What Are the U.S.'s Real Motives for Launching a Drug War in Mexico?

The following is an excerpt from James Cockcroft’s new book, Mexico’s Revolution: Then and Now (Monthly Review Press, 2010).

U.S. Intervention

For decades, Washington, D.C., has been pouring military aid into Mexico. In 2008 there were 6,000 U.S. troops on the Mexican border, and in 2010 President Barack Obama decided to send in more. The U.S. side of the border is militarized, as it was before and during the Mexican Revolution of 1910–1917 and periodically since then. Drones routinely fly over Mexican soil. In the United States, video games show American troops invading Mexico.

Remember that the United States has often sent troops into Mexico. There is a long history of U.S. involvement in the internal affairs of the nation since the bloody seizure of one-half of Mexico’s territory—the outcome of the imperialist war of 1846–1848.

Today a militaristic weapon is the Alliance for the Prosperity and Security of North America organized by the governments of the United States, Canada, and Mexico in 2005. The Alliance is an expansion of the Plan Puebla Panama of 2001 that aimed at the integration of southern Mexico with Central America and Colombia. In 2008, the Alliance was strengthened by the Merida Initiative/Plan Mexico, an international security treaty established by the United States with Mexico and Central America to fight narcotraffic and integrate Mexico and Central America with the Northern Command of the United States.

These plans better U.S. chances of firming up energy security: Mexico, Guatemala, Belize, and Colombia are oil countries. The plans also make it easier for the United States, Canada, and Mexico to use their arms against outside threats and, above all, internal opposition. They represent a new phase of contemporary imperialism.

What are the real targets of these plans for the international coordination and militarization of the struggle against alleged terrorists and narcos? They are aimed at immigrants, original peoples, guerrilla resistance, political dissidents, and social movements against transnational corporations taking over natural resources, including water, and causing mining pollution. These plans, financed by billions of U.S. dollars, have made Mexico a security priority for the U.S. ruling class. They serve to “justify” the sending of U.S. personnel into Mexico to take part in intelligence operations to tighten control over the populations of both nations.

Mexico faces a dangerous and complex situation. Obama’s government has beefed up budgets for sending down agents of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), along with personnel to train Mexicans in the so-called wars against narcotraffic and terrorism, wars against “the Evil.” Obama calls it that, and righteous citizens applaud him or demand even stronger measures. Obama’s government has created a new “special force” made up of armed people from police and intelligence agencies that operate in the border zones.

The FBI and the DEA have offices in several Mexican cities. In February 2010, spokespeople for de facto president Calderón admitted that U.S. agents were active in Ciudad Juárez. The number of U.S. military contractors sent to Mexico has increased during Calderón’s administration. There are videos of contractors who have trained Mexican police taking part in the torture of prisoners. In 2008, U.S. involvement in Mexico took the form of that business enterprise called Blackwater. Exposed for its crimes against humanity in Iraq, it has changed its name to Xe Services. It came to “help” Calderón in his supposed war against the narcotraffic. He is fighting “the Evil,” and many churchgoing Mexicans thank him for saving their children from that horrible “narcotic,” cannabis.

They don’t know that this war is an excuse for militarizing the nation. Only 2 percent of Mexicans read a newspaper, and only 4 percent ever buy a book. Everyone has television, and the two TV monopolies, Televisa and TV Azteca, known as the media “duopoly,” are under the iron control of two of the billionaires topping Mexico’s wealthy elite. The TV duopoly, a powerful propaganda machine, is a key player on the neoliberal stage saluting Calderón’s war, spewing ultraconservative pap, and warning about “the danger to Mexico” posed by such honest political figures as Andrés Manuel López Obrador, the real winner of the stolen 2006 presidential elections.

In January 2010, 16 teenagers and students unrelated to the narcotraffic were murdered in Ciudad Juárez. There, in the last two years, some 4,700 people have died violently, and feminicide remains rampant. Most of the victims have been civilians executed by paramilitary groups or military people dressed in black or wearing ski masks. In March 2010, mysterious gunmen murdered U.S. citizens associated with the U.S. consulate there.

Ciudad Juárez, the “perfect model” of industrialization by means of foreign-owned maquiladoras (low-wage manufacturing assembly plants) with the cooperation of charro (corrupt) trade union leaders and their “protection contracts,” is now known as “the most violent city on earth.” There, Calderón’s government is working against the Juárez drug cartel. But Calderón’s forces are secretly allied to the Sinaloa drug cartel, or at least are permitting its advance against the Juárez cartel.

The boss of the Sinaloa cartel is “El Chapo” (“Shorty”) Guzmán, a smooth-talking capo who walked out of a high-security prison in 2001 after bribing the guards. It cost El Chapo a bundle of bills but he has them: Forbes magazine ranks him as one of the richest and most influential men on the planet. El Chapo did the old Houdini act and disappeared during year one of governance by the first political party to break the seventy-one-year- long monopoly of political power held and enforced by the Partido Revolucionario Institucional (PRI). Since 2000, the new occupants of the Mexican presidency have come from the populist Church-backed Partido Acción Nacional (PAN). Its first new president was Coca-Cola millionaire Vicente Fox. Tall, hand- some, mustachioed Fox wore boots and lied frequently, but always with a showman’s good-natured smile. He invited Israel’s deadly Mossad to train his secret police, the Center for Investigation and National Security that works under the Presidential Coordination Office. This was done behind the backs of the Mexican people. As Machiavelli said in the 16th century: “Everyone sees what you seem [to be] but few know what you are.” And now, of course, the duopoly’s television really does reach everyone.

El Chapo continues to play the “invisible man” to police dragnets in Mexico. When his kind of money is flowing, nobody can see a thing. The Calderón government wants to finish off the Juárez drug cartel in favor of the Sinaloa cartel. The FBI says its “confidential informants linked directly to the narco gangs” believe that El Chapo is winning. The murders or captures of powerful capos carried out by the army—and the navy in cases like the Beltrán brothers—strengthens the power of El Chapo nationally and internationally.

Businessman Calderón’s popularity is sputtering like a bonfire in a hailstorm. Under the hail of bullets from shootouts, public opinion is beginning to snarl on all sides. When el Presidente walked into an auditorium in Torreón in early 2010 he was deafened by a crowd of booing citizens. The TV duopoly covering his appearance barely snuffed the sound in time.

Five transnational corporations control the U.S. mass media for imperialist interests and say nothing or spread lies about the people’s uprisings in Mexico and the Mexican immigrants in the United States. This is because the U.S. government is focusing its sights on the rising Mexican opposition in order to gain greater control over Mexican oil, minerals, uranium, water, biodiversity, and immigrant labor. And it wants to keep immigrant labor cheap, and so aligns with the Mexican business elite and its government.  The elite loves Uncle Sam like kids love Santa Claus. The elite’s Business Coordinating Council of big capitalists is crying for more aid in fighting the cartels, and the aid is pouring in. It does not come in a reindeer sleigh, mind you, but as Blackhawk helicopter gunships that spit fire and death.

In February 2010,National Intelligence Director Dennis Blair condemned the cartels and the violence in Mexico and Central America as the result of “failed states.” Basic security has been undermined, and instability marked by crime, corruption, and “ungovernability” is growing, he asserted. In the same fashionable language, President Obama has warned that the struggle against violent extremism involves diffuse enemies, unstable regions, and “failed states.” High officials of the U.S. government and its armed forces blather a lot about “failed states.” We are told that these states are bleeding to death and only a transfusion of military intervention can save the patients. Good old Uncle Sam then appears as a humanitarian white-coated doctor leading a caravan of arms donors, contractors with torture needles, and flying gunships painted with a red cross.

The Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) has named Mexico and Pakistan the two most unstable nations in the world—they can melt down any minute. They are “failed states.” So in 2009 Obama appointed his new ambassador to Mexico, Carlos Pascual, an expert in “nationbuilding” and in “failed states.” Carlos is a Cuban American. He has 27 years of experience in Africa, Eastern Europe, Eurasia, the Middle East, and conflict situations in Latin American and Caribbean nations such as Haiti. In the State Department, Carlos Pascual was head of the Office of Reconstruction and Stabilization. Its critics—among them Naomi Klein—call it the “U.S. Colonial Office.” Klein describes Pascual as an expert in shock therapy for “failed states.” Pascual arrived in Mexico City to begin coordination of the Binational Office of Intelligence. Crawling around in this pit are officers of the Pentagon, the DEA, the FBI, the CIA, and other critters of the U.S. intelligence community. The Mexican government is not a “failed” state, because it carries out the tasks assigned to it by the empire’s design. All of Washington’s propaganda backs up the militarization of Mexico in order to protect the interests of transnational corporations and foreign bank.

The militarization is a revival of the “dirty war” of the 1970s, especially in the states of Chiapas, Oaxaca, Guerrero, and Michoacán. Now the dirty war is furthered by the presence of narco thugs and unemployed youth who, in some parts of the nation, work with top police and military officers. But there is another difference between now and the 1970s. Internationally renowned Mexican Senator Rosario Ibarra, famed for her outspoken defense of human rights, has pointed out that the murdered and disappeared are not only opposition figures and social movement activists but also “the civilian population unrelated to any political or social conflict or the narcotraffic. . . . [The majority] are executions of the civilian population, of youth, both men and women, and of the poor.”

Every rise in the number of deaths permits the military and Calderón to exclaim that they are “winning the war.” Meanwhile, the number of assassinations and disappearances of human rights activists, left-leaning political figures, journalists, and social movement and labor activists has escalated in recent months and hardly ever is an assassin or kidnapper “found,” much less charged. Amnesty International and academic experts on Mexico observe that the military often does as it pleases, and in fact it runs whole regions of the country. Or tries to do that: it has competition from some of the narco groups.

In February 2010, General Guillermo Galván, Secretary of Defense, called for the armed forces to support a political reform proposal sent to Congress by Calderón.  The reform gives the army the right to enter homes without warrants and arrest anyone on suspicion. Soldiers who shoot civilians “by mistake” cannot be tried in civilian courts. Bloodied civilian corpses are stacked high: they are “collateral damage” in the so-called “war against drugs.” General Galván’s publicly backing the political reform was an indication that the formation of a civilian-military dictator- ship might be in process.

There is always the chance of a military coup in Mexico, and judging from the reception of the coup in Honduras the empire might welcome it. But there is another opinion: some retired military men in Mexico think that a few generals and admirals and an unknown number of soldiers are still uncorrupted and patriotic enough to believe in a more democratic system. This has happened several times in the history of Latin America. 

The problem of the narcotraffic has to do not only with militarization, bad government, or “failed states.” For decades, Washington’s all-out campaigns against the narcotraffic in Colombia and Mexico, in Bolivia and Afghanistan, and in the United States itself, have repeatedly ended in failure. All the experts say so. You catch a capo and another takes his place; you knock out a drug route to the United States and other routes open up; the forbidden but highly profitable stuff is in the merchandise flowing to the North under free trade. There are “mules” willing to hide drugs on their persons. A family passed from Mexico into Laredo with a white plastic Christ in the back seat and sniffing dogs barked. It turned out to be a coke Jesus.

Yes, the situation has brought endless failure. But haven’t the repressive campaigns really succeeded? They enrich (mainly U.S.) bankers through secret arrangements to launder drug money, while recycling phenomenal amounts of dirty money into many sectors of the legitimate economy. They also keep up huge profits in the international drug market for the exporting countries and their governments, a large part of which is recycled into the international arms market for the benefit of arms manufacturers. The United States sells more weapons than all the other arms-producing countries put together. It is the world’s arsenal of death.

The “failures” of the campaigns against the narcotraffic help to justify war, state violence, and massive repression. The “war against drugs” sponsored by Washington and its allies has nothing to do with national security or ending the drug traffic and everything to do with profits. It involves the forging of strategic alliances against democratic anti-imperialist governments like those in Venezuela, Ecuador, and Bolivia. The key alliance for the United States in Latin America is the chain of neoliberal governments on the Pacific Coast: Chile, Peru, Colombia, all of Central America except Nicaragua (where Washington is fomenting a “failed state”)—and, of course, Mexico. The chain is made of iron: each government is an enemy of its people.

There are legal proposals cooking in the Mexican Congress that permit foreign troops to enter national territory. The United States has already set up seven new military bases in Colombia, and there is a bilateral agreement to build five more in Panama. There are U.S. bases in almost all of Latin America and the Caribbean. There are bases on Aruba and Curacao, island nations once colonized by the Dutch, near Venezuela’s oil fields. There are plans for creating a “multinational, multifunctional military base” with Brazil in Rio de Janeiro “in order to patrol the drug traffic of the region.” Official documents of the U.S. Air Force have proclaimed that the new military bases “expand the capacity for expeditionary war . . . [guarantee] the opportunity for conducting complete spectrum operations in all South America . . . [to combat] the anti-American governments in the region.”

In the last week of March 2010, top government officials from Mexico and Washington met in Mexico City to discuss the terrifying violence in Ciudad Juárez and to work out a strategy. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton admitted that the U.S. demand for drugs and the arms smuggled into Mexico from the United States were feeding the violence of the cartels, so both governments proclaimed a “new stage” in the war on drugs: “Plan Juarez.” Supposed social programs and more military aid make up the public part of this glitzy new plan, which will stuff the pockets of the Mexican government with $300 million. It aims to strengthen the Merida Initiative/Plan Mexico and the Northern Command’s control over Mexico. The new U.S. ambassador to Brazil has called this military integration “armoring NAFTA” and so, in effect, acknowledges that behind the “war on drugs” is the aim of protecting the economic interests of big capital in the era of neoliberalism.

After this meeting, during a TV interview for Televisa, U.S. ambassador Pascual boasted about Calderón’s military strategy, saying “we designed it together.” The secretary of Homeland Security, Janet Napolitano, admitted that at Calderón’s “request” members of the U.S. Army work in Mexico in a “limited” way as military intelligence personnel. Calderón is throwing away national sovereignty by integrating Mexico with the United States.

In 14 documents recently declassified by the Presidency of the Republic about “Plan Mexico 2030, Project of Great Vision” are the details of thematic workshops convoked by Calderón in October 2006.Plan Mexico 2030, says political scientist Gilberto López y Rivas, violates the Mexican Constitution of 1917 and guarantees the future “integral occupation of the country” by the United States. The plan programs the privatization of the energy sector, biosphere reserves, education, social security for state employees, and other public services. It calls for the repression and co-optation of social movements. López y Rivas maintains that the plan is inspired by imperialism and that Mexicans confront a “social war” disguised as a fight against narcotraffic. According to him, the aim of the plan “is to finish off the Mexican state.”  Journalist Carlos Fazio adds that what is happening in Mexico is a “low intensity war that combines intelligence work, civic action, psychological war and control of the population. . . . The center of gravity is no longer the battlefield as such, but rather the social-political arena.”

James Cockcroft will be conducting speaking events across the U.S.; to see event locations click here.

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