The false notion that the state and drug traffickers are oppositional forces is firmly dispelled in Drug War Mexico, which draws on numerous examples to prove cooperation and at the very least complicity between the political and business class and the so-called underworld. They go on to document how narcotics trafficking must be understood as an “integral component” in Mexico’s economic transformation towards neoliberalism.
Drug War Mexico: Politics, Neoliberalism and Violence in the New Narcoeconomy, Peter Watt & Roberto Zepeda, Zed Books, 2012.
If you look for it, you might find find a buried headline about how a Caravan organized by Mexicans impacted by drug violence is making its way from the U.S. Mexico border to Washington DC, calling for justice and peace in Mexico. Hundreds of people are gathering at each of the stops along the way to remember the dead and disappeared, and to denounce the ongoing atrocities being committed in the name of the War on Drugs.
For people looking for a more careful analysis on what is taking place inMexico, Peter Watt and Roberto Zepeda’s new book, Drug War Mexico, is a good place to start. The authors begin by acknowledging the problematic role the mainstream media play in the conflict in Mexico.
“Reports from media organizations like Televisa in Mexico, CNN in the US, and the BBC in the UK tend to present the ‘drug war’ in Mexico as a mysterious and inexplicable conflict in which the government (with the help of its ally, the United States) and the army attempt to defeat the evil tactics and poisonous influence of organized crime,” write Watt and Zepeda in the introduction. “Within this narrow and misleading representation of the drug war, state actors who perpetrate violence and abuse human rights are rarely ascribed agency, and thus are afforded complete immunity by influential mainstream media organizations. Consequently, the drug war is seldom given the historico-political context and analysis it surely merits.”
What follows in Drug War Mexico is Watt and Zepeda’s attempt to map how the intensification of violence in Mexico “did not arrive out of the blue.”
The book describes in some detail Operation Condor, a US backed anti-drug plan that involved the militarization of Sinaloa, Durango and Chihuahua, as well as aerial spraying of crops with Agent Orange. Drug War Mexico argues these processes made heroin and marijuana prices spike and encouraged the “cartelisation” of the drug trade. “For the producers and traffickers with the best political contacts, the largest networks, and sufficient resources, and for those who had adapted to survive the initial years of this new phase of anti-drug policy, this sharp and sudden rise in the price of their exports was both rewarding and tantalising,” write Watt and Zepeda.
The false notion that the state anddrug traffickers are oppositional forces is firmly dispelled in Drug WarMexico, which draws on numerous examples to prove cooperation and at the very least complicity between the political and business class and the so-called underworld. The authors argue that the 1982 election of Miguel de Madrid and the changes heralded in during his term were more significant than the break from the PRI in 2000.
Later, the book discusses how the North America Free Trade Agreement “provided both the infrastructure and the labour pool to facilitate smuggling…” further developing the idea of a narcotics industry intertwined with neoliberal transformation.
In their treatment of the years 2000-2012, Mexico’s two term break with PRI governance, Watt and Zepeda outline much of the more recent context around the drug war. Much of this section will be familiar to more casual observers of the drug war in Mexico, as it includes background on some of the direct groups and characters whose prowess and financial power are bandied around by the mainstream media today.
All said, Drug War Mexico is a carefully constructed and well referenced book that provides valuable insight into the violence throughout Mexico. Dispelling the artificial binary between state forces and so-called drug cartels is perhaps the book’s strongest suit, and is done here in an accessible manner. Excavating histories little known and seldom referenced in the English language press, Drug War Mexico is an important addition to a growing body of work suggesting a new frame through which to understand what is taking place in Mexico today.