The most poignant moment in the film The Battle of Algiers comes when the frank and brutal Colonel Mathieu, pushed by reporters regarding atrocities, puts the French occupation of Algeria in the clearest possible terms. Disgusted by intellectuals demanding a “humane” occupation, Mathieu says, “Should we remain in Algeria? If you answer ‘yes’ then you must accept all the necessary consequences.” His point being, of course, that there is no such thing as a humane occupation. Similarly, here in Mexico, there is no such thing as a humane drug war and today La Jornada introduced the Mexican people to their Colonel Mathieu: Brigadier General Carlos Bibiano Villa Castillo, Torreon’s Director of Public Security.
Torreon, Coahuila is a city divided, held by the Zetas, but challenged by allies of the Sinaloa Cartel. A large population of poor youth, often drug addicts, provides cannon fodder for the cartels. As Villa Castillo puts it, “The problem is that we kill a few and more spring up, we lift another rock and more come out.” But this is the sort of place that a man like Villa Castillo thrives. His most recent brush with death came less than two weeks ago, when his SUVs armor withstood a barrage of some 500 rounds. Somebody sold him out.
“Who was it?” he asked himself during the interview with La Jornada. “If I knew I already would have killed the bastard. Those who sell us out don’t deserve to live.” Death, specifically bringing it to those who deserve it in his eyes, seems to be his animating obsession. He is blunt and vulgar, the Mexican analog to Full Metal Jacket’s Gunnery Sergeant Hartman, and the interview was full of brash language like, “I distrust the Federal Police because they don’t kill, just capture. The army and the marines, they kill.”
As the drug war drags on, losing more public support with each tick on the body count, concerns about the dangers of militarization increase. The latest polls show that a majority believes the drug war has failed and complaints of human rights violations against the armed forces have skyrocketed since they were deployed across Mexico.
Villa Castillo’s flippant dismissal of human rights and the judicial process seems to be at the heart of the increasingly apparent incompatibility between rising militarization and the rule of law and human rights. To illustrate, the following is an exchange Villa Castillo had with La Jornada reporter Sanjuana Martinez:
VC: The other day we were sent out to kill six bastards and we killed them. What’s the problem?
SM: Were they Zetas or Chapos?
SM: How do you know? You don’t interrogate them, or even talk with them.
VC: We found out because they had stolen some weapons from us and we found them there.
SM: There are laws, General. You decide who ought to live or die…Don’t you think that God decides that?
VC: Well, yeah, but you have to give him a little help.
SM: If one of these guys were to approach you to talk…
VC: I’d kill him right there. I’d fuck him myself.
SM: Kill, and ask questions later?
VC: That’s how it ought to be. It’s a code of honor.
When asked about human rights, he said they “don’t function like they should.” He went on to say that the work of the National Human Rights Commission is good, but that “it doesn’t carry out its obligations. It ought to protect the victim and it seems that it defends the criminal.”
Some people feel that Villa Castillo’s merciless violence is exactly what the narcos deserve and the only way to win the war. One comment left on La Jornada’s website states, “Men of this caliber and resolve and are what this country needs and if there are others it’s just a question of finding them without hesitation. Find them, and let them work.”
If indeed General Villa Castillo is as incorruptible he claims he is undoubtedly a threat to the narcos. But when you concentrate State violence in the hands of men like Villa Castillo – when you make them judge, jury and executioner – can you really call it the rule of law? When violence comes that easy, when killing becomes protocol, how safe is anyone who criticizes the government? How safe is someone who organizes against militarization or in defense of local control of territory and resources?
The future of the drug war seems to be in the hands of the Villa Castillos of Mexico; the logic of the war, an internal war against the country’s own people, won’t have it any other way. The remarkable thing about Villa Castillos is that he tells it like it is; he disabuses anyone who listens to him of the notion that a militarized drug war can be fought with a strict observance of human rights. He demonstrates that the drug war model itself sows tragedies that are not “collateral” but endemic.
There are other ways to fight organized crime, ways being promoted by the youths that form the backbone of the “No More Blood” and anti-militarization movements emerging throughout the country. The citizen mobilization is not simply a backlash against the rising violence; it is also driven by the underlying social injustice that feeds the violence. In their eyes, much of the strength of the cartels stems from the fact that the state has turned its back on much of the nation’s youth, leaving them with few paths to success other than the ‘live fast, die young’ credo offered by the narcos.
As the students chanted during their march in Mexico City last month, “We want schools! We want jobs! We want hospitals! We don’t want soldiers!”
MURPHY WOODHOUSE is an intern for the America’s Program in Mexico City at www.cipamericas.org.