The interlinkages between the ‘femicide crisis’ in Mexico, neoliberalism, protected US intelligence-drug connections, US-global banking systems and the ‘War on Drugs’/’Drug Wars’ and the gun trade need to be understood, recognised and confronted before femicides can be drastically reduced in Mexico.
Dilar Dirik, a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Oxford and author of the forthcoming book ‘The Kurdish Women’s Movement: History, Theory, Practice,’ notes that “femicide was first coined by feminist activists in the 1970s. Diana Russell defined it as ‘the killing of females by males because they are female.’ Central and Latin American feminists like Marcela Lagarde use ‘feminicidio’ to describe the wider systems that normalise the killing of women in society (for example, the state).”
Nadera Shalhoub-Kevorkian, Dirik observes, significantly also defines femicide as “the process leading to death and the creation of a situation in which it is impossible for the victim to ‘live.’ That is, femicide is all of the hegemonic masculine-social methods used to destroy females’ rights, ability, potential and power to live safely. It is a form of abuse, threat, invasion and assault that degrades and subordinates women. It leads to continuous fear, frustration, isolation, exclusion and harm to females’ ability to control their personal intimate lives.”
In Mexico, femicide is a crime “that carries a 45 to 65 year prison sentence. Under a sweeping gender law passed in 2007, every murder of a woman must be investigated as a femicide and officials must investigate for circumstances that include sexual violence, domestic violence, and whether the victim’s body was exposed or displayed in public.
“The federal penal code also says any public servant that delays or hinders the prosecution or administration of justice will be sentenced to three to eight years in prison. This law also extends protections to women and girls that experience sexual violence”, notes Nidia Melissa Bautista. However, she added: “Mexico’s gender violence crisis is far from over and women are demanding action”.
As noted in earlier articles in Medya News focusing on femicides in Mexico and women’s struggles and protests to end it, Carin Zissis (writing in World Politics Review) has emphasized that “from 2015 to 2018, only 7% of crimes against women were even investigated.”
In a country where it was reported in 2019 that “as many as 100 people are killed every day in Mexico,” femicides have been taking place at immensely distressing levels. “Ten women are murdered every day. (…) Mexico has struggled with a femicide epidemic for decades,” observes Bautista, “and every year an interminable series of vicious murders of young girls and women shakes the country. In February 2020, the murder of 25-year-old Ingrid Escamilla in Mexico City shocked the country after pictures of her skinned body appeared on the front page of a local paper and on social media.
“A week after Escamilla’s murder, Fátima Cecilia Aldrighett Antón, a seven-year-old girl, was found dead inside a plastic bag after she was kidnapped outside of her school and sexually assaulted. These are just two stories from ongoing horrific murders that have sparked protests across the country and fuelled discontent among women exasperated by the femicide crisis that makes every day a struggle for survival. ‘Many women have suffered violence, they have followed the legal channels, but they also get tired. They are not listened to. They are not attended to. Their demands are ignored,’ says María Salguero, creator of the National Map of Femicides in Mexico database”.
Even as criticisms from several sections of society have been directed against President Andrés Manuel López Obrador’s (AMLO’s) and the ruling National Regeneration Movement (MORENA) party’s ‘inadequate’ policies to address femicides in Mexico, and robust defences of the government’s policies have been made by other sections of society (the subject of a forthcoming article), it has become evident to many that the crisis of femicides in Mexico will not – and cannot – end until the types of sweeping structural relationships and concerns related to neoliberalism, protected intelligence-drug connections, global banking, the gun trade and the ‘War on Drugs’ are confronted and addressed.
However, as Françoise Vergès has noted in her book ‘A Decolonial Feminism,’ ‘civilisational feminism’ and its adherents do not necessarily recognise these issues as pressing concerns that need to be acknowledged, confronted or addressed. Whilst ‘decolonial feminist’ struggles firmly locate struggles against rape and femicide to struggles against “racism, sexism, capitalism and imperialism” where “the fight against the policies of dispossession, colonisation, extractivism and the systematic destruction of the living” are seen as issues and inter-related concerns that cannot be ignored or dismissed, ‘civilisational feminists’ have “made women’s rights into an ideology of assimilation and integration into the neoliberal order,” where “women’s revolutionary aspirations” are reduced to reformist acts whereby, “as active accomplices of the racial capitalist order, ‘civilisational feminists’ do not hesitate to support imperialist intervention policies. (…)
“The stakes are high and the danger is dire” in such circumstances, concludes Vergès, as “a feminism that fights only for gender equality and refuses to see how integration leaves racialised women” – and Indigenous people – “at the mercy of brutality, violence, rape and murder, is ultimately complicit in it.”
As Greta Rico has argued, in Mexico, “these are times of necropolitics,” where there is a need to “denounce an ignored, deficient and capitalist system that profits from naturalising violence and exploitation, a system that criminalises those who maintain a discourse that points out and questions inequality, and the subordination of some social sectors, including women. (…) Us women who live in this country” know that, under the current system, “our bodies are disposable and that capitalism for the benefit of market forces profits with impunity from the (…) violence that takes our lives away. (…) The rules of the game and these policies of death have shown us that we live in a system where some lives are worth more than others,” and it is this system that needs to be exposed, confronted and addressed.
Standing against the designs and impulses of a ‘civilisational feminism’ is a ‘decolonial feminism’ that “thinks about patriarchy, the state and capital; reproductive justice, environmental justice and criticism of the pharmaceutical industry; the rights of migrants, refugees and the end of femicide; the fight against the Anthropocene, racial Capitalocene, and the criminalisation of solidarity. (…) The challenge is to hold several threads at once, to override ideologically induced segmentation and to ‘grasp how production and social reproduction are historically articulated’ (Ewanjee-Epee, Magliani-Belkacem, Merteuil and Montferrand, 2017),” Vergès argues.
She describes and details the pitfalls of ‘civilisational feminist’ discourse that has largely given “women’s rights a distinctly neoliberal focus” that consequently shies away from confronting or acknowledging the destructive implications and impacts of neoliberal-linked processes on women, men, children, societies and environments.
The focus of this series of articles on the ‘femicide crisis’ in Mexico seeks to highlight just how problematic it is to ignore the types of ‘threads’ that Vergès refers to. For to ignore such ‘threads,’ readings and discourses is to ignore key societal and power-related ‘developmental’ and ‘deep political’ systemic and societal elements and processes that generate, perpetuate and ‘normalise’ femicides alongside other horrors such as ‘disappearances’ of people, the targeting of migrants and refugees, other widespread murders and deaths of people, militarisation and counter-insurgency policies that target peoples and communities in resource rich areas and/or who advocate alternative frameworks of anti-colonial, anti-patriarchical and anti-capitalist governance that are rooted in autonomous and anti-neoliberal, decolonial feminist values.
‘Civilisational’ vs ‘Decolonial’ feminisms
With ‘civilizational feminism’ becoming an “ideology complicit with new forms of capitalism and imperialism (…) as well as on new forms of coloniality and state racism,” where “one of the ideological weapons used” was and is “the pacification of activists’ lives and actions and the rewriting,” reorientation and reconfiguration “of (…) struggles” (as identified by Vergès), and where several ‘civilisational feminist’ groups and activists in Mexico have received ‘legitimacy’ and core funding from US governmental bodies and ‘democracy promotion’ foundations that significantly push neoliberal and/or ‘military coup’ and/or US corporate and US imperialistic/government programmes, ‘shock doctrines’ and ‘deep political’ agendas in Mexico, there has been a tendency for some women’s NGO’s, groups, activists and networks with well-established international and national mainstream media contacts to sidestep or minimise/cover-up the concerns of ‘decolonial feminists’ and Indigenous activists and movements (such as the Zapatista Army of National Liberation – EZNL, commonly referred to as the Zapatistas).
These ‘decolonial feminists,’ Indigenous activists and movements see very definite connections between the ‘femicide crisis’ in Mexico (and in other countries) and neoliberalism, protected US intelligence-drug connections, US and global banking systems, the US-Europe-Mexico gun trade and US inspired and influenced ‘War on drugs’/‘drugs war’ interventions.
“To become a respectable force” and “a legitimate movement rather than a marginal ideology,” Vergès has observed that ‘civilisational feminism’ has had to replace previous adversaries (white patriarchy, the state and capital) with new ones (such as Islam) in order to “be admitted into the corridors of power” and to “convince the state and capital that a feminism could exist that was not only a threat but could potentially be an ideological and political weapon at their service. (…) It was a necessary move in order to magnify a neoliberal ideology that had to distinguish itself from an overly cumbersome patriarchy.”
Lucinda Grinnell confirms that in Latin America, “ideological and organisational conflicts between activists that organise autonomously and feminists that organise in NGO’s have ensued in many countries across the region. While some organisations are able to exist at both grassroots and global levels in terms of programming and vision, feminist organising has often been limited to what international funders agree to support, thereby restricting the scope of some feminist organising in Latin America.”
Many Latin American suffragists, she observes, have “carved their own path. They” have “worked to ensure that women’s political rights became a norm upheld legally in Latin America and connected women’s political rights to their economic and social rights, at the same time as they [have] challenged US imperialism both on a state level and on an interpersonal level.”
Pérez has added: “US-funded coups and drug wars throughout Latin America have forced women to flee from their countries, exposing them to gender violence from multiple nations while in transit. Thus, the 8M” women’s/feminist mass “protest” in Mexico in March 2020 “was more than just the uprising of Mexican women – it was the uprising of women throughout Latin America, united in the[ir] struggle against patriarchy, capitalism, and state violence.”
Femicides and disappearances in Mexico
As noted by Borderland Beat in September 2017: “Mexico, has a long, dark legacy of femicide, brutal violence towards women, based on certain cultural norms that both encourage the violence, and defends, or minimises those who commit it. There is a deep sense of victim blaming and misogyny that infects these cases. The most known example, made infamous by television, movies, reporting, is the ‘femicides’ of Juarez. A ghastly killing frenzy of mostly marginalised women, who were brutalised, raped, murdered, many times thrown in mass graves, in desolate areas outside Juarez.
“The full scope of the killings were never uncovered, though many of the dynamics were known. There were hundreds, if not thousands of these killings. They went unsolved and unstopped and undeterred for decades. There were different generations of killers, there were different killers, there were different motivations. There was complicity from elements of the Juarez [drugs] Cartel, there was involvement by local politicos and ‘Juniors,’ the affluent children of the Juarez elite. It is a murky, ghastly story and one that hasn’t stopped or changed much”.
“Societal structure in Mexico demands that women must seek protection from the people who perpetrate violence against them, such as their police force and the State, making safety for women a double-edged sword. This need for safety,” 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.”
According to Mark Stevenson, “most” of the ‘disappeared’ in Mexico “are thought to have been killed by drug cartels, their bodies dumped into shallow graves or burned.”
Patriarchical systems and values have also contributed to a deadly situation in which “the scale of Mexico’s crisis is immense. At the very minimum, nearly 90,000 people and counting have disappeared in the past 15 years, a tally that exceeds the Cold War totals of desaparecidos [disappeared] in Argentina, Chile, and Guatemala combined. And those are just the reported cases of mostly Mexican nationals. Add in unreported cases and those involving Central American migrants who have vanished – by some estimates as many as 120,000 people in a single decade – and the picture turns staggeringly grim.”
As a result of this, Ryan Devereaux adds that there are “at least 120 collectives now led by mothers of the disappeared spread out across Mexico. The disappearances have continued,” he reports, “with more than 600 people vanishing in the first five months of 2021 alone … The disappearances and other human rights abuses persist because the ‘multiple drivers for the conflict haven’t been really touched so far – neither from the US side, nor from the Mexican side,’ [the analyst Falko] Ernst said. ‘You’re stuck with cosmetic features as long as you don’t go down to the root causes and actually do something about those.’”
Femicides, Neoliberalism the narcoeconomy
In their book ‘Drug War Mexico: Politics, Neoliberalism and Violence in the New Narcoeconomy,’ academics Peter Watt and Roberto Zepeda have persuasively argued that “Mexico is a country in crisis. Capitalising on weakened public institutions, widespread unemployment, a state of lawlessness and the strengthening of links between Mexican and Colombian drug cartels, narcotrafficking in the country has flourished during the post-1982 neoliberal era. In fact, it has become one of Mexico’s biggest sources of revenue. (…)
“Mexican president Felipe Calderón, armed with millions of dollars in US military aid, ha[d] launched a crackdown, ostensibly to combat organised crime. Despite this,” and since, “human rights violations have increased, as has the murder rate, making Ciudad Juárez on the northern border the most dangerous city on the planet” (Zed Books).
Juárez today, the Seattle Times reports, “is home to 326 maquiladoras, which employ 300,000 people, according to Index Juárez, Asociación de Maquiladoras, A.C.” Maquiladoras are special assembly plants along the US-Mexico border that “represent a legal paradise for the American and European assembly factories that [increasingly] settled at the US-Mexican border following the signing of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) in 1994, recently renegotiated as the [neoliberal] United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA). Labour conditions in these plants have been the subject of debate for years, not least because of rock-bottom salaries and lax safety measures.”
As a Seattle Times special report has noted, “by the time NAFTA was implemented in 1994, formally incentivising trade between the United States and Mexico, the structures that targeted women for violence were already well-established: For years, maquiladoras preferred to hire women. (…) Single young women from small towns had moved to Juárez in waves to become wage earners, sometimes facing long and dangerous commutes to work. Maquiladora jobs often pay minimum wage, which was just $4.50 per day as recently as 2017. In January [last year], it increased to $9.75 per day in border states. To earn enough to get by, workers rely on bonuses given at the discretion of supervisors.”
“The [neoliberal] economic model favoured the exploitation of thousands of women,” Tony Payan, director of the Centre for the United States and Mexico at Rice University’s Baker Institute and a professor of social sciences at Universidad Autónoma de Ciudad Juárez has concluded.
Helen Redmond reported that: “For Mexican workers and farmers, NAFTA was like a housing collapse. In the first year of the agreement, there were one million layoffs. At the end of 1996, there were 8 million unemployed and five million working in the informal economy … That wage left millions of Mexican families living in abject poverty. Farmers felt the impact of NAFTA through the amendment of Article 27 of the Constitution.”
Consequently, “public lands were divided up and converted into private property. Subsidies to farmers were eliminated” even as “government-subsidized stores that made food available to the poor were closed. The price of basic foodstuffs doubled and tripled at the same time that wages fell. Mexico went from being almost self-sufficient in food production to importing over 40% of its food, mostly from the United States.”
It was in this imposed structural change linked context that “hundreds of thousands of small-scale farmers lost their farms. (…) NAFTA 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 show.
Ciudad Juarez, through this neoliberal process, in and of itself became “a killing field,” Emily Schmall noted, in “what Gloria Anzadúa calls ‘una herida abierta’ – an open wound – ‘where the Third World grates against the first and bleeds.’”
In the book ‘Making a Killing: Femicide, Free Trade and La Frontera,’ edited by Alicia Gaspar de Alba, chair of the César Chávez Department of Chicana and Chicano Studies at UCLA and Georgina Guzmán, the role of foreign companies in contributing to the violence in Ciudad Juarez is explored in detail. The contributors to the book conclude that “free trade is the culprit, positing that the existence of ‘a cheap, disposable labour force’ contributes to the lawless climate in the city. (…) ‘Making a Killing’ says the violence stems from the companies’ ‘fatal indifference.’ Workers eke out a living in colonias – shantytowns without water or electricity – and rise in the dark to earn on average $5 a day at the city’s 330 tax-free assembly plants.
“The maquiladora worker is no more than ‘an insignificant cog in the wheel of production,’ contributing author Elvia Arriola, a professor of law at Northern Illinois University, states. She accuses the corporations” – within this wider neoliberal operational environment – “of a ‘fatal indifference’ that encourages ‘general hostility toward poor working women.’ This chain has been carried up by some activist coalitions in Juarez, who make the link between the violence and the ‘neoliberal economic policies that both exploited factory daughters and left them unprotected,’ as Melissa Wright, a women’s studies professor at Penn State University, notes in one essay.”
In the context of the murders of both men and women in Mexico, Redmond concludes 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.”
“Economic exploitation, weak government institutions and organised crime – trafficking corridors run through the border city – have created ‘a perfect storm’ in Juárez, Payan says. ‘We cannot just negate the role of the United States, the role of capitalism, the role of drug consumption in the United States,’ says Bejarano.
“‘[Femicide in Mexico] has so much to do with our desires and our addictions here in the United States.’ Activists protest the culture of economic inequality, impunity and misogyny that enable violence against women. (…) The US and Mexico border wall [also …] runs through the Chihuahuan Desert near the Juárez neighbourhood of Anapra, where several women’s bodies have been found.”
In ‘Programmed to Kill: The Politics of Serial Murder,’ David McGowan noted how, by 2004 and even earlier in Juarez, “drug lords rule[d] the streets. According to La Prenza, life in Juarez is punctuated by narco-related executions and kidnappings in broad daylight committed by death squads working for the lords of the lucrative trade.’ (…)
“It is against this backdrop that the murders have been committed. (…) Recent reports reveal that eerily similar murders are now occurring in other maquiladora towns along the US/Mexico border. (…) The killers, in other words, have no fear of the police. The El Paso Times alleged that the guilty parties are ‘prominent men who cross the border regularly, are involved in major businesses, are associates of drug cartels and have ties to politicians in [then US backed] Vincente Fox’s administration.’”
A special Seattle Times report last year reported that “gender-based killings continue. In 2019, the Mexican government registered 1,006 victims of gender-based homicide across the country. Those numbers account only for the women who were found. Many more crimes go undiscovered, unsolved and unpunished. ‘Ciudad Juárez has been a very resilient city battered by gender violence,’ says Verónica Corchado, director of the Municipal Institute of Women in Juárez.” What has happened, is happening in Juarez, has been replicated elsewhere as neoliberal ‘reforms’ have been enacted.
In the midst of these neoliberal and US-Mexico arrangements, accompanied by rising femicides, “the supply of cocaine, heroin, marijuana and methamphetamine has continued to grow. Watt and Zepeda (…) contend that the ‘war on drugs’ in Mexico is in fact the pretext for a US-backed strategy to bolster unpopular neoliberal policies… and a radically unfair status quo” (Zed Books).
Dawn Paley, in ‘Drug War Capitalism,’ similarly concludes that “the War on Drugs is a long term fix to capitalism’s woes, combining terror with policy making in a seasoned neoliberal mix, cracking open social worlds and territories previously inaccessible to global capitalism.”
Her analysis suggests that “the war on drugs allows the state to constitute large sectors of the population as internal enemies. The resulting terror leaves society in perpetual shock – to return to the theme of Klein’s book [‘The Shock Doctrine’] – and de-politicised, even as it endures a deepening of neo-liberalisation.
“This conclusion points to the central objective of the US led ‘war on drugs.’ It is to re-programme states in the region” – irrespective of the murderous (inclusive of femicidal) consequences – “so that they have a greater institutional capacity to uphold the neoliberal order. This is particularly evident with regard to the various components of the Merida Initiative, which was formulated by the Bush administration in 2008 and then greatly expanded under Obama.”
As Guagalupe Correa-Cabrera notes in ‘Los Zetas Inc,’ “when analysing the patterns of armed conflict, extreme violence and potential resource extraction after energy reform” in the neoliberal period, “we could claim that Mexico’s war has not,” actually, “been a war on drugs but a war for the control of territory – an area that is rich in hydrocarbons,” where “the main winners (or potential winners) appear to be corporate actors in the energy sector, transnational financial companies, private security firms (…) and the US border-security/military-industrial complex.”
Correa-Cabrera draws upon historian and political activist James D. Cockcroft’s findings that this so-called ‘war on drugs’ has actually “not reduced the drug trade or drug consumption, and this illegal business” – that has directly and indirectly contributed to an extreme rise in femicides, other killings, disappearances, forced displacements of populations living in resource-rich regions – “represents huge profits in the international drug market for exporting countries and their governments.”
Even as paramilitary groups often supported, trained, sponsored, financed and protected in some manner by US ‘deep state’ elements are allowed to function through profits they make from this trade, many of the profits of the drug trade, Correa-Cabrera notes (drawing upon Cockcroft’s findings), “are recycled in the international financial system” (something that will be examined in a forthcoming article in this series) “and international arms markets, mainly benefiting banks and arms manufacturers. The two way illegal flow (…) is constant” in the neoliberal framework and environment in which these wars and financial flows take place, he observes.
In this context then, as Richard W. Coughlin, Associate Professor of Political Science at Florida Gulf Coast University observes, “the involvement of drug cartels in the provision of security is rooted in the fact that cartels have always been linked to the state in Mexico. The paramilitary formations that have emerged from Mexico’s drug cartels have become – as in Colombia – an informal extension of the security apparatus of the state.
“As in Colombia, paramilitaries inflict violence on communities occupying land that transnational corporations” – and those in governance in Mexico – “want to exploit. Criminal penetration of the state – at all levels of government – enables criminal organisations to establish spaces of social control administered by virtue of the political impunity they receive from the state.”
The shadow of death looms over Indigenous peoples living in territories coveted by corporate groups, financiers, middle-men and local/central government governing circles, and the recent massacre in San Mateo del Mar exposes the manner in which state bodies and functionaries – even championed by AMLO, such as the National Guard, deemed to be a ‘protector of the peoples’ – reportedly collude with the paramilitaries to attain their goals: “One such massacre took place in San Mateo del Mar, Oaxaca, home to long standing conflicts with regard to local governance and corporate interests in communal lands. (…) On 21 June 2020, (…) 15 Indigenous Ikoots people were killed, some of them burned to death. It was late afternoon on Father’s Day when 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. Alejandrino Abasolo Mora, another survivor of the massacre, said security forces watched as the men and women under attack cried for help.”
“New forms of paramilitary social control,” Coughlin outlines, become “associated with the deepening of neoliberalism in Colombia, Mexico and Central America. (…) Political violence” – which in a linked manner increase femicides in the country – “is deployed by states to shock and de-mobilize the popular classes. (…) ‘Drug War Capitalism’ captures the opportunistic capacity of neoliberals to advance their policy agendas through the War on Drugs.”
As early as 2012, geographer Jamie Peck and urban planner Nik Theodore also concluded that “processes of neo-liberalisation are hybrid in character, working with and through pre-existing social forms, such as, in the cases of both Mexico and Colombia, criminal groups in the service of the state.”
Peter Dale Scott, author of ‘Cocaine Politics: Drugs, Armies, and the CIA in Central America,’ ‘Drugs, Oil, and War: The United States in Afghanistan, Colombia, and Indochina,’ ‘The Road to 9/11: Wealth, Empire, and the Future of America’ and ‘American War Machine: Deep Politics, the CIA Global Drug Connection and the Road to Afghanistan’ concludes that Watt and Zepeda’s “superb, carefully documented analysis” shows “how American drug and neoliberal policies have helped open up Mexico to crony capitalism, crony drug trafficking, increasing wealth disparity, impoverishment of the lower 50 percent, police and army corruption and domination, and now a murderous, fruitless, US-driven drug war.”
The violence of the ‘neoliberal war’
Paley concluded in a study that was published last December that “disappearance” had/has become “a key element of the violence deployed against urban and rural communities under the rubric of the ‘war on drugs’ in an effort to maintain the neoliberal economic order. (…)
“Fisher (1989) and Garretón (1992) argue that disappearance was used to move repressive political systems toward neoliberalism. Many of those disappeared in Latin America during Cold War conflicts were targeted as activists and militants organising to achieve a different kind of society. Destroying union and activist networks made the imposition of neoliberal policies possible. According to Greg Grandin, ‘state- and elite-orchestrated preventive and punitive terror was key to” – and essential in – “ushering in neoliberalism in Latin America.’”
With neoliberalism having been implemented formally via NAFTA, Paley asserts that “neoliberal war is occurring in a period in which formal democracy is the norm and neoliberalism is being consolidated as the hegemonic global model of economic and social governance. (…) It is a war without explicit political content. (…) The production of confusion is central to the process of depoliticisation, since the authorities routinely link both perpetrators and victims to criminal activity. (…)
“It is a war in which there is a proliferation and an outsourcing of armed actors and in which terror is communicated through methods ranging from destruction and public display of bodies” – be they via femicides or other targeted forms of killing – “to their disappearance.”
Violence in this context, she asserts, has “increased as Mexico boosted military spending and received a significant increase in US security spending through the Mérida Initiative, a comprehensive antinarcotics programme modelled on Plan Colombia. This violence causes what Mina Lorena Navarro calls multiple dispossessions (despojo múltiple) – the weakening of community capacity to resist militarisation, the imposition of austerity programmes and new infrastructure or megaprojects, and the fragmentation of the social ties that make collective autonomies possible.”
“Violence and counterinsurgency,” far from being brought to an end in this neoliberal phase, “have intensified. Since 2006,” she adds that “there has been a surge in disappearances in Mexico that has been attributed to criminal activity in the context of a ‘war on drugs.’”
For Paley, then, what needs to be appreciated is that this neoliberal war “is about social control and the maintenance of extreme inequality. (…) The geographer Ruth Wilson Gilmore describes the relative surplus population as ‘workers at the extreme edges, or completely outside, of restructured labour markets, stranded in urban and rural communities.’ (…) The increase in murder and disappearance” – of the various kinds described (including in relation to femicides) – “on a massive scale in various urban locations in Mexico has disproportionately affected people made members of the country’s relative surplus population. Keeping this in mind allows us to read this horrific” neoliberalism linked “violence as contributing to a kind of social control that is useful to both capital and the state.”
Giroux: ‘The script of neoliberalism’ is ‘now written in the language of gangster capitalism’
Henry A. Giroux‘s description of “the script of neoliberalism, (…) now written in the language of gangster capitalism,” is arguably applicable to what is being experienced and witnessed in Mexico today, where “the appeal to democracy functions once again as a cover, if not ruthless fiction, to promote thievery and political opportunism, offering an easy alibi for the crimes of capitalism. (…) The shadow of death seems to be everywhere. (…)
“Neoliberal capitalism is a death-driven machinery that infantilises, exploits and devalues human life and the planet itself. Understood properly, neoliberal capitalism is a form of necropolitics, or more specifically, a type of gangster capitalism that is utterly criminogenic.”
Oswaldo Zavala, a Mexican journalist, professor of Latin American literature at the City University of New York and author of ‘The Cartels Do Not Exist,’ has also raised his concerns over the newly named ‘war’ being waged (after AMLO formally claimed that the ‘war on drugs’ had ended, despite many disputing this on a number of levels), but which follows the general model of resource extraction-linked neoliberal war that is evident in Mexico: “The war against huachicol” – the theft of gas and oil from national Pemex refineries – “erupted on 30 January, the day that [Mexico’s president] AMLO called off the war on drugs.
“In that same conference, the secretary of the navy started talking about how Santa Rosa de Lima, a new hydrocarbon ‘cartel’ in Guanajuato, was becoming a threat. We had talked about huachicoleros before, but the narrative presented at that conference was profoundly different because they made it sound like huachicoleros were not poor people with very few options but members of highly organised armed groups. This is the same thing that happened with drug trafficking.
“There are competing narratives,” Zavala asserts, “about oil theft within the government. On one side, you have AMLO saying that this is mainly about systemic theft inside the refineries and naval bases – according to most journalists, 80 percent of gas theft happens within Pemex – and on the other side, the navy and Energy Secretariat are talking about huachicol. I’m concerned that the war against the huachicol is a new attempt to continue the national-security agenda,” with all its attendant murderous (including femicidal linked) consequences.
“As scholars continue to think through the multigenerational consequences of neoliberal disappearance in Mexico,” Paley importantly points out that “it is worth considering whether disappearance has,” indeed, “become a necessary element in the maintenance of extreme inequality under neoliberal capitalism. A layered account of violence allows us to move toward a more holistic understanding of why so many thousands have been killed and disappeared in the context of the ‘war on drugs’ while also opening discursive space for the repoliticisation, public acknowledgment, and resolution of these tragic events.”
In ‘Drug War as Neoliberal Trojan Horse,’ Paley concludes that an “examination of the US-backed wars on drugs in Colombia and Mexico reveals that (…) these wars reinforce the power of transnational corporations over resource-rich areas owned and used by indigenous people, peasants and the urban poor. Case studies in Mexico demonstrate that recent assassinations of activists and intimidation of communities that are organising against large-scale mining must be understood within the framework of militarisation justified in terms of an antinarcotics discourse.
“Drug war politics may thus be understood as a mechanism for promoting business-friendly policies and militarising resource-rich areas. This politics is enshrined in the Mérida Initiative (…) and other security forces, equipment transfers, and development funding designed to encourage foreign investment and further transnationalise the national economy.”
Subcomandante Galeano: ‘It can be at Kurdistan, Palestine, those without papers in Europe or Wallmapu in Chile’
A ‘Communiqué from the Indigenous Revolutionary Clandestine Committee and General Command of the Zapatista National Liberation Army (EZNL)’ notes the concerns they have about these interlinked neoliberal local-global systems that generate, by their very nature, “the oppression of a system that will do anything to satisfy its thirst for profit, even when its path is in direct contradiction to the existence of planet Earth. This abomination of a system and its stupid defence of ‘progress’ and ‘modernity’ crash into the wall of their own criminal reality: femicides. (…)
“The criminal logic of the murder of women is that of the system, escalating in predictable fashion (harassment, physical violence, mutilation, and murder) and backed by structural impunity. (…) The system is incapable of explaining how this reality goes hand in hand with its ‘development’ and ‘progress.’ The outrageous statistics say it all. (…)
“Civilization” of this kind “seems to be telling the Native peoples: ‘the proof of your underdevelopment is evident in your low rate of femicides. Here you go, here are your megaprojects, your trains, your thermoelectric plants, your mines, your dams, your shopping centres, your home electronics stores – television channel included. Learn to consume. Be like us. To pay back the debt of this progressive aid we’re offering’” in a neoliberal context, “‘your lands, waters, cultures, and dignity won’t quite be enough – you’re going to have to throw in the lives of women.’”
The Indigenous Revolutionary Clandestine Committee and General Command of the EZNL add: “They are reviving fascist nationalisms, ridiculous chauvinisms and a deafening torrent of meaningless blather. We are sounding the alarm about the coming wars fed by false, empty, deceptive histories that translate nationalities and races into supremacies that will be imposed with death and destruction. (…) The real boss, the owner, the ruler, is the same everywhere and has no nationality other than that of money. (…)
“Enough of this toying around with the distant past to justify, with demagoguery and hypocrisy, the current crimes in process: the murder of community organisers, like our brother Samir Flores Soberanes; the hidden genocides behind the [neoliberal] megaprojects, conceived and carried out to please the most powerful player -capitalism – which wreaks punishment on all corners of the world; the pay-outs to and impunity for the paramilitaries; the buying off of peoples’ consciences and dignity with 30 pieces of silver.”
Bellinghausen observes that the Zapatista Subcomandante Insurgente Galeano (formerly Subcomandante Marcos) invites the reader to reconceptualise what is happening, to see what processes, perpetrators, desires and wants are at work in normalising the horrors, femicides, other killings and disappearances around us: “‘Free yourself, even for a moment, from the tyranny of the social networks that impose not only what to look at and what to talk about, also how to look and how to speak.’ By lifting up one’s view ‘from the immediate to the local to the regional to the national to the global,’ you will find, yes, ‘a chaos, a mess, a disorder.’
“But we also choose what to look at, Galeano points out. It can be at Kurdistan, Palestine, those without papers in Europe or Wallmapu in Chile. Considering ‘that march, sit-in, migrant camp, that resistance,’ it may be that ‘a comprehensive system’ is responsible. ‘A system that produces and reproduces pain, those who inflict it and on those who suffer it.’ (…)
“The EZLN (…) asks: ‘Who benefits from the destruction, from the depopulation, from the reconstruction, from the repopulation?’ And he comes across ‘diverse corporations’ in several countries, ‘which manufacture not only weapons, but also cars, interstellar rockets, microwave ovens, parcel services, banks, social networks, media content, clothing, cell phones and computers, footwear, organic and non-organic foods, shipping companies, online sales, trains, heads of government and cabinets, scientific and non-scientific research centres, hotel and restaurant chains, fast food, airlines, thermoelectric plants and, of course, humanitarian aid foundations.’
“He mentions some current scenarios: the Isle of Lesbos, the Rock of Gibraltar, the English Channel, Naples, the Suchiate River, the Rio Grand, where there are those who ‘also struggle for life’ and conceive it, ‘inseparably linked to their land, their language, their culture, their way.’”
* Desmond Fernandes is an author and 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.’