risks. Unprotected by the Mexican government–despite numerous reports of these kind of extortion kidnappings over the past few years–and criminalized by a U.S. society that welcomes their labor and rejects their humanity, they continue to travel north because they can´t find work in their countries.

Imagine the trajectory of the 72 lives that were snuffed out on August 24.

Each man and woman sold land, used savings or went into debt to make the trek to the United States. They have no legal channels to enter the U.S. despite the demand for their labor. The cost of rossing has skyrocketed and the risks increased because security measures on the U.S. border have forced them to use human smugglers where before they crossed with migrant guides. The women are particularly vulnerable as they face sexual abuse from criminal gangs and police along the route.

The global crisis is falling on the shoulders of the poor in developing countries. While the U.S. adopts stimulus and jobs programs, its free trade policies have led to imports that displace local production and cut back state subsidies and supports in southern countries.

But the U.S. immigration debate largely ignores the dire conditions they faced in their countries and during their journey, even though alternative policies and actions could help develop livelihoods at home and protect the basic human rights and safety that every human being deserves.

The migrant group found dead in Tamaulipas was reportedly kidnapped arriving in the border region. Typically, organized criminal gangs not only steal the money migrants carry to pay smugglers to take them across the border, but also demand that they contact family in the U.S. to send more money. Neither the Mexican or U.S. governments have done much to stem this transnational extortion ring, probably because both the migrant victims and often the families extorted are undocumented, placing them in a class that has been illegally stripped of state protection and humane concern.

Mexican authorities charged with the protection of people within its borders too often form part of the problem rather than the solution. Crimes against migrants have been rising, as criminals and corrupt police alike find them easy pickings.

Drug War Violence

Although the economic situation of their countries force thousands to seek jobs in the north, U.S. aid has been concentrated in military equipment and security and intelligence training, such as in the $1.5 billion-dollar aid package to Mexico known as the Merida Initiative. Throughout the Western Hemisphere, the drug war has become the latest pretext for militarization in a wide net that not only targets organized crime but also undocumented workers and political opposition.

In Mexico, the drug war strategy has set off a no-holds-barred battle for routes and markets among competing cartels that has broken through the boundaries of crime-on-crime and now affects daily life (and death) in border cities and other regions.

To get an idea of how violence begets violence, take a look at the Zetas? Briefly, they are a group of former Mexican military elite with U.S. training that crossed over into organized crime, taking with them their government-sponsored knowledge of counterinsurgency tactics and brutal repression. They are associated with the infamous Kaibiles in Guatemala who have a similar history. After acting as the armed forces for the Gulf Cartel, they split off and formed their own cartel. Their bid to take over lucrative trafficking routes is at the root of the drug-war violence in many points on the border.

Weaker financially and with fewer political contacts, the Zetas work their one comparative advantage—their willingness to be absolutely ruthless. The massacre of the migrants could be a reaction of rage when the migrants refused to pay up, but it could also be an easy way for the Zetas to flaunt their ability and disposition to break all previous codes of behavior between the government and the cartels.

Through the bodies of the migrants, the Zetas are sending yet another bloody message to the armed forces, and to the other cartels, which have unified against them in some border cities.

As far as the Calderón administration is concerned, every act of increasing brutality on the part of the drug cartels is a sign of victory. Calderón issued a communiqué on the massacre saying, “The Zetas are resorting to extorsion and kidnapping of migrants as a mechanism of financing and recruitment due to the fact that they are facing a very adverse situation in attaining resources and people… This is the result of the activity of the State against them, which has significantly weakened the operating capacity of organized crime.”

Incredibly, Calderón publicly admits responsibility, albeit indirect, for the massacre of the migrants and further notes that their brutal assassination is a sign of success in the drug war. He went on to warn that there will be more violence to come. This is perhaps the one aspect of his campaign that no-one doubts.

The constant spin–where each act of greater violence is interpreted as an advance in the drug war—has left much of the Mexican population feeling nauseous. How much more violence can the nation take? And when will the increasing toll of civilians finally reach a point where leaders in Mexico and the United States admit that the drug-war strategy has dragged us into a downward spiral that must be reversed now before more innocent people die?

LAURA CARLSEN is director of the Americas Policy Program in Mexico City. She can be reached at: (lcarlsen(a)ciponline.org).

Laura Carlsen is the director of the Americas Program in Mexico City and advisor to Just Associates (JASS) .

More articles by:

CounterPunch Magazine

minimag-edit

Weekend Edition
August 26, 2016
Friday - Sunday
Paul Buhle
In the Shadow of the CIA: Liberalism’s Big Embarrassing Moment
Andrew Levine
How Donald Trump Can Still be a Hero: Force the Guardians of the Duopoly to Open Up the Debates
Rob Urie
Crisis and Opportunity
Louisa Willcox
The Unbearable Killing of Yellowstone’s Grizzlies: 2015 Shatters Records for Bear Deaths
Charles Pierson
Wedding Crashers Who Kill
Richard Moser
What is the Inside/Outside Strategy?
Dirk Bezemer – Michael Hudson
Finance is Not the Economy
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Bernie’s Used Cars
Margaret Kimberley
Hillary and Colin: the War Criminal Charade
Patrick Cockburn
Turkey’s Foray into Syria: a Gamble in a Very Dangerous Game
Ishmael Reed
Birther Tries to Flim Flam Blacks  
Brian Terrell
What Makes a Hate Group?
Howard Lisnoff
Trouble in Political Paradise
Terry Tempest Williams
Will Our National Parks Survive the Next 100 Years?
Ben Debney
The Swimsuit that Overthrew the State
Ashley Smith
Anti-imperialism and the Syrian Revolution
Andrew Stewart
Did Gore Throw the 2000 Election?
Vincent Navarro
Is the Nation State and Its Welfare State Dead? a Critique of Varoufakis
John Wight
Syria’s Kurds and the Wages of Treachery
Lawrence Davidson
The New Anti-Semitism: the Case of Joy Karega
Mateo Pimentel
The Affordable Care Act: A Litmus Test for American Capitalism?
Roger Annis
In Northern Syria, Turkey Opens New Front in its War Against the Kurds
David Swanson
ABC Shifts Blame from US Wars to Doctors Without Borders
Norman Pollack
American Exceptionalism: A Pernicious Doctrine
Ralph Nader
Readers Think, Thinkers Read
Julia Morris
The Mythologies of the Nauruan Refugee Nation
George Wuerthner
Caving to Ranchers: the Misguided Decision to Kill the Profanity Wolf Pack
Ann Garrison
Unworthy Victims: Houthis and Hutus
Julian Vigo
Britain’s Slavery Legacy
John Stanton
Brzezinski Vision for a Power Sharing World Stymied by Ignorant Americans Leaders, Citizens
Philip Doe
Colorado: 300 Days of Sunshine Annually, Yet There’s No Sunny Side of the Street
Joseph White
Homage to EP Thompson
Dan Bacher
The Big Corporate Money Behind Jerry Brown
Kollibri terre Sonnenblume
DNC Playing Dirty Tricks on WikiLeaks
Ron Jacobs
Education for Liberation
Jim Smith
Socialism Revived: In Spite of Bernie, Donald and Hillary
David Macaray
Organized Labor’s Inferiority Complex
David Cortright
Alternatives to Military Intervention in Syria
Binoy Kampmark
The Terrors of Free Speech: Australia’s Racial Discrimination Act
Cesar Chelala
Guantánamo’s Quagmire
Nyla Ali Khan
Hoping Against Hope in Kashmir
William Hughes
From Sam Spade to the Red Scare: Dashiell Hammett’s War Against Rightwing Creeps
Raouf Halaby
Dear Barack Obama, Please Keep it at 3 for 3
Charles R. Larson
Review: Paulina Chiziane’s “The First Wife: a Tale of Polygamy”
David Yearsley
The Widow Bach: Anna Magdalena Rediscovered
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail