Mexico: In the Brink of … What?

EDITORIAL, 16 Mar 2009

#54 | Fernando Montiel T.

The ongoing “War on Drugs” in Mexico is an everyday concern in the country. A war it certainly is, but against drugs is something not so clear. Context analysis may offer some hints on the conflict dynamics behind the current bloodbath that has reached the headlines both in domestic and world media. Some political, social, economic and geographic elements of analysis may be in order in this concern.

For the media, the “drug war” is highly active in the North, that is, in the Mexico-U.S. border. The border is not the longest inter-state border of the world (3,250 Km. long), but it is the most active: 300 million people crossing back and forth each year.

Thousands of poor Central American and Mexican farmers, peasants and workers go al Norte trying to escape from death by misery in their countries. The numbers are not so clear, but at least 400 people die each year trying to reach the “American Dream”.

But that is a TV, newspaper and radio reality – not a false image, but an incomplete one indeed. For any regular Mexican, the so-called “War on Drugs” is a harsh reality experienced in practically every single region: military budget has more than doubled in the past three years, and human rights abuses by military personnel have risen sky-high. This is an image of the open wound in the social tissue, but its latent form is also present: large military convoys can be seen crossing from North to South and from East to West of the country.

Up to now the results speak for themselves: more than 6,000 people dead just in 2008. Some professional calculations estimate that more than 20,000 people have lost their lives over a period of three years – or since President Felipe Calderón took office in 2006.

The military fight the druglords that at the same time fight among themselves for control of the market. The market? Yes, the biggest one in the world, with about 30 million drug addicts up there, in the North, the United States. And so what?  This media convention, again, is not necessarily a false but an incomplete one.

It is here that deep structures and deep cultures rise up. Druglords have something in common with themselves and also with the overwhelming majority of the Mexican military personnel: they were poor before they transformed themselves in what they are right now; and more importantly, most of them remain in the same condition. Drug trafficking –like the military career- is a way to get money for food, clothing, housing and education for the family and for self.

Not all soldiers are “anti drug Czars” and not all drug dealers are “druglords”. Out of the whole system perhaps 1 percent? Less? Military and drug dealers form a triangle with the country’s poor (about 50 million out of a population of 100 million). None of them are products of just the “evilness in their hearts and morals”.

There is no black-white dichotomist dynamics here, but an immense variety of gray tones linking soldiers-drug dealers-the poor on the ground. Druglords may fight anti-drug Czars for the convenience of rich businessmen/politicians, which in that case is not a security problem but a socio-economic one in which drugs and guns smuggling is merely a consequence of necessity, hunger, despair, abuse and exclusion. In short: class warfare by other means.

During the Spanish Civil War the Republicans had a slogan: “Mejor morir de pie que vivir de rodillas” – “Better to die standing than to live kneeling”. The new Mexican drug-version of the slogan uncovers some of the basic dynamics and the logic behind the violence and the crime escalation, not only in Mexico but throughout the so-called Third World, both in “security issues” – like drug-trafficking – and socio-political movements – like the Zapatista Army in Chiapas: “Better to die of a gunshot than of dysentery”.


This article originally appeared on Transcend Media Service (TMS) on 16 Mar 2009.

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