In the fall of 2007, I met Barack Obama at Arizona State University. I shook his hand, snapping what folks today call a ‘selfie’ with him. The biggest story to precede Obama’s borderland arrival was that he quit smoking. None seemed to know much more about him than that. Yet apart from the strident group of Ron Paul outliers folded into the bunch, the crowd of several hundred spectators was all but wooed by his surefire speech and organizer polish. Change was coming.
That same semester at ASU, I learned that one of my good high school friends had returned to Chihuahua, Mexico for a funeral. A major drug cartel there had beheaded his cousin and fixed it firmly in the middle of a park for all to see. His cousin, who had just lost his factory job, had done nothing more than comment to a reporter for the evening news. My friend speculates that the cartel felt his words disparaged them just enough to warrant a beheading. Paralyzed by my inability to rationalize the desolate event, and thinking of my own distant cousins there, I had no answer as to why.
Some seven years and perhaps 80,000 deaths later, Mexico’s internal strife has metastasized. Obama is now president. The connection between the two is neither hard to see nor does it require a magnifying glass: By funneling thousands of dollars into Mexican coffers so as to ensure a militarized crackdown on drug cartel expansion, the US has unofficially funded a state-sponsored drug war all throughout a neighboring democracy. The results are terrifying and human rights violations have, of course, exponentially skyrocketed. Undeniably, Obama’s policy has turned a troublesome, intra-gang rivalry into a national threat to Mexico’s security.
We are left to ask why the US, a country which claims to be an experiment in democracy itself, would so blatantly sustain a state-sponsored drug war just beyond its own border. The truth approaches the ugliness of any beheading to date. The fact is that human rights abuses and the loss of innocent life within Mexico’s borders is largely unimportant to the White House when compared to the marginal gains that fascist US firms stand to lose by competing with Mexican drug cartels. This hideous truth is so pointed that the Obama administration has pushed the Mexican government to topple any and all figure heads, including the most recent, Joaquín “el Chapo” Guzmán Loera—the most wanted man following Osama bin Laden’s extra-juridical execution. But because this tactic serves no other purpose than to de-industrialize the powerful organization of illicit drug market forces, Obama has funded terror and not justice.
Drug cartel expansion should be stopped. But the methods which are now in practice have cost the lives of thousands of innocent Mexicans. Mexico, as a country, has not benefited or profited since the influx of millions of USD into its government caches, all for the sake of eradicating drug cartels—which has not happened, by the way. Ultimately, the further militarization of the Mexican state is not for the benefit of the Mexican people; is an unabashed part of US statecraft. Furthermore, drug cartel expansion within the last decade is not some aberrant, sinful phenomenon, but rather it is simply the industrialization of one of the most lucrative facets of the informal economy.
Ultimately, fascism will not stand competition that drug cartels present. Therefore, funding the Mexican drug war is but a small investment with appealing returns. By decreasing the profitability of drugs as a substitute product to whatever Americans are allowed to consume (with 70% of the US economy predicated on consumption alone), the drug cartels will no longer compete, as they once did, with American firms for so much market share. Notice how the increase in funds to Mexico’s drug war and the increase in loss of Mexican life varies indirectly throughout the Obama administration, marked especially by the outset of our “recovery” from the Great Recession. There is no coincidence here, only design.
Despite all evidence to the contrary, some persist in thinking the problem at the very heart of the matter consists in whether or not the US has fronted enough money to fix the problem, or whether US government agencies have enough cooperation from the Mexican government to fix the problem. But this does not bespeak the real left-handedness at play. Moreover, it is not addressing the problem at all. Adeptly, popular media and the White House present the foregoing apologies and others like them precisely because these red herrings let us think we get to sleep each night with an easy conscience. Nevertheless, the definitive result is that the American public remains distracted, diverted from the fact that its government has monetarily incentivized an military, state-sponsored repression of drug cartels in a neighboring democracy, effectively costing Mexico tens of thousands of lives and with no end in mind. Even though this is not the kind of change on which Obama stumped, and even though my friend’s cousin is not the only victim of these ghastly wars, it is still sad to think that US imperialism and its economic legerdemain is nothing new. Truly, for all its seemingly new efforts to address the issues wrought by illicit drug profitability at home and abroad, the US has merely retooled an age-old niche in the market of foreign aid: money for blood.
Mateo Pimentel lives on the Mexican-US border.