The Connection Between the Drug War In Mexico and Neoliberal Policies

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Jeff Faux and John Ackerman say that neoliberal policies have created out- of-control violence and a humanitarian crisis in Mexico

Story Transcript

JAISAL NOOR, TRNN PRODUCER: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Jaisal Noor in Baltimore.

We’re continuing our discussion about the Tres Amigos Summit in Mexico right now, where the leaders of the U.S., Canada, and Mexico are currently meeting.

We’re back with our two distinguished guests.

We’re joined by John Ackerman, professor at the National Autonomous University of Mexico, editor-in-chief of The Mexican Law Review, columnist with both the La Jornada newspaper and Proceso magazine.

And Jeff Faux. He is the founder and now a distinguished fellow of the Economic Policy Institute in Washington, D.C.

And we ended the first part with Jeff, so, John, let’s start with you.

What’s your response? Jeff argues that NAFTA, which was put into effect 20 years ago now, helped increase the drug violence, the drug trade in Mexico. You’re in Mexico right now. Give us your reaction to that.

JOHN ACKERMAN, LAW PROFESSOR, UNAM: Yeah, I think that it’s absolutely correct, the connection between NAFTA and the present drug war is, and not sufficiently commented on, as obviously it is directly linked.

NAFTA, what it does is assign a role to Mexico in the North American economy which is based on precisely what Jeff was mentioning: on one hand, providing drugs to U.S. consumers; on the other hand, providing demand for U.S. guns. Also, economic development is left at a–you know, from the maquiladora industry all the way down to Mexico, there’s not an emphasis on the development of national industry, but serving the U.S. market exclusively.

And what this has led to is a generalized attack on labor rights and on employment. You know, real wages in Mexico have basically stagnated for the last 20 years. And in the recent economic crisis, 2007 to 2008, Mexico was the country in all of the Americas which lost most during that period. Over a four-quarter period, we lost up to 9 percent of GDP. So this was a major economic crisis, which is basically dependent on the situation of absolute dependence on the U.S. economy.

Now, of course the U.S. and Mexico need to work together on things. It would be impossible to imagine a Mexican economy or politics totally separated from the United States. But the problem is this subordinate position which Mexico has been placed in. And the exchange has been obvious. In order to buy this support from Mexico, the oligarchs–we have plenty of those, similar to the situation in Ukraine or Eastern Europe, or Russia, that is, have been bought off and put into a larger North American negotiation, which–once again, oil plays a central role in this–in order to buy their political support and sell out, in the end, the Mexican people.

And this has led to a huge amount of violence and poverty. The numbers go way up to even 120,000 dead over the last seven years in this so-called drug war.

So we’re really living a humanitarian crisis which is a direct result of policy. This is not a natural result of anything to have people killing each other in the streets, but is a direct result of policy on both sides of the border.

I think it’s really important for society and social movements in Mexico and in the United States to really start talking to each other more and building up a political coalition to check this kind of consolidation of neoliberal politics on both sides of the Rio Grande.

NOOR: And one of the topics that’s going to be discussed is increased cooperation between the U.S. military with the Mexican military, because in places like Michoacán you have the government losing control and you have militia forces that are just battling these drug lords now.

Jeff, you wrote about this in your recent piece. Talk about what the situation is. And can the U.S. play a positive role in helping resolve this?

JEFF FAUX, AUTHOR, THE SERVANT ECONOMY: Well, the situation has really gotten out of hand. You know, in the old days, that is, before NAFTA and before the neoliberals came to power in Mexico, there were always drugs coming from Mexico. Acapulco gold did not come from Nebraska. But in the old days, there was a sort of a deal–informal, cynical perhaps, but a deal–with the old PRI that was in power that said, you know, sell marijuana to the gringos, it’s their problem, but no violence here and no drugs here.

And, you know, that worked until the neoliberal paradigm began to change things in Mexico. And that started with the Salinas administration early on. People in that administration–including the family of that president, from reports–knew about the drug business in Mexico, knew it was going to change. The United States government knew that. There’s been plenty of evidence that the Clinton administration was aware that there was a big problem here. And they ignored it in the interests of this NAFTA trade deal.

So what’s happened is, as the overland route into the United States drug market became cheaper and quicker and faster through Mexico, the Mexican drug lords had a strategic position. They brought the cocaine that used to come by sea from Colombia and brought it through Mexico. Suddenly there was a lot more money to be made in the drug business, in the narco business.

And what happened was people started to fight over it. And when they fought over it, they didn’t fight over it by price. You know, they fought for the market with guns.

Fast forward. What happened was the drug lords started hiring ex-policemen, ex-military, many trained in the United States, in order to do their dirty work. Over the last ten years, these thugs created their own criminal organizations. And the problem is no longer just drugs. The problem is violence. You’ve got criminal organizations now that are sort of super-mafias–extortion, kidnapping, murder, robbery, all that kind of thing. So it’s gotten way out of hand from the old days when there used to be an elicit but at least stable drug trade between the United States and Mexico.

And it’s out of control because the successive governments, supported by the United States, have been knee-deep in corruption in the narco market.

NOOR: And, John, yeah, I wanted to give you a chance to respond. Go ahead.

ACKERMAN: Yeah. Just to–if we’re ending, I guess the interview’s to end on a note of hope.

Mexico and Mexicans continue to be a Latin American country, and the tendency in Latin America over the last ten years has been to rebuff neoliberalism, to construct new forms of understanding politics, and a very wide range of options, from Lula to Chávez to Evo Morales to Mujica, Uruguay, Ecuador, Bolivia. There’s a real wave of rejection of neoliberal policies and the construction of a new, more democratic alternative.

Mexican political consciousness of Mexican history is very compatible with these traditions. The Mexican Revolution of 1917 was the first great social revolution of the 20th century. And much of this legacy continues to be present today in Mexico and in the hearts and minds of Mexicans in the United States.

The problem is this alliance between Washington politics and money and Mexican oligarchs and neoliberal politicians. And so this alliance is what needs to be broken. And there’s a real potential down at the base.

I do feel, and all of the opinion polls demonstrate, that the Mexican people do not agree with the present situation, and that they are looking for options for change. And so I think there is, in the short to medium realm, possibilities of seeing political transformation in Mexico. But that will depend on, precisely, in the United States, people in the United States working to control the interventionism of the United States towards Mexico, because that’s what’s been really holding back political development in Mexico.

NOOR: And, John, for a quick followup, I know you’ve been closely following the teachers in Mexico who are on the front lines of fighting this neoliberal reform. They were just marching again within the last week. Talk about how in a lot of ways they are kind of leading this fight.

ACKERMAN: Sure. Teachers in Mexico have always been a very important political force, both for good and for bad. It’s the largest union in all of Latin America, one and a half million, almost, members. For bad in terms of the fact that this has been [incompr.] of a corporatist, corrupt [incompr.] but for good because within the teachers themselves, the rank and file, there’s a long tradition of the more democratic union leadership. And that group of democratic union leadership have been precisely leading the fight over the last year against this incredible attack by Peña Nieto and the old guard, which has come back with him in the new PRI regime.

And they continue to be in the streets. They are rejecting an education reform which basically tries to make Mexico into a copy of the worst cases in the United States of standardized testing and utilitarian approaches to education. They have really put the fight forward.

Now, with the oil reform, new groups are coming together. And I think there is a real potential in the short to medium term of these different mobilizations and groups coming together to construct more of a power from below in Mexico.

NOOR: Well, I want to thank you both for joining us, John Ackerman, Jeff Faux. We appreciate your time, and we look forward to having you on again.

FAUX: Great.

ACKERMAN: Thank you.

FAUX: Good to be here.

NOOR: You can follow us @therealnews on Twitter. Tweet me questions and comments @jaisalnoor.

Thank you so much for joining us.

End

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