In April, US President Barack Obama visited Mexico where he announced that the US needed to take some responsibility for Mexico’s ongoing Drug War. He also declared his support for a continuation and strengthening of free trade policies between the two countries. According to Miguel Tinker-Salas, it is the North American Free Trade Agreement, and the massive economic transition it precipitated, that has created such fertile ground for the drug economy. The result is that the Mexican government finds itself facing a decreasing level of control over entire regions of the country as the cartels provide the services that the central government no longer does.
Free trade and Mexico’s drug war
Producer: Jesse Freeston
JESSE FREESTON, TRNN: On Friday, Mexican President Felipe Calderón announced a five-day shutdown of all nonessential services in the country, with the goal of stemming the spread of the swine flu virus. Add while they swine flu outbreak has certainly struck fear into much of Mexico in recent weeks, it is the increasingly violent drug conflict that has been terrorizing much of the country for years. US-owned industrial pig farms, which set up shop in Mexico after the implementation of the North American Free Trade Agreement in 1994, are being fingered by many as the origin of the flu virus. Likewise, NAFTA has been identified as a central factor in the development of the drug war.
MIGUEL TINKER-SALAS, LATIN AMERICAN STUDIES, POMONA COLLEGE: When Mexico begins the process of integration economically with the US in terms of NAFTA, it also begins to abandon its national project. There are those who say that this is the second death of Mexican nationalism in the context of NAFTA. Mexico changes its discourse, changes its policy, its state-to-state relationship with its population. The state largely becomes now simply a manager of wealth, of trying to attract finance capital. It abandons, essentially, its nation-state project. In abandoning that position, it abandons its social policy, its social program; it deemphasizes education. Even the proponents of NAFTA realize, underscore, admitted that Mexico would go through a very difficult transition period. What they argued was that this transition period would eventually lead to growth and development after a short period of crisis, but the reality is that that crisis has been permanent. Mexican authorities—in fact, the government policy towards the rural areas has been to a largely abandon those areas. And that abandonment comes on the fact that they no longer can subsidize, no longer can support, no longer can aid many of these rural areas. And as a result, particularly since now corn is being imported from the US and other agricultural products are being imported from the US, we see the fact that cattle production, sheep production, pork production, at least from the traditional economy, corn production, has been in fact pushed aside by imported products and imported goods, except in those areas where you have actually corporate farms, like the ones in Veracruz and others that have been associated with the more recent swine flu. So the reality is that as that agricultural, agrarian economy collapses, that opens up a space for the narcotraffickers, because, after all, narcotrafficking benefits from poverty, from inequality, from the fact that people have no other option, from the fact people have no other source of income. Also, small businesses in Mexico, small ma and pa stores, are unable to compete with the new economy, with the large megastores that were coming into Mexico and competing. So there’s a dislocation of traditional economic sectors that creates spaces, then, for narcotrafficking, lucrative spaces where narcotrafficking becomes an alternative for youth who can’t find employment, for people who even are trained who can’t find employment.
FREESTON: Despite the apparent failure of the neoliberal economic vision that NAFTA embodies, Mexican President Calderón and US President Barack Obama have committed themselves to facilitating further such integration.
BARACK OBAMA, US PRESIDENT: Mexico is one of our largest trading partners. The amount of commerce that flows back and forth creates wealth in Mexico and it creates wealth in the United States. I have said repeatedly that I’m in favor of free trade. But I can tell you that President Calderón and I are entirely on the same page in believing that we can create greater opportunities for trade and strengthen our commercial relationships between our two countries.
FELIPE CALDERÓN, MEXICAN PRESIDENT (VOICEOVER TRANSLATION): We must protect trade. And the best way of doing so is to allow it to flow naturally with no restrictions in order to protect free trade. I agree with President Obama: we have to go further, we have to go beyond in order to improve trade between both our countries. We do not want to restrict it.
FREESTON: This continued emphasis on free trade may play right into the hand of the drug cartels.
TINKER-SALAS: And you have competition, then, between the traditional state and, increasingly, these drug organizations that assume not only the position of illicit drug traffickers, but also increasingly become in some ways social organization, reaching out to the populace, reaching out to the population, and begin to compete, becoming what some have described [as] a state within a state. They have weapons; they have the capacity to military inflict damage on the state. They begin to fulfill social functions, doing celebrations for Day of the Child, day of the—Mother’s Day, other such activities.
FREESTON: Here’s an example of a children’s day event unabashedly sponsored by Gulf cartel leader Osiel Cárdenas Guillen from a home in his US prison. This practice isn’t new. Here is an invitation to 2006’s Children’s Day party. At that time Osiel was occupying a Mexican prison cell.
TINKER-SALAS: They become social heroes, social Robin Hoods. Despite their death and destruction that they’re causing on the population, they assume an important position.
FREESTON: It is believed that over 10,000 people have been killed in the last two years in violent conflict between the cartels and the state authorities, or amongst the cartels themselves.
TINKER-SALAS: Drug cartels in Mexico are in Michoacán; they’re in Sinaloa; they’re in Baja California; they’re in Sierra Juárez; they are in the Tamaulipas area; they’re in the Golfo area. So there’s this tremendous potential for violence throughout Mexico. What it means is that they have acquired weaponry. Some of that weaponry has come from the US. Some of it has been weaponry that was left behind by the US in Central America as a result of the wars in Central America. Some of it has been as a result of the fact that 100,000 Mexican soldiers have defected in the last five years—and they take the weapons with them. So they have become very powerful organizations that can inflict violence. They can organize in a very structured fashion. And in many municipalities, in many districts that are poor, that have been ravaged by immigration, that have been ravaged by poverty, where the state has abandoned, literally, a policy in the countryside, we see at least 300 municipalities that Mexican news sources point to as being controlled directly or indirectly by narcotraficantes. It goes to such an extent that one of these druglords, Chapo Guzmán, from the Sinaloa cartel, is supposed to have staged his wedding in the state of Durango, in which he lands in a plane with his own soldiers, with a priest in tow, with municipal authorities from the PAN in tow, stages a wedding and is able to celebrate for several days before he leaves on his honeymoon. That’s the extent to which there’s been a space created by the narcotraffickers. Part of that is popular lore, but part of that is also reality in terms of what the state has collapsed in those areas [sic].
Please note that TRNN transcripts are typed from a recording of the program; The Real News Network cannot guarantee their complete accuracy.