Neoliberalism, which has facilitated militarisation, paramilitarisation and the massive expansion of the maquiladora [the processing in Mexico of raw materials from the US for return there duty- and tariff-free] industry and the drugs trade in Mexico, has in a linked manner contributed to increased levels of violence (inclusive of femicidal violence) in the country.
Whilst many ‘civilisational feminists’ have chosen not to confront or address such realities, ‘decolonial feminists’ have chosen to do so, for the reasons explained in Part 1 of this series.
With neoliberalism, the sociologist Raúl Romero argues that, “as a result of the restructuring of the Mexican State, extractive economies and organised crime came to occupy key places, submerging our society in one of the most violent crises of contemporary Mexico. The thousands of people murdered and disappeared, as well as the dispossession and ecocide that currently characterise our country must be understood not as the result of corruption, but rather as the direct effect of neoliberal capitalism.
“Is it possible that some of this will change in the short term? Sadly, no! The signals that the new administration gives point to neoliberal continuity, even though the president has decreed its end.”
For Breanna Gonzalez, drug “cartels are the perpetrators of violence against women and use their body counts as a weapon of war resulting in the majority of cases of femicide.”
Helen Redmond has also concluded that “death is an essential part of the illicit drug trade; it is a calculated business expense. (…) The growth of the drug trade and the dramatic uptick in murders in Mexico has to be seen as a consequence of the changing economic environment enacted by neoliberal policies. NAFTA helped to consolidate the central role of the drug trade in the Mexican economy and provided the cartels with a poor, desperate, disposable and criminalised workforce with no human or civil rights.”
María Encarnación López, reader in Sociology at London Metropolitan University and a visiting fellow of LSE Latin America and Caribbean Centre, has also observed that “Ciudad Juárez operates as a necropolis where femicide legislation coexists with reductionist and patriarchal approaches to gender violence. The victims of killings and disappearances” in the city “are presented as prostitutes, and those who investigate are seen to be staining the city’s good name. Mexico’s lax justice system and the [neoliberal] free-trade zones of the maquiladora industry provide the enabling context.”
López observes that “many now see” the high level of murders of women “as an uncontrolled pandemic in the city and a central issue for social justice and human rights in Mexico. Behind this pandemic, there lies a strange kinship between neoliberal economic measures, violence driven by organised crime, a patriarchal approach to working women, and legal impunity around femicide in Mexico. (…)
“A real reduction in female mortality in the city,” she argues, will realistically have to “require a substantive change in modes of production, particularly with regard to the maquiladora industry” which is promoted as a key form of ‘development’ in the neoliberalised economy. “Only then will the perception of female workers improve, empathy with victims increase, and tolerance for impunity decline.”
Redmond: ‘The Mexican drug war is a killing machine’
The “need for safety” for women in the country, Ines de la Morena points out, “is only compounded by the escalation of the Mexican Drug War, whose rise matches perfectly with an increase in gender violence in Mexico. Corruption, money and narcopolitics are fundamental drivers of violence. (…) Increases in gender violence have coincided with increases in other forms of violence, especially those associated with drug cartels.”
“Murders of women in Mexico,” Marguerite Cawley has reported, “more than doubled in the years following the launch of President Felipe Calderon’s war on drugs, with the highest increases occurring in regions most affected by organised crime, according to a government study. A study carried out by Mexico’s National Commission to Prevent and Eradicate Violence against Women (CONAVIM) showed a correlation between the rise in femicides – used in this case to denote any murder of a woman – and the violence unleashed by the drug trade” and the ‘war on drugs/drug wars.’
In the context of the drug trade and related conflicts that expanded massively after the 1994 NAFTA neoliberal agreement came into effect, “the report showed that between the years 2001 and 2010, the femicide rate grew by over 500 percent in the northeast and around 280 percent in the northwest – corresponding to the states historically most affected by drug-related violence, including Chihuahua, Durango, Nuevo Leon, Sinaloa and Sonora.
“The number of killings of women more than doubled in the three years after then-President Calderon launched his assault [‘War on Drugs’] on criminal groups. (…) The study’s coordinator, Florinda Riquer Fernandez, said that the lack of security” in these neoliberalised ‘war on drugs/‘drugs war’ “conflict zones made women more vulnerable, creating the conditions for gender-based violence.”
To Steven Osuna, Mexico’s ‘war on drugs’ has been “a tactic by elites in both the United States and Mexico to legitimate the Mexican neoliberal state’s political, economic, and ideological governance over Mexican society. Through tough on crime legislation and maintenance of free market” – neoliberal – “policies, the war on drugs is a ‘morbid symptom’ that obfuscates the crisis of global capitalism in the region. It is a way,” he notes, “of managing a crisis of legitimacy of Mexico’s neoliberal state.
“Through arguments of Mexico as a potential ‘failed state’ and a ‘narco-state,’ the United States has played a leading role by investing in militarised policing in the drug war (to be detailed in a forthcoming article) and securitisation of Mexico’s borders to expand and maintain capitalist globalisation. In the twenty-first century, the ideology of manifest destiny persists, but instead of westward expansion of the US state,” Osuna concludes that “it serves as the maintenance and expansion of global capitalism” – with its attendant (inclusive of femicidal) consequences – into Mexico.
To Belén Fernández, contributing editor at Jacobin Magazine, Mexico “has had the grave misfortune to exist at the mercy of a United States-backed ‘war on drugs’ since 2006. (…) Since the start of militarised operations, some 300,000 people have been murdered, and more than 77,000 have disappeared.
“In a hypocritical arrangement typical of Mexico’s nasty imperial neighbour, the US is itself responsible for not only the demand for drugs but also the criminalisation that makes their trafficking so lucrative and produces such violent competition in the first place – with poor civilians often caught in the crossfire.
“And because the capitalist [neoliberal] system thrives on the proliferation of strife in general and the marketing of superficial non-solutions to problems, the US response to the narco-showdown it created across its southern border has been to throw heaps of money at corrupt and violent Mexican security forces who are often in bed with – who else? – the cartels.”
Fernández cites Dawn Paley, author of ‘Drug War Capitalism,’ as emphasising that hemispheric “violence on this scale cannot” just “be properly understood as a consequence of criminal activity and state responses to it”. For Paley, as Fernández reports, “it must be understood as ‘neoliberal war, waged against poor and working-class people in the interest of maintaining an increasingly unequal social order.’ To be sure,” Fernández also concludes that “unequal social orders are great in terms of generating the perpetual strife on which capitalism” – in its neoliberal form in Mexico – “thrives. And the present violent Mexican panorama – in which cities like Celaya are transformed into veritable war zones – constitutes a link in a vicious but profitable cycle.”
“There’s a strong correlation between the rise in violent deaths of women and the strategy to combat organised crime,” Pablo Navarrete Gutierrez, legal affairs coordinator for the National Institute of Women (Inmujeres – a government agency charged with tackling gender violence and discrimination) acknowledged in 2016.
For Raúl Zibechi, “wealth accumulated by the one percent is being protected by an alliance between drug trafficking networks and sectors of the state apparatus that serve the interests of large multinationals but at the same time have been formed as an important factor of power. This alliance” – many would say within the context of a neoliberal environment – “operates by clearing territories for mining and energy undertakings, from which it benefits by creating broad spaces under its control that it uses to lubricate its illegal businesses.
“Recently,” Zibechi reports that “analyses started to be published about this reality that, under the mane of drug trafficking (narcotráfico), designs a mode of domination and control of populations. We should not lose sight of the fact that the narco-states are not deviations from the tradition of the nation-states, but rather their new configuration in accordance with extractivism/fourth world war, which complicates both the resistances of popular sectors and the emancipatory struggle in general.”
“The Mexican drug war,” Helen Redmond reported as early as 2013, “is a killing machine. The level of violence and slaughter is similar to conventional warfare. In just six years, 70,000 people have been killed, but some estimate the number is a staggering 120,000.” She added: “More than 20,000 people have disappeared and a quarter of a million have been displaced. A major investigation into narcofosas (mass graves) in Mexico by the magazine Milenio found the corpses of 24,000 people.
“Entire cities and towns have erupted into war zones chock-full with military checkpoints and drug cartel roadblocks. Armed with military grade weapons including grenade launchers, the drug gangs are an equal match for Mexican soldiers and police. Drug cartel sicarios (assassins), the military, and police have committed atrocities and violated human rights countless times. Dismembered body parts are [intentionally] left on streets and found decomposing in barrels of acid. Dead bodies with mouths duct taped shut hang from busy commuter bridges. Women are raped and murdered with impunity, and journalists who expose law enforcement corruption are kidnapped and killed. The drug war takes no prisoners.”
“In 2020, according to a report by the Mexico City-based Citizen’s Council for Public Safety and Criminal Justice, seven out of the ten ‘most violent’ cities in the world were located in Mexico,” as a consequence significantly of the neoliberalism fuelled and driven ‘drug wars’ and linked militarisation/paramilitarisation policies and practices of the state.
Maria Guadalupe Ramos Ponce, coordinator of the Committee of Women’s Rights in Latin America and the Caribbean, has asserted that “the drug war has normalised misogynistic violence.” Even as “the violence has resonated through the community as a whole, (…) the violence has grown more gruesome toward women as well, with torture and dismemberment more common, she said.”
Stephen Woodward in December 2016 reported that “security forces engaged in the drug war are guilty as well of violence against women, according to Amnesty International which released a report in June saying police and armed forces routinely abused female prisoners, with almost total impunity. ‘The current approach to public security sees women as expendable parts,’ said Madeleine Penman, Amnesty’s Mexico researcher. ‘Authorities themselves often subject women to mass arrests in order to inflate their figures.’
“Such women are often accused of crimes without any evidence. Of the 100 women interviewed for Amnesty’s report, 93 said they were hit or beaten while under arrest and 33 said they had been raped in custody. Mexico’s defence secretary apologised in April  after a leaked video showed soldiers and police suffocating a female suspect with a plastic bag.”
According to Mark Stevenson, “most” of the ‘disappeared’ in Mexico “are thought to have been killed by drug cartels” – many working through state and US intelligence networks in a protected fashion (the subject of forthcoming articles) – “their bodies dumped into shallow graves or burned.”
As detailed in Part 1 of this series, the neoliberal NAFTA free trade agreement in 1994 “created a new billionaire business elite in Mexico – men like Carlos Slim – but also businessmen like Joaquin ‘El Chapo’ Guzmán Loera, the CEO of the Sinaloa drug cartel. He made the Forbes billionaire list four times. The free market reforms that NAFTA implemented in the legal Mexican economy reshaped and expanded the illegal narcoeconomy. Drug cartels bought bankrupted farms on the cheap and increased the cultivation of poppy and marijuana on lands that used to grow corn, beans, and other staple crops.”
This could hardly have been an unanticipated course of action to seasoned observers, analysts, US ‘deep state/CIA’ strategists and drafters and implementers of the NAFTA agreement. Indeed, for many US ‘deep state’ planners, this was a desired geopolitical and economic outcome, as future articles in this series will detail.
Rodney Stich, in ‘Drugging America: A Trojan Horse,’ describes the way that the NAFTA agreement, which locked Mexico into a neoliberal framework of trade, “as expected, would greatly facilitate the shipment of drugs into the US and increase the amount of bribe and protection money for the many fragmented segments of Mexico’s local and federal police, military forces and politicians. (…) With the passage of NAFTA, the smuggling of tons of drugs into the US escalated – as expected by members of Congress, President Clinton, drug traffickers and the Mexican government.”
In 1998, Lori Wallach, director of Global Trade Watch, noted the way in which a confidential report by a US task force of law enforcement officials along the border, entitled ‘Drug Trafficking, Commercial Trade and NAFTA,’ “‘is basically documenting from ground zero what we predicted and what only the administration NAFTA-boosters continue to lie about.’ (…) The report,” Stich observed, also stated that “the NAFTA trade agreement will prevent the US,” by its very nature, “from [practically] putting on political pressure to clean up the corruption in Mexico.”
As Redmond has perceptively noted: “This bloody war, ostensibly to rid the country of illegal drugs and drug trafficking, has been a grisly failure. Mexico continues to be a major exporter of heroin and marijuana and a central trans-shipment point for cocaine from Andean South America bound for the United States.”
Paul Williams (journalist, editor of the Metro and adjunct professor of Humanities at the University of Scranton) notes in his book ‘Operation Gladio’ that heroin had by the beginning of this century “become one of the world’s most valuable resources – a resource that could generate over $100 billion a year in revenue. Without the white powder, there would be no ‘black ops’” – directed by US/NATO ‘deep political’ circles and networks, to facilitate necessary assassinations, kidnappings, coups, regime change and resource rich ‘land clearance’ operations, funding of key politicians, military, media, paramilitary, police and civil society representatives the US government was covertly supporting – “no means of obtaining control” of key areas of the world using paramilitary forces, drugs ‘cartels’ and other extra-legal mechanisms, “no way of moulding the global economy and political relations” to the political agendas of US/NATO, US/UK banking and global corporate ‘deep state’ linked elites and entities (the focus of future articles in this series).
Indeed, in recent years – where “by 2018, Mexico’s southwestern Guerrero state became the top source of heroin for the US drug epidemic” and where the US Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) now “says that 93% of heroin in America now comes from Mexico, more than double the amount from five years before” – Williams has observed that, for the United States itself, “narcodollars” have become “the lifeblood of the nation’s economy.”
What is also clear, he notes, “is the possibility that the [US-NATO ‘deep state’ linked] Gladio strategy of tension is at work south of the border” – i.e., in Mexico – “so that new fields of poppies may be cultivated to perpetuate the CIA’s operations – operations that will safeguard (…) the holdings of an elite group of bankers and businessmen” in the neoliberal environment that was created to protect and expand those holdings (the subject of a forthcoming article in this series).
With the Taliban’s recent take-over of Afghanistan (where the Taliban have stated that that they are committed towards halting the drug trade there), it seems likely that there will be added ‘pressure’ to redirect some of that now-largely shuttered trade in Afghanistan to Mexico, to the ‘new’ areas due to be opened up through new ‘resource/extractivist/drug wars.’
Redmond has documented the way in which “the power of the drug cartels to kill, corrupt, and elude capture has grown exponentially as have their profits. Former president Felipe Calderón unleashed ‘la guerra contra las drogas’ upon his inauguration in 2006. For six years as the death toll climbed and drugs flowed unimpeded through the country, El Presidente insisted that the war was being won. Calderón had no sympathy for those murdered in drug war violence. He called fifteen teenagers who were mowed down at a party by Juárez cartel hitmen ‘thugs.’ In fact, they were students and athletes.”
Ryan Devereaux has concluded that “it was evident from the beginning that state violence, including enforced disappearances, was a feature, not a bug, of this new war” ‘on drugs,’ carried out in a neoliberal framework.
‘Cartel’ and ‘state’ linked militarised/paramilitarised and securitised violence – within the contexts of declared or unofficial (as is the case currently under President Andrés Manuel López Obrador, also known by his initials AMLO) ‘wars on drugs’/‘drug wars,’ enabled by the NAFTA and NAFTA 2.0 ‘free trade’ neoliberal agreements and banking/US deep state protected narcotrafficking systems – needs to be recognised for what it ‘is’ and ‘does,’ and needs to be confronted and halted rather than advanced, if deathly violence, inclusive of femicides, is to be reduced in Mexico.
For Redmond: “More than anyone else in Mexico, Calderón has blood on his hands. He leaves behind a country where torture, mass executions, and beheadings are the new normal to teach at Harvard’s John F. Kennedy School of Government in Cambridge.” And despite the current Mexican president, Andrés Manuel López Obrador’s (AMLO’s) statement that the ‘war on drugs’ has come to an end just as the period of neoliberalism has allegedly also come to an end, that clearly isn’t the case, as Dawn Paley and others have shown in their findings, also discussed in Part 1 of this series.
With neoliberalism and ‘drug wars’ still taking place, and a further expansion of the maquiladora industry planned as part of AMLO’s ‘Fourth Transformation’ megadevelopment programmes, large numbers of killings and femicides continue – and will continue – to be a reality.
In assessing the nature and murderous impacts of the neoliberalism system that facilitates the globalised drugs and inter-related globalised banking trade and ‘drugs wars’ in Mexico, especially after the neoliberal NAFTA agreement was signed in 1994, Redmond asserts that the drug trade, by its nature, needs “a class of workers with job skills that include the ability to torture, dismember, kidnap, rape and murder. The drug cartels recruit cadets from Mexican police academies funded by US-taxpayer money. (…) One of the most feared and brutal drug cartels, Los Zetas, were trained by a Special Forces group at Ft. Bragg, North Carolina (…)
“The Mexican military has a long track record of violating human rights, and the rise in allegations of abuse is a direct result of their role in the drug war,” she contends, adding: “In pursuit of drug traffickers, soldiers have brutally attacked civilians suspected of aiding the cartels. A report by Human Rights Watch found that, ‘instead of reducing violence, Mexico’s war on drugs has resulted in a dramatic increase in killings, torture, and other appalling abuses by security forces, which only make the climate of lawlessness and fear worse in many parts of the country.’ (…) The United States funds the carnage in Mexico through the Mérida Initiative, a [multi] billion counter-narcotics programme.”
Meral Cicek: ‘The perpetrators are often not punished because the killer is the system itself’
High femicide levels can hardly be reduced if these interrelated neoliberalism, protected US intelligence-drug networks, global banking, ‘drug war’/gun trade and state backed militarisation/paramilitarisation impulses and initiatives aren’t confronted and deconstructed. Nine years ago, Nobel Laureate Jodie Williams, “after concluding a ten-day fact-finding mission in Mexico and Central America,” established that “the war on drugs and increased militarisation in Mexico, Honduras and Guatemala is becoming a war on women. The governments’ efforts to improve ‘security’ in the region have directly resulted in insecurity for civilian populations – and most especially, for women.’”
This ‘war on women’ continues in this context, with attendant femicides. Even as Laura Carlsen confirmed that “most people killed in the drug war are men,” she noted that “women human rights defenders are increasingly targeted, often times by government forces since drug war violence and militarisation provides a cover for attacking leaders of grassroots movements.”
Meral Çiçek observes that this ‘cover’ has also concealed, as it has in other regions of the world, the femicidal context in which these killings in neoliberalised linked spaces have occurred: “Now it can be said that every murder of women is political. Which is true. All forms of masculine violence against women are political. The primary slogan of the Second Wave Women’s Movement, ‘The private is political,’ drew attention to this fact.
“But beyond this, we witness that women are increasingly targeted due to their leading roles in the political and social arena. In other words, women pioneers are increasingly targeted and systematically murdered for leading social struggle. They are assassinated. Women who lead the freedom struggle, who are the brave advocates of truth in the field of journalism, who are at the forefront of the defence of the land, and who persuade people to resist against fascist dictators, are murdered.
“The perpetrators are often not punished because the killer is the system itself. It is the trio of the state/supranational corporation/paramilitary gang that decides, plans, organises, and implements political assassinations against leading women. The aim of the political murders committed by these main players of patriarchal capitalist modernity is to eliminate women’s leadership in this turn of the 21st century (…) because the leadership of women,” as women, “in the fields of freedom, democracy, justice, and ecology is the dynamic that most threatens the existence of the dominant system and the mentality on which it is based.
“This reality is clearly apparent from Kurdistan and Turkey to Belarus, from Chile to the USA, from Afghanistan to Mexico. Therefore, each political femicide that the system tries to present to us as a singular and isolated event constitutes a part of a systematic whole,” she asserts.
For Carlsen, women have borne “the brunt of the social consequences of the drug war. (….) They also suffer forms of sexual violence at the hands of both drug cartels and security forces. (…) Martha Ojeda of the Coalition for Justice in the Maquiladoras,” commenting on maquiladoras which were established in increased numbers “on the northern border” with the US as a consequence of neoliberal systemic reforms in Mexico, has noted with concern that “the social roots of the conflict are often ignored. ‘The northern border state of Tamaulipas is part of the NAFTA corridor.’ (…) She described what has happened as drug cartels fight to control trafficking routes to the US.
“‘Women’s bodies form part of the battle for control over territory’” in these militarised neoliberal structured spaces, and are exploited and used/discarded to further ‘ends’ and ‘means’ within the political/economic environment that has been permitted and institutionalised/protected through the neoliberal NAFTA (and NAFTA 2.0) agreements.
Mercedes Olivera: ‘Feminicide and feminicidal violence’ is ‘a direct expression of the structural violence of the neoliberal social system’
Mercedes Olivera’s perspectives – as presented in the book ‘Terrorizing Women: Feminicide in the Americas’ – drawing upon the findings of others as well as her own, cannot afford to be ignored. “‘The World Bank and IMF, two grindstones of the same mill, imposed the violence of the free market on us. (…) In such a democracy, who’s really in charge?’ – Eduardo Galeano.
“Women are being murdered in Mexico at an alarming rate,” she confirms. “Since the 1990s, this rate has increased so dramatically – in direct relation to the expansion of neoliberalism.”
“Feminicide and feminicidal violence,” she contends, is “a direct expression of the structural violence of the neoliberal social system. (…) Putting the neoliberal mandates into practice through institutionalised patriarchal power, Mexico’s so-called political class and its business and financial sectors have undermined and violated both society’s and individual’s rights, interests and needs. In the case of women, one outcome of the processes on both levels has been murder.”
The increase in violence within families and within the context of “personal violence in general,” she also observes, “are the other side of the systemic violence of the neoliberal structure, which creates a social ecology in which men are driven to hyper-masculinity, exaggerating the violent, authoritarian, aggressive aspects of male identity in an attempt to preserve that identity. The counterpart of these attitudes is found in the subordinate positions of women in relation both to men and to institutionalised masculine power.
“In the face of neoliberalism’s increasing demands, the dysfunction and obsolescence of these stereotypes,” she reports, “is ever more evident. The disturbances they have always produced in personal relations are enflamed by the current social violence. Conflicts within couples and families as masculine domination is brought into question and delegitimised steadily increase the levels of violence and of course, the risk of murder.
“These conflicts are multiplied under the pressure produced by unemployment, poverty, social polarisation, alcoholism and insecurity” – enhanced by the paramilitarisation/militarisation of the environment as a consequence of the neoliberal fuelled ‘drug wars’ and ‘counterinsurgency/resource wars’ – “among the many other problems that fill daily life with tension.”
Olivera confirms that “poverty and unemployment, the disintegration of the peasant economy and migration – all more acute since the government of President Salinas de Gotari accelerated neoliberal policies – are, along with the national crisis of governability, the most important structural causes of the increase in violence against women. (…) The problem is so deep, however, that in order to make progress” in substantially reducing violence and feminicides in Mexico, “the women of Mexico need to participate in building a different world – one without violence, sexism, or oppression. And to do that, we must struggle against the neoliberal system that has invaded our lives” – something which many ‘civilisational feminists’ will not do, but which ‘decolonial feminists’ (as pointed out in Part 1 of this series) and the Zapatistas and EZNL will (the subject of the next article in this series).
The ‘war on drugs’, militarisation and paramilitarisation within a neoliberal context still continues under President AMLO and MORENA
Despite AMLO’s projections of a ‘different world’ being made possible under his ‘Fourth Transformation’ agendas, there is much to suggest that the “structural violence of the neoliberal social system” described above by Mercedes Olivera, which has enabled and contributed to the horrifically high level of femicides in Mexico, continues.
Dawn Paley, for example, highlights the manner in which the current ‘war on drugs’ – and the linked militarisation of the country, which has been the cause and stimulus of such a high level of violence, murders, femicides and terror in the country – has not ended, despite suggestions to the contrary by AMLO and his Movement for National Regeneration (MORENA) party and despite some reported policy shifts in places.
“It has become abundantly clear,” she notes, “that his [AMLO’s] administration is staying the course of the war on drugs. Though the federal government’s discourse has technically changed (the ‘war on drugs’ was declared formally over in 2019), soldiers, marines, federal police and the National Guard continue” – despite their appalling human rights record – “to be at the centre of public security. Prohibited substances including marijuana are routinely intercepted, those who carry even the smallest amounts are jailed, and plantations continue to be sprayed and burned.”
State organs still, even under AMLO’s presidency, seem to be working hand-in-hand with narcotrafficking networks, if the following accounts are to be believed: “Throughout the indigenous territories in the Altos of Chiapas – Aldama, Chalchihuitán, Chamula, Chenhaló, Pantelhó, among others, the activity of organised crime is increasingly more visible, Pedro Faro, director of Fray Bartolomé de las Casas Human Rights Centre (Frayba) explains. He refers to the fact that impunity is such that in Pantelhó,” for example, “the stolen cars are used by the municipal police, and the area has also become a human trafficking corridor. ‘There is marijuana planting and arms trafficking, there are many high-powered weapons for the exclusive use of the army, which makes us wonder who finances, who trains all these groups, who provides them with the park for all these shootings, to keep the region ravaged.’
“Pedro Faro points out that the Mexican State has not acted to deactivate these groups, despite the denunciations made by the population. In this context, the director of the humanitarian centre believes that the formation of the ‘people’s self-defence’ group is ‘a desperate action to get organised crime out of the place.’”
Ángeles Mariscal reported upon a temporary intervention staged by the ‘people’s self-defence’ force two months ago where “the ‘people’s self-defence’ claim that they are living under a ‘narco-government,’ which has left them with a toll of stories of indigenous people murdered for refusing to participate in illicit businesses, or for denouncing them; the most recent case was the murder of Simón Pedro Pérez, which occurred on 5 July.
“‘We are witnesses to the murders they have made of our grandparents, parents and children,’ they point out. ‘So we decided to enter the town of Pantelhó on 7 July 2021 at 4 am, we did not enter to attack the people, but to expel the hired assassins, the drug traffickers, the organised crime,’ whose members took refuge in the municipal seat, they explain. They say that they carried out this [temporary] intervention, ‘because our patience has run out, because we do not see any hope in the federal and state governments.’”
Paley reports that “In May of last year AMLO passed a decree allowing the military to participate in policing activities until the end of this term in 2024. The president promised that the newly stood-up National Guard would be a civilian force, but it has taken on an undeniably military character: most of its recruits are former soldiers, and its top boss is a former general.”
The reach of the National Guard and army is becoming all-encompassing, Paley observes, something that has raised concerns amongst many anti-militarisation, anti-femicide, anti-disappearance and anti-homicide campaign groups and the Zapatistas: “Beyond formalising the army’s role in public security, AMLO’s government is taking the unprecedented step of opening major state contracts to the army,” giving it militarised as well as geographical and spatial, securitised control over several societal projects: “Soldiers and military engineers are building Latin America’s largest airport in Mexico State as well as a significant part of the Tren Maya in the Yucatán peninsula, among other projects. The army will operate the new Felipe Angeles International Airport, which will connect Mexico City to the world; and will be the long term beneficiaries of the controversial train in Mexico’s south.”
To add to this, Paley reports that “beyond major construction projects, former generals and other members of the Marines and the Army have been tapped for an increasing number of posts in the civil service. Not only is the Mexican Army active in physically preventing migrants from travelling north through Mexico, today over half of the state-level delegations of the National Migration Institute are run by former army officers. (…) Hostility reigns” as “civil society groups and popular organisations regularly protest war and impunity and campaign against militarisation of this kind.”
Meanwhile, “the political elite most responsible for the terrible events of the last 15 years have positioned themselves as the opposition,” calling AMLO ‘soft’ in his approach to the ‘War on Drugs,’ “pushing a President who promised peace and now steadfastly supports the army to take an even more militaristic approach to public safety.”
Paley points out that, “at the outset of his tenure, López Obrador disregarded a diverse coalition of over 300 civil society organisations” – many of them raising femicidal concerns – “that demanded the National Guard be a civilian force, as stipulated in the Constitution. Regardless, since 2019 a career [male] soldier has led the National Guard, troops now number over 100,000, the majority of them former soldiers. Last May, AMLO signed an agreement regularizing the army’s active role in policing until the end of his term. Contrary to AMLO’s promises to end the drug war, the army remains active in enforcing prohibition.”
All too disturbingly, she adds: “On any given day in Mexico, there are an estimated 150,000 armed forces deployed throughout the country, more than half of them devoted to pacification. Soldiers detained more people between September 2019 and September 2020 than in any year since the outset of the ‘war on drugs’ and the armed forces continue to confiscate cocaine, marijuana, and fentanyl. Under AMLO, security forces have [also] taken on an outsized role in the country” to deal with refugees, migrants, indigenous peoples and movements opposed to his party’s policies and practices, ‘state security’ and megaprojects which they are increasingly in charge of ‘facilitating.’
She also noted that, “last fall, when Gen. Salvador Cienfuegos – who was Secretary of Defence when  students were disappeared [in Guerrero state in 2014] – was arrested on drug trafficking charges in Los Angeles, the president initially stated that anyone involved with criminal activity in the army would be investigated and punished. But his declaration of accountability in the ranks quickly rang hollow: The United States deported Cienfuegos back to Mexico in November” – due to intense diplomatic pressure from Mexico – “and just a few weeks later” – too short a time for a comprehensive and serious investigation to have been conducted, argue several commentators – “Mexico’s attorney general cleared him of all charges.”
To be sure, Kurt Hackbarth confirms that the case presented against General Cienfuegos from the US side, which was made public, was highly problematic and begged more questions than it answered: “The fact that the sum total of a multiyear investigation was a bunch of inconclusive BlackBerry screenshots raises some important questions. Is the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) sitting on something else? Shea’s letter carefully refers to ‘several cooperating witnesses’ that could provide details about the cartel’s activities – but not, apparently, about Cienfuegos. (…) And if the agency only decided to share the short end of its evidence with Mexico, what kind of game is it playing? In practice, it would mean protecting a known criminal, a more perverse twist on a long history of looking the other way throughout the general’s career.”
For, as Hackbarth notes, “Cienfuegos may very well be guilty of drug trafficking; indeed, there is reason to believe that he was at it well before his time as Secretary of Defence under former president Enrique Peña Nieto.” But these were not issues that Mexico’s Attorney General seemingly was tasked with examining or investigating.
As Hackbarth has commented: “In its communiqué announcing its decision to not press charges, moreover, the attorney general’s office noted that a review of the general’s financial records showed no signs of illicit enrichment; this, despite his sharp rise in wealth during his time as Defence Secretary, including a portfolio of real estate, expensive automobiles, and a million-dollar bank account. (…) DEA intrigue or ineptitude aside, there is nothing stopping AMLO’s administration from investigating Cienfuegos on its own – something it has so far declined to do.”
For Hackbarth, “what the Cienfuegos affair” also “demonstrates are the limits of creating a transformative project on the back of the armed forces.” Yet, “since coming to power in December of 2018, AMLO has placed all of his chips on Mexico’s military in a bid to guarantee the stability of his government.”
This, he suggests, is highly problematic on a number of fronts: “Despite rhetorical attempts to give it a revolutionary backstory, the Mexican army is a hierarchical, conservative, and self-interested organisation. It is armed, powerful, dangerous, and the recipient of a steadily growing slice of the federal pie. And when it feels threatened – as when a retired member of its top brass is under the gun – it will flex its muscle accordingly. And if the institutional checks against its power are weak, popular counterweights are even more so.”
Hackbarth is not alone in suggesting that MORENA is currently not in a fit state to be able to hold the armed forces accountable for what they might do and/or are doing. AMLO, moreover, has taken to criticising indigenous rights protesters who have sought to defend indigenous populations that have experienced armed forces brutality in the recent past, and who are now opposing the megadevelopment programmes that he is endorsing: “The political party he founded, MORENA, is riven with infighting, opposition entryism, and a lack of internal democracy. (…)
“In much of the centre and south of Mexico, where the nation’s natural resources and indigenous populations are concentrated, expressions of left politics have historically taken the form of opposition to developmental megaprojects that exploit local communities and foul the environment. A tragic roster of activists have lost their lives in this fight. But,” Hackbarth notes, “in the face of opposition to a thermal power station to be built in the town of Cuautla, Morelos, for example, a project that AMLO himself once opposed – he notoriously decried protestors as ‘radicals of the left who are no more than conservatives.’
“He has used the same rhetoric to tar opposition to the Mayan Train in the Yucatan Peninsula. Ironically, many of these populations are the same ones that have borne the brunt of military abuses and impunity.” And “in line with presidential scoldings, MORENA as a party has had little to say in response to these manifestations of activist energy except for a variant on the centuries-old, ‘Why don’t you accept progress?’” In this context, what he advances is more neoliberal and militarised/securitised ‘progress’ where public accountability is still seemingly not being respected.
In this publicly unaccountable and increasingly countrywide militarised environment, moreover, Paley confirms that “the disappearances,” under MORENA and AMLO’s period in governance, “have not stopped. (…) Over 37,800 people have been disappeared since AMLO took office, of whom over 16,000 have yet to be found.”
Mariano Sánchez-Talanquer, a Mexican political economist and Academy Scholar at the Harvard Academy for International and Area Studies, has “likened the president’s stance on the military to a ‘bait and switch,’ in which AMLO promised to rein in the military but instead deepened and expanded its role.”
“Why do I turn to the support of the Armed Forces? Why do I support myself [with] both the Secretary of the Navy and the Secretary of Defence?” The president responded to his own question in the following manner: “Because they are two pillars of the State and they resisted the neoliberal storm.”
But as other commentators, movements and organisations have argued, the Mexican armed forces – then, as now – have actually been at the centre of the neoliberal ‘storm,’ the ‘war on drugs’ and counter-insurgency linked ‘anti- Zapatista Army of National Liberation’ (EZLN) operations (which were aimed at eradicating a movement that mobilised significantly on the grounds that “the economic, political, social and repressive programme of neo-liberalism has demonstrated its inefficiency, its deceptions, and the cruel injustice that is its essence. Neoliberalism as a doctrine and as a reality should be flung into the trash heap of national history”).
These armed forces have also been central to facilitating not only the neoliberal militarised and paramilitarised projects of AMLO and MORENA that have been implicated in severe violations of human rights, but earlier neoliberal initiatives by previous Mexican governments that were accompanied by the severest human rights violations.
As Mercedes Olivera has documented, “the massacre that most tragically illustrates this official [linked] violence occurred in 1997 in Acteal, Chiapas, where a paramilitary force trained by the army attacked a group of more than 50 people, most of them women and children, suspected of supporting the Zapatistas” who had mobilised against the neoliberal reforms of the government and the patriarchal orientation of state promoted development programmes.
“Refugees from surrounding hamlets, the victims were trapped and murdered in a Catholic chapel. After the slaughter, the assassins mocked the symbols of maternity by hacking the women’s breasts with machetes and extracting the foetuses from those who were pregnant. Beyond Chiapas,” she noted, again, “terror” was also “the objective of the army’s permanent militarisation of Guerrero and Oaxaca, typically in close coordination with the state police. The destruction of villages, cornfields, and harvests as well as harassment, the threat of sexual violence, jailing, disappearances and the killing of men and women – almost always unpunished,” she noted, has served to generate and perpetuate a climate of fear that has been the intention of such psychological warfare.
In the face of such “terror,” where state armed forces alongside police forces and army-backed and/or trained paramilitary/narcotrafficking militias/cartels have operated to facilitate neoliberal trading and globalised structures and social spaces, “thousands of campesinos (…) fled their land: poverty, illness and interfamilial violence have increased and women have seen their movements curtailed,” even as many of their lands have been freed up for purchase at low prices by key investors in the neoliberal economy.
For Alma Gomez, from the Centre for the Human Rights of Women in Chihuahua, “women are the invisible victims, we are always at risk in this military and police occupation. We know of gang rapes by security forces that the women don’t even report; arbitrary arrests; women who make the rounds between army barracks and city morgues searching for their [disappeared] sons, fathers, or husbands. We are the spoils of war in a war we didn’t ask for and we don’t want.”
The findings of a recent 2021 International Crisis Group report, if true, are startling: “López Obrador, despite initial misgivings, has continued to allow a lack of transparency and oversight across the Mexican military – seemingly in exchange for political loyalty (Crisis Group interview, Raúl Benítez Manaut, National Autonomous University of Mexico, 25 February 2020. See also ‘Mexico army’s expanding role protects military after ex-defense minister’s arrest,’ The Wall Street Journal, 23 October 2020; and Maureen Meyer and Moses Ngong, ‘Mexico Faces a Test for its Anti-Corruption and Justice Reform Efforts,’ Washington Office on Latin America, 25 November 2020).
“Operators for criminal groups highlighted how they continued to be able to engage with parts of security institutions present in their areas. ‘It’s the same shit as before, but more stupid, more disorganised,’ said the above-referenced broker working with the Jalisco Cartel. He cited minor ‘misunderstandings’ with new National Guard officers who ‘didn’t understand yet what’s up (…) though they are learning.’ He claimed that oil siphoning in central and northern Mexico, in which he said he was involved, remained protected through transactional arrangements with federal forces, including the National Guard.
“Likewise, a lieutenant for one of the armed outfits fighting over the Tierra Caliente spoke of ‘a good relationship’ with the local National Guard commander. ‘They understand what we want to do, they are with us.’ Yet, he added, rival groups had attained the same understanding with commanders in other areas and with high-level officials from the state government.”
The report also suggested that “access to the Mexican state is a crucial means for criminal survival and expansion. ‘If there is one rule all of the [illegal armed] groups know, it’s that only those who have the protection of the state grow,’ said one Michoacán-based political consultant with long experience of how deals between candidates and criminal groups are brokered.”
Alexander Gorski confirms that “AMLO plans to implement several large-scale infrastructure projects” as part of his “neoliberal infrastructure policies. (…) AMLO wants to move forward with the controversial instalment of Zonas Económicas Especiales (Special Economic Zones, ZEE) in several states in Northern and Southern Mexico, where a number of incentives such as tax exemption rules will supposedly boost foreign investment. Additionally, AMLO has promised to increase the productive capacities of Mexico’s extractive industries by modernising its refineries and even constructing several new ones. Each of these neoliberal projects will affect Indigenous territories,” Gorski concludes.
Luis Hernández Navarro, a journalist and author of ‘Planting Concrete, Harvesting Anger,’ also asserts that “AMLO’s development programme marks a continuation of the same market-based, ecologically harmful projects implemented by former governments. ‘Independently from López Obrador’s anti-neoliberal rhetoric, his projects are still neoliberal. (…) There’s no rupture with the Washington Consensus,’ he said. ‘There’s a threat of dispossession and environmental destruction in the name of progress.’”
Nicholas Cunningham has arrived at the same conclusion. He noted how, “shortly after winning Mexico’s presidential election in July 2018,” AMLO “sent a warm letter to US President Donald Trump, urging a swift conclusion to the NAFTA renegotiations. He didn’t lay out any clear principles or overarching interests that would inform the talks, just that they should wrap up as soon as possible so as not to deter investment.
“Trump deemed AMLO a ‘terrific person’ after they spoke by phone, and he sent a letter in response that largely echoed AMLO’s sentiment about concluding the talks quickly. (…) The three parties” – US, Canada, Mexico – “reached an agreement at the end of September. (…) The renegotiated NAFTA agreement,” Cunningham concluded, “is largely a continuation of the old agreement, with some notable changes to automobiles and dairy, as well as some positive revisions watering down corporate rights. However, the negotiators were careful to preserve protections for the oil and gas industry. (…) AMLO’s support for the recent deal is a signal that he has no intention of attacking the underlying logic of NAFTA – or of neoliberal logics -despite his long history opposing much of the treaty.”
At the end of October 2018, Cunningham reported that there was, in the renegotiated NAFTA agreement, “a special carve-in for the fossil fuel industry in Mexico that allows nine US companies that have been awarded contracts for oil and gas drilling to be grandfathered in using the old ISDS system [the so-called Investor-State Dispute Resolution System]. In other words, these companies and their investments will be able to sue the Mexican government if they do something the companies deem as harmful to their profits. (…) Though AMLO’s advisors reportedly pressed to remove the ISDS carve-in in NAFTA 2.0, he decided to concede this point in the interest of pushing the talks over the finish line.”
“Signing on to NAFTA [2.0] will be hard to square with his narrative of enacting a new kind of politics,” Cunningham concluded. “In practical terms, reviving the livelihoods of small farmers, for instance, will be virtually impossible within the confines of NAFTA 2.0. Just as with the old treaty, heavily subsidised corporate agriculture from the US will continue to flow into Mexico, suffocating small farmers. (…) At the same time, AMLO (…) changed his tune on the prospect of multinational oil companies drilling for oil and gas in Mexico.”
Alexander Gorski, as importantly, contends that AMLO’s “infrastructure policies” – which are being enforced and facilitated by the armed forces – “raise deep concerns about his willingness to end neoliberal politics in Mexico,” which has played such a significant role in increasing the rate of femicides in Mexico.
Belén Fernández notes that “AMLO’s anti-neoliberal rhetoric” – alongside his anti-militarisation rhetoric, I might add – is not “easily reconcilable with all of his actions, which have included celebrating with Donald Trump the new iteration of the [neoliberal] North American Free Trade Agreement, which destroyed countless Mexican lives and was linked to a surge in lethal violence against women.” “The start of the updated United States-Mexico-Canada [neoliberal] trade deal,” reported Mary Beth Sheridan and Kevin Sieff on 6 July 2020, was actually described by Presidents Trump and López Obrador (AMLO) “as among their signature accomplishments.”
For Mexican scholar, columnist, television host, current head of the Inter-American Conference on Social Security and member of the MORENA party, Gibrán Ramírez Reyes, “Obradorismo is the movement for the ‘fourth transformation,’ at least for now. Probably later, the movement will exceed López Obrador’s leadership. I don’t see that happening now, though. (…) It is a left that is (…) post-neoliberal more than anti-neoliberal. (…)
“It is post-neoliberal in the sense that it assumes that neoliberalism has already shaped the country we live in. For example, there is a disposition to integrate with the US. In his first presidential campaign in 2006, López Obrador was much more anti-neoliberal and would say we needed to renegotiate the terms of NAFTA and focus solely on developing an internal market.”
Now, in power, however, “the movement and López Obrador have had to accept” – i.e., they have consciously taken the pro-active position (which many others on the left, including the EZNL, have rejected for a host of reasons) – “that it cannot” – indeed, will not – “be overturned. [Or] when he talks of public property, he is referring mostly to strategic sectors, he’s never spoken of nationalising big industries like, say, communications. Several of the traits [of neoliberalism] have been accepted, and the aim now is simply to hit the brakes. (…)
“So private property is not being combated, free trade is not being combated, and the web of power in several sectors is also left untouched. The financial sector hasn’t been hit; what has been [combated] has been,” as Gibrán Ramírez Reyes at least interpreted it in July 2020 (although this is a view contested by others, including the EZNL), “extractive industries, especially mining. But the project is more an emergency brake than a revolution against neoliberalism.”
Kurt Hackbarth, in May 2021, whilst concluding that, “on balance” and in a number of contexts, AMLO’s/MORENA’s “record has been positive,” also acknowledged that “MORENA’s performance over these three years has not been perfect. It has been too timid on a number of fronts, including reining in the privatized free-for-all of the mining and banking industries, attacking the nation’s grotesque wealth inequality, and defending migrants against US pressure.
“It has been inactive on Indigenous rights” – the EZNL would contest this view by stating that it has actually been very active in targeting the indigenous rights of peoples, movements and territories organising in an autonomous and anti-neoliberal context – “insensitive to protests surrounding the plague of feminicides, and inadequate in creating a long-term environmental vision in the face of climate change. Its budget reductions have cut too close to the bone in a number of areas, including science and culture. And despite the fanfare of a new National Guard, the violence has not abated.”
Mexico’s mining industry, he reported this July, “largely controlled by Canadian and American companies – is sucking up the nation’s mineral wealth at an alarming rate: between 2010 and 2018 alone, five times more gold was extracted than during the entire three hundred years of the colonial period. On top of the theft of mineral wealth, the mercenary nature of Mexican mining breeds environmental degradation, collusion with organised crime, and the intimidation and assassination of activists.”
The coordinator of Transnational Justice at the Mexico City-based Project of Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, ProDesc, Juan Antonio López Cruz, has concluded that AMLO’s “idea to fully develop the Istmo de Tehuantepec is nothing new. The idea to connect the Pacific and the Atlantic Ocean through the Istmo goes back to the heyday of neoliberal governments in Mexico. (…) Now MORENA is saying the same thing all over again. (…)
“The Zapatistas’ position” and response to these megadevelopment projects that are being promoted within the context of a neoliberal ‘free trade’ agreement, reports Gorski, is that “‘these projects will destroy the territories of the Indigenous peoples,’ said Subcomandante Galeano,” and will have attendant impacts and consequences that will increase, not lessen, the rates of violence (inclusive of femicides) in the country.
“Taken together, these projects” – the Mayan Train, the Morelos Integral Project, the Santa Lucia airport, the Dos Bocas refinery and the Trans-Isthmus Corridor – “have a tremendous impact on the populations that inhabit the regions and on the environment,” noted Carlos González, a Nahua attorney with the Indigenous Governing Council.
He asserted “that the projects align with US priorities in the region to redefine borders, reorder territories, and control populations. Meanwhile, they benefit powerful financial interests. (…) Bettina Cruz, a Binnizá (Zapotec) academic and organiser in Juchitán, Oaxaca says the Inter-Oceanic Corridor will act as a de-facto border wall (…) that’s going to be patrolled by the police, the National Guard, the Navy, and the Armed Forces.”
AMLO announced last year that he wanted “to hand the administration of the nation’s customs entries and ports over to the navy, which will militarise ports on both ends of the Trans-Isthmus Corridor,” Shannon Young reported. “This intent to militarise civilian duties prompted the resignation of his Secretary of Communications and Transportation. The president’s stated rationale,” she noted, “is that military management brings greater discipline and hinders corruption, a familiar refrain for any observer of the long-running drug wars.”
“‘They can switch up the overseers, foremen, and supervisors, but the plantation owner remains the same,’ remarked a communique from the Zapatista Army of National Liberation (EZLN)” referring to AMLO and his stated initiatives to ‘transform’ the country. “The president wants the[se] prioritised megaprojects complete before the end of his term in office,” confirmed Shannon Young.
By December 2019, the National Indigenous Congress (NIC), Indigenous Governing Council (IGC) and the Zapatista Army of National Liberation (EZNL) had expressed their concern that “the neoliberal war (…) starts its machinery of dispossession. (…) To advance in its war, the bad government is committed to the dismantling of community fabrics, by fostering internal conflicts that stain communities with violence (…) for the millionaire benefit of a few corrupt, who are served by armed groups of organised crime. (…)
“While we, as native peoples, suffer with more violence than ever, the war of capital, the bad government together with its armed military, police, paramilitary, white guards and shock groups, spread destruction over the entire territory in the name of money national.”
For Miranda Willson, it is evident that “systems of oppression – racism, neocolonialism, environmental injustices and neoliberalism – are intrinsically linked. (…) Many of these systems” can “be traced back to the white heteropatriarchy. Whether we are talking about feminism, environmentalism or globalisation of world markets, we need to be making these connections. (…)
“White heteropatriarchy continues to disregard the needs and rights of marginalised peoples. It has also led to the formation of trade agreements like NAFTA that have contributed to and justified these social and environmental injustices.”
Steven Volk and Marian Schlotterbeck in ‘Making a Killing: Femicide, Free Trade and La Frontera,’ also make the point that, in maquilas, where vulnerable women workers became a crucial component of the neoliberalised production site, “maquiladora industrialisation ultimately” has “created a gendered and racialised political economy and shaped, [for example, Ciudad Juarez’s] geography in ways that” have “facilitated, absorbed and perhaps promoted femicide. (…) The murders” of women, they concluded, “cannot simply be understood without recognising the specific ways that maquila development has shaped both the political and the sexual economy of the border. (…) The nature of maquiladora development” has “increased the danger for all Juarese women whose subaltern status could not remove them from harm’s way.”
GRAIN confirms that AMLO’s/MORENA’s megaprojects are being considered and promoted within a neoliberal framework: “We know that it is a network of projects of all kinds that make up a kind of mega ‘special economic zone,’ invading with investments the five Mexican states involved,” with “sites to synergise programmes, projects, assignments, tenders, public policies and investments. There is land-grabbing, deforestation and devastation, poisoning and environmental degradation, and the eventual expulsion of populations” is expected and part of the planning structure.
Para-militarisation, militarisation and securitisation of the area is being advanced to enforce ‘operations’ (some officially deniable) that terrorise the local residents. “The Peninsula, which covers 181,000 square km,” GRAIN reports, is being “reconfigured as a space for the articulation of extractive projects, multimodal hoarding and maquila” with all their attendant consequences of the kind we have already seen in other parts of Mexico (such as Ciudad Juarez, where femicides have become a ‘by-product’ of such developments and financial structures and systems – See Part 1 of this series).
“Its plot is linked to an infrastructure and transportation corridor that crosses the Mexican belt from the Pacific Ocean to the Gulf of Mexico,” thereby opening up “a space of confluence with the United States, with evident geopolitical value,” GRAIN emphasises.
To add to this, as Philip Luke Johnson observes, AMLO has ostensibly and all too conveniently, some feel, “shifted security discourse away from ‘narcos’ and onto ‘oil theft.’ In doing so, however, his government” still evidently “prioritises re-militarisation over demilitarisation and a more humane approach to security. This plays into López Obrador’s plans for the National Guard. (…)
“Greater focus on huachicoleros [one dedicated to huachicoleo, see below] will likely bring a stronger military presence to oil infrastructure and huachicoleo [the theft and illicit sale of motor fuel and adulterated alcoholic beverages] hotspots. For states such as Hidalgo and Puebla, which have avoided the worst excesses of the war on narco-trafficking” – which has brought with it femicides, disappearances, forced displacements and other forms of murders – “this should be a serious concern,” he concludes, for “even if militarisation can at times disrupt crime, the past 12 years strongly suggest that it also exacerbates violence,” including femicidal violence.
María Fernanda Rivero Benfield, communications coordinator of the Mexican NGO Sin Fronteras, expressed her concerns in September 2019 about the National Guard and the implications it will have on refugees and migrants who are susceptible to violence of all kinds (including femicides): “‘We’re worried about laws, about human rights. We’re worried there’s no protocol for the National Guard to follow. (…)
“‘The soldiers haven’t received training in human rights, in protocols, in how to take care of migrants. There are children [entering], there are people who are sick, there are people who need information. We don’t even know if people know they can plead for asylum in Mexico.’ She said the increasingly militarised immigration enforcement would drive people to resort to more dangerous and clandestine methods of crossing Mexico through coyotes and human smugglers,” which again leaves them more vulnerable to femicidal violence.
Annette Lin in mid-2019 was drawn to conclude that, “faced with pressure from the US to reduce immigration, the López Obrador administration has started” – via its militarisation and securitisation policies – “to do the dirty work it vowed to avoid.”
Gema Kloppe-Santamaría, Assistant Professor of Latin American History at Loyola University Chicago, in April this year observed that, “despite AMLO’s pledge to offer a more humane response to the Central American refugee crisis, he has instead stepped up the militarisation of Mexico’s southern border by sending out members of the National Guard to prevent migrants from entering the country.
“More so, Mexican authorities have failed to protect Central American migrants from torture, sexual violence, and extrajudicial killings at the hands of police and military. In January of this year, for instance, the bodies of 19 undocumented migrants – 16 from Guatemala – were found in a small community in the municipality of Camargo, in the northern state of Tamaulipas. Twelve state police officers are being investigated in connection to this massacre.”
“Eight of the officers implicated in the Camargo massacre,” John Lindsay-Poland (coordinator of Stop US Arms to Mexico, a project of Global Exchange) confirmed, “were part of a Tamaulipas state police special forces unit, the Grupo de Operaciones Especiales (Special Operations Group, GOPES), armed and trained by the United States. (…) Guns exported from the US to Mexico” still “end up in the hands of state security forces who commit human rights atrocities” of this kind, he cautioned.
Kloppe-Santamaría adds: “There is also the high levels of brutality and abuse of force that characterise Mexico’s police and military. Mexican security forces’ discretionary and disproportionate use of force has increased in the context of Mexico’s war on drugs. (…) Police and military personnel have been directly involved in some of the most visible and pernicious massacres over the last few years in Mexico. These include the killing of 22 people in Tlatlaya in June of 2014 at the hands of the military, the disappearance and massacre of 43 male students in the town of Iguala in September 2014 and the massacre of nine members of a Mormon family with dual US-Mexican citizenship in the state of Sonora in November 2019, perpetrated by criminal groups in connivance with municipal police.”
For Kloppe-Santamaría: “Victoria Esperanza Salazar’s murder” this year “at the hands of the police is yet another example of the ways in which violence in Mexico cannot be explained as an expression of state absence or the lack of police presence.”
The shadow of death, then, in the wider neo-liberalised and linked militarised/securitised/‘drug/resource war’ and maquiladora industry-promoted context looms over women, the poor, marginalised and indigenous peoples living in territories coveted by corporate groups, global financiers and bankers, middle-men and local/central government governing circles, and the recent massacre in San Mateo del Mar – covered in Part 1 of this series – exposes the manner in which state bodies and functionaries – as championed by AMLO, such as the National Guard, deemed to be the ‘protector of the peoples’ – reportedly collude with the paramilitaries to attain their murderous goals.
“New forms of paramilitary social control,” Richard W. Coughlin, Associate Professor of Political Science at Florida Gulf Coast University concludes, have become “associated with the deepening of neoliberalism in Colombia, Mexico and Central America. (…) Political violence” – which in a linked manner increases femicides in the country – “is deployed by states to shock and de-mobilise the popular classes. (…) [Paley’s] ‘Drug War Capitalism’ captures the opportunistic capacity of neoliberals to advance their policy agendas through the War on Drugs.”
Amidst the promotion of these neoliberal inspired and linked megaprojects and policies relating to ‘narcopolitics’ and security, Paley reports that “homicides have continued at a terrifying pace. In 2019 and 2020,” years under the governance of MORENA and President AMLO, “there were 71,072 murders in Mexico, marking two of the most violent years in decades. One count based on news reports found that there had been 533 massacres (killings of at least three people) in Mexico during the first nine months of 2020. (…)
“On 21 June 2020, 15 Indigenous Ikoots people were killed, some of them burned to death. (…) A paramilitary group that survivors link to local authorities used bats and stones to attack 31 people occupying a municipal building. The attackers brought out jugs of gasoline and burned their victims alive.”
Maria del Rosario Guerra informed Paley that “the National Guard and state police accompanied the paramilitaries into the community and stood by as her friends and comrades were slaughtered. ‘The National Guard was there and they didn’t do anything, they were just watching,’ said Guerra. (…) The attack has gone unpunished, and dozens of Indigenous families remain displaced from their ancestral lands.”
When ‘big capital’ doesn’t care about femicides, ethnocides, ecocides, disappearances, kidnappings and forced displacements
The National Indigenous Congress (NIC), the Indigenous Governing Council (IGC) and the Zapatista Army for National Liberation (EZNL), in a statement in December last year, raised the following concerns: “[We] cry out from the geographies where they resist and struggle against the capitalist war that tries to take over indigenous and rural territories. This war is waged through aggressive extractivist policies across the whole national territory as well as through megaprojects of death. (…)
“It operates through the implementation of a combination of policies and mechanisms for the continuation of [neoliberal] ‘free trade’ subordinated to the United States and Canada, policies which are also aimed at containing migration. It seeks to stop or debilitate the organisation and resistance of our peoples by supplanting our traditional authorities and holding staged indigenous consultations.
“These policies and megaprojects are driven by the neoliberal” – AMLO / MORENA – “government of the Fourth Transformation in the service of global capital and against the autonomous organisation of our peoples. All the above is being achieved through the militarisation of the country (through creation and deployment of the National Guard and the militarisation of the entire national territory), the complicity of the criminal cartel-states, the creation of programmes that try to rupture communal organisation (…) and the passage of laws favourable to large transnational business consortia. (…) For our peoples, there is no option to give in, give up, or sell out, when it’s Mother Earth and life itself that the governments, businesses, militaries and drug cartels want to take as spoils of war.”
To the NIC, IGC and EZNL, “the bad [AMLO/Morena] federal government, together with its armed forces, is spreading fear and terror in shameless alliance with shadowy economic interests that intend to take over the territories of indigenous peoples and peasants. It cynically violates laws, court rulings, and court-ordered suspensions in order to impose its megaprojects that hand over the national territory to transnational economic interests.
“Resistance and rebellion are growing in the geographies of the originary peoples as dispossession and violent repression grow, perpetrated by the bad government at all levels together with paramilitary and narco-paramilitary groups that make possible their extractive and polluting projects.”
Femicides and other forms of murder, ethnocide and plunder will continue to be normalised within the context of a ‘neoliberal war’ that continues to be waged in Mexico under the presidency of AMLO and the governance of MORENA.
“In that war against humanity,” Raúl Romero notes that “the peoples who inhabit the territories” – and the Indigenous anti-patriarchal and anti-femicidal autonomous movements, led by women, mobilising against this ‘war against humanity’ (the focus of the next article in this series) – “that capital seeks to conquer and reorder are the first enemies. They hinder the process of the financialisation of nature and of the construction and integration of new commercial regions. For those territories to have ‘value’ in the market, they must first be destroyed and de-populated, either with paramilitaries, organised crime groups, or directly with state forces.”
Here, “the elimination” envisaged and being undertaken, he observes, “also implies destroying worlds of life; in other words, erasing the ways of being of the peoples, above all, breaking their nexus with the land and their being a community,” especially one that seeks to be anti-patriarchal, anti-femicidal, anti-neoliberal and autonomous in orientation. “Simultaneously, the process of reordering and reconstruction of those territories” in the present “occurs to make them functional to the logic of the market,” driven by “capitalist modernity” and the logic of neoliberalism.
“What the Guarijíos, in the voice of Dr. Armando Haro,” for example, have “denounced” in the wake of the imposition of the Pilares mega-dam development “is the making of an ethnocide as defined by Rodolfo Stavenhagen, the first rapporteur of the United Nations on Indigenous Peoples. ‘The process by which a people (…) loses their identity due to policies designed to undermine their territory and base of natural resources, the use of their language and political and social institutions, as well as their traditions, art forms, religious practices and cultural values. When governments apply these policies, they are guilty of ethnocide.’
“Nothing has changed in these times of change,” concludes Francisco López Bárcenas. “I have to tell you that I am indeed amazed. I did not think things would be like this. I believed that the Fourth Transformation (4T, Cuarta Transformación) would imply a substantial change in the way megaprojects were developed. But no. I hope you will put on your thinking cap quickly. (…)
“The government’s policies will deprive the Guarijíos of their territory, whereupon many will have to migrate and they will lose their language, their traditions, their art and, in general, their cultural values. As has happened with many Indigenous peoples affected by the construction of dams throughout history. This is the same thing that has been explicitly recognised with the construction of the Maya Train, which for its promoters, ethnocide has a positive opposite: ethno-development.
“This has led the anthropologist Benjamin Maldonado” – Academic Director of the Colegio Superior para la Educación Integral Intercultural de Oaxaca and co-editor of ‘New World of Indigenous Resistance: Noam Chomsky and Voices from North, South, and Central America’ – “to affirm that to see ethnocide as enabling ethno-development is a clear political position.
“There is no change in focus because the Fourth Transformation is the fourth reiteration of the same will of power. For the State, ethnocide is a form of ethno-development. From the Indigenism of Gamio to that of López Obrador, this has been suffered.”
High femicide rates in Mexico, as with ethnocides, ecocides, disappearances, dispossession of peoples and destruction of autonomous indigenous movements and mobilisations through ‘drug/resource/oil theft wars’ are hardly concerns for those who are engaged in prosecuting a ‘neoliberal war.’ They are necessary and anticipated outcomes.
Romero describes the megaprojects that are being promoted as “ecocidal and colonialist projects. (…) In the new war of conquest, organisations of Native peoples, like the CNI” that critique this neoliberal development paradigm that has normalised femicides and other forms of killing and dehumanisation and degradation, will necessarily become “a constant target of attacks. (…) The same thing happens with the EZLN and its bases of support” that advance anti-patriarchal, anti-femicidal, anti-neoliberal values as part of their community values (the subject of the next article in this series).
Subcomandante Insurgente Moisés and Sup Galeano of the EZLN assert that “big capital doesn’t care about disappearances, kidnappings and femicides. What it cares about is its OWN security and that of its OWN programmes. The only corruption that bothers it is corruption that affects its profit margins.”
In its calculations, they conclude that “the system chose the one who promised to be most effective” for the time period envisaged in Mexico (perhaps till more suitable alternatives could be found and appropriate ‘deep political’ processes could be sufficiently developed to support those alternatives) – “López Obrador. The signs of love that López Obrador is showing big capital (the plantation owner) are, among other things, promises to hand over indigenous peoples’ territories. The projects for the Mexican Southeast – in the Isthmus, in Chiapas, Tabasco, Yucatán, and Campeche, just to name a few – are in reality projects of dispossession. (…)
“We don’t doubt that there [were/are] people who honestly [thought]/think that the change promised (…) would be a real change. It should be disturbing to them then that all the same names of the same criminals as before are popping up across the scene taking shape above, even if now they have taken on different party initials. (…) You all know that the efforts of the Movement for National Regeneration (MORENA) and of López Obrador and his team since 1 July have been attempts to ingratiate themselves with the dominant class and big capital. (…) The principal projects of this government (…) will destroy the territories of the original peoples.
“In addition, this administration’s sincere empathy with Donald Trump’s government has now been confessed publicly. And finally, the future administration’s honeymoon with corporate executives and financial capital is perfectly apparent when one analyses who received key cabinet posts as well as what they consider to be their plans for a ‘Fourth Transformation.’”
“Everything seems to point to a negotiated [election] victory” to bring AMLO to power, they conclude, having noted how, incredibly, his opponents even conceded so quickly before even 1% of the official voting results had been counted!: “When the Preliminary Electoral Results Programme (PREP) was barely beginning to make calculations, Televisa and TvAzteca were already declaring the winner. Just minutes after, with less than 1% of the votes counted, Meade, Anaya, and La Calderona all ceded victory to AMLO.
“Just a few hours later, the Trump team sent congratulations and by the dawn of 2 July, the apparently now mentionable Carlos Salinas de Gortari himself added his congratulations. Without even knowing the official results, the customary bowing before the king (…) had once again begun. (…) But nobody cares about that now – the much-heralded voter has decreed: ‘Habemus (We have) an Overseer, on with business!’”
Subcomandante Insurgente Moisés and Sup Galeano add: “We’ve read that Manual Bartlett” – implicated by some as being involved with drug traffickers and others involved in arranging the kidnapping, torture and murder of a DEA agent who was trying to curb drug trafficking in Mexico – “and other criminals of the same ilk have been purified by their proximity to this election’s victor. We’ve read that Alfonso Romo” – a business tycoon chosen by AMLO to be his chief of staff during his first two years as President, who “pushed strongly for Mexico to take advantage of the trade war between the United States and China in order to attract greater investment” and who “also said that Mexico has a significant opportunity to benefit from (…) the entry into force of the new North American free trade agreement, the USMCA” and who AMLO maintained in December 2020 “would continue to be his ‘main link’ to the private sector” – “is an ‘honest’ businessman whose only interest is to love his neighbour. We’ve read that those who yesterday were part of the PRI, PAN, PRD, Verde Ecologista (Green Ecologist Party), or who made their name in show business, are now the illustrious leaders of the Fourth Transformation. (…)
“They will recycle the arguments of a certain sector of the movement [and] (…) argue that we can make our rulers into good overseers (…) and that we can change the system from within.” However, as Subcomandante Insurgente Moisés and Sup Galeano comment: “We can already make out what’s inside the shell. (…) Those above will try to annihilate any struggle external to their planned process of domestication. They will try to raze everything outside their plan, and violently so.
“Note that by ‘raze,’ we don’t just mean marginalisation or slander, but also military, paramilitary, and police attacks. For anyone who challenges these new rules, which are really the old rules, there will be no amnesty, no pardon, no absolution, no embraces, and no photo ops; there will only be death and destruction. (…)
“They want to return the Nation-State – in this case Mexico – to its true function. So when they talk about the need for ‘security,’ they are talking about security for capital, the imposition and perfection of a new police state, [where] (…) on the periphery, the complicity between those who should prevent crime and those who commit it will continue” within a neoliberal systemic structure and social system.
In light of the above concerns relating to the manner in which neoliberal social, securitisation, militarisation, unofficial ‘drug/resource/oil theft wars’ and megaproject-maquiladora industry linked structures and programmes continue to be aggressively advanced and promoted by President AMLO and his MORENA party, we need to heed Mercedes Olivera’s warning, highlighted earlier, that “feminicide and feminicidal violence” that have reached such an alarming level in Mexico are “a direct expression of the structural violence of the neoliberal social system” itself, which needs to be confronted and opposed rather than embraced.
* Desmond Fernandes is a former Senior Lecturer in Human Geography at De Montfort University in the UK, who specialises in ‘deep politics,’ genocide studies and human rights/developmental/securitisation concerns relating to the targeting and criminalisation of the ‘Other.’ He is the author of several books and has published widely in journals, including Variant, Genocide Studies and Prevention and the International Journal of the Sociology of Language.