While the media concentrates on energy, trade talks and securing the border, the real issue is Mexico’s descent into a narco-state
PAUL JAY, SENIOR EDITOR, TRNN: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Paul Jay in Baltimore.
President Obama has arrived in Mexico apparently to talk about immigration, energy, securing the border. But it seems to me if you’re not talking about the American war against drugs and the relationship of the Mexican government to Mexican narco gangs, I’m not entirely sure what you really are talking about.
Now joining us to discuss what I think are the real issues of this trip is Peter Watt. He teaches Latin American studies at the University of Sheffield in the U.K. He’s coauthor of the book Drug War Mexico.
Thanks for joining us again, Peter.
PETER WATT, LECTURER AND AUTHOR: Thank you.
JAY: So President Obama’s going to talk about–I don’t know what, because I don’t see how anything’s going to change in terms of the fundamental relationship and the policies between the two countries. But the real goods are not being talked about in the media, which is the raging drug war, which–and let me ask you the question: are the narco gangs not also involved in a business of getting people across the border?
WATT: Yeah, that’s correct. The drugs probably account for about 44, 45 percent of the profits of organized crime in Mexico. But another major component of that is people smuggling and people trafficking. So migrants who come from Central America, from South America, and from Mexico itself are confronted with these criminal organizations operating from Southern Mexico all the way up to the north, often in collaboration with police forces or using police forces which they now have under their command to gain money to take people across the border.
So, you know, the going price might be $3,000. So if you’re a migrant from Honduras, you might have to give all your savings over to one of these criminal organizations like the Zetas, probably the most dangerous criminal organization operating in Mexico at the moment.
And whether they take you across the border, of course, is another matter. You may know about how migrants, once they get caught by the Zetas, might be forced to work for the Zetas as sicarios, which is assassins, or they may end up working as drug runners, or they may simply be assassinated or abandoned out in the desert. So it’s becoming a very lucrative operation for organized criminals in Mexico and throughout the country. And if the police are compromised and are corrupted by these organizations, it makes the whole thing very easy, because the state effectively and the authorities are losing control.
So people trafficking and people smuggling is a very major issue. Sex trafficking is also another major issue and a major source of profit.
JAY: Right. Now, we’ve talked a bit about this in a previous interview. But Mexican journalists and others and most people that observe the situation have talked about the relationship of the very senior officials of the Mexican government with narco gangs. The new president, Peña Nieto, is there any reason to think his administration will be any different?
WATT: I think not. There’s very few indications that the new government is going to do anything radically different from its predecessor. I mean, all the things that have been proposed strike me as being very superficial. So when he came into office, Peña Nieto proposed this program of investing in poor communities in the north of Mexico, but didn’t really spell out how that money was going to be spent and how long that money, that investment, was going to last. As far as I’m concerned, the problems affecting Mexico are very deep structural economic problems and cannot be solved by, you know, handing out a few crumbs here and there.
And the other component of Peña Nieto’s strategy also seems to be to distract attention away from the issues that you’re talking about, and with a new public relations campaign where we use–journalists are kind of encouraged to use a different language and spokespeople for the Mexican government encouraged to use this–a different kind of language, this softened language, when talking about assassination and murder and the way in which people are murdered. So the government is–actually has a policy of changing the words, changing the vocabulary of the so-called drug war.
There are attacks on journalists from left, right, and center. So, you know, Mexico is now one of the most dangerous countries in the world to be a journalist. And all these powerful institutions and organizations have a shared interest in silencing journalists. They don’t want the truth really coming out. But the truth for the Mexican government should be at least a huge embarrassment, given what’s happened in the–you know, especially since 2006.
JAY: Now, the other thing that doesn’t get covered very much by the media in this visit–or ever–is how much to do with–the sort of breakdown of Mexican society, the development of these narco gangs, and this lawlessness in all the border regions has to do with American policy to begin with. And so I guess the question is: how much does NAFTA and neoliberal policies in Mexico and combined with war-on-drugs policy have to do with what–the sort of chaos in Mexico?
WATT: It absolutely has to do with it. I mean, this is not a war about drugs. As with what happened in Colombia with Plan Colombia, a similar thing is happening in Mexico, whereby the United States in collaboration with the Mexican government invests all this money in militarizing the country, expanding the military presence and the police presence on the streets to, you know, 50,000 after Calderón announces this drug war.
And this is–you know, one of the things that we see with this is that it creates very healthy conditions for foreign direct investment. So in the case of Colombia, well, with Plan Colombia, within the framework of the rhetoric of the war on drugs, it was a failure because the amount of cocaine that was being shipped north either stayed the same or actually increased. But from the point of view of creating a favorable investment climate for transnational corporations, that was something that did improve.
So one of the beneficial things for transnational corporations and for global capital of this chaos and of this violence is that workers rights are under attack. Colombia became the most dangerous country in the Americas to be a trade unionist. That’s no coincidence. The paramilitaries, who were often paid off by transnational corporations like Chiquita, the fruit company, that was a deliberate strategy to displace people, to intimidate the population.
But the effect is that it creates a favorable business environment. Unfortunately, it means that the population suffers as a result.
And I think that a similar process is happening in Mexico, because by no measure, when you contrast reality with the rhetoric of the Obama government and the Calderón and the Peña Nieto governments, within that, there’s no way that you could call the drug war a success, because human rights, the protection of human rights has suffered terribly in the last few years.
The number of prosecutions of people who commit violent crimes–so you can murder someone in Mexico, and the chances are you’ll never be caught. There’s a prosecution rate of about 1.5 percent. And the other aspect of that is that, you know, of that 1.5 percent, how many guilty people actually end up in jail. So there’s a climate of impunity for violent crime. That’s something that does not get addressed by either the U.S. strategy or the Mexican policy.
The quantity of illegal narcotics which are being trafficked north to the United States hasn’t really decreased. The amount of illegal firearms circulating in Mexico has increased, guns being imported south. You know, there are–any way you look at it in terms of the rhetoric, it has to be a failure.
So it’s obviously not about what the Mexican and U.S. governments are telling us it’s about. And yet they continue with it. So it must be about something else, because they’re investing all this money and effort for a reason. So the implementation of the Mérida Initiative, the initiative which is effectively the equivalent of Plan Colombia, which was the U.S. policy in Colombia, is really following–you know, the model looks very similar, and some of the effects are strikingly similar.
JAY: And in militarizing Mexico, they create a situation where if the Mexicans want to rebel against the current situation, they’re up against a much more difficult force.
WATT: Yeah. I mean, being a dissident or organizing a social movement in Mexico is not easy, and it can be a very risky affair, particularly if you live in a rural area or you live in northern Mexico, which is the area that’s been most blighted by so-called drug violence. But imagine you live in rural Guerrero or Oaxaca–and Oaxaca, of course, was the scene of, you know, some quite impressive social activism just a few years ago. But the violence meted out against the protesters was quite terrible. And, you know, that was also the PRI, which is the government which is now the state government [incompr.] PRI, and we’ve now got a PRI president. But for those, you know, in rural Guerrero, for example, where you have indigenous communities, many of them women organizing, trying to organize social movements against injustice, against abuses by the military, you know, the media don’t tend to focus on those people. And that can be a very dangerous and risky affair, and all credit is due to them for doing so.
JAY: Alright. Thanks very much for joining us, Peter.
WATT: You’re very welcome.
JAY: And thank you for joining us on The Real News Network.
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