A country in pain

Irmgard Emmelhainz


For many, violence in contemporary Mexico is what defines the country, as violence is present in everyday life, in cities’ streets, in the countryside’s plantations, in the mass media, in “high” and popular culture, in urban planning, private and public schools, in interpersonal relationships at work and at home and thus, on everyone’s mind. Since Felipe Calderón’s presidency, violence has augmented exponentially and has been quantified in vague official numbers: since 2000 there have been more than approximately 100 thousand deaths and 23,270 disappeared.130 The issue of violence is usually perceived, on the one hand, as originating in the “War against Drugs.” Initiated in 2006 by Calderón, it implied militarizing vast zones of the country, especially the north. Under this lens, some have sought to denounce, to provide a diagnosis, to historicize, to condemn, to offer alternative definite versions to the official ones. On the other hand, others have sought to give voice to victims’ complaints and demands (alive or dead), attempting to show the human side of tragedies. Beyond the mediatic parade of dead bodies, victims have been invoked to be collectively mourned, enabling survivors to speak out, to claim restitution, to demand an explanation, justice and visibility.

In general, attempts to explain violence in Mexico consider it to be a problem of sovereignty: the result of the crumbling rule of law, bringing forth a “disemboweled State” an “an-State.”

According to Sergio González Rodríguez, the main problem resides in the capture and reordering of vast regions of the country by criminal groups. In his view, these groups created a shifting cartography and govern in collusion with the government, coercing citizens under a new criminalized-institutional regime.132 This form of organization has fragmented the collective and transformed the country into a battlefield, governed simultaneously by a false rule of law and the absence of the law. The consequences are dysfunctional institutions, deficient criminal justice, and lack of the self-corrective potential of the State. The collusion between the legal and the illegal form of government has given leeway to a normative State that rules simulating legitimacy and Legality.

To this kind of dysfunctional and degraded form of State we can add the U.S.’s program to de-stabilize the through paramilitarism and what is known as the “Mérida Plan,” a bi-national initiative conceived to palliate violence in Mexico that paradoxically, has increased it exponentially. This de-stabilization plan became blatant when the outcome of the ATF’s (The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives) “Fast and Furious Operation” came to light: the operation consisted in selling assault weapons to Mexican drug cartels so they could track them and obtain information thereby. Thus, between 2010 and 2011, more than 2,500 assault weapons entered Mexico illegally, traceable by GPS.

Many of these weapons were found in crime scenes, and still, the perspective of a nearly
“failed,” degraded and dysfunctional State prevails. This perspective is also the official line that has justified militarization of the country to allegedly prevent organized crime from continuing to capture vast segments of Mexican public life and to “reinforce” institutions and the judicial system.

We could consider violence in Mexico, however, to be the local version of the “New World Order,” the manifestation of global processes. For instance, in Ciudad Juárez, violence is not only tied to the cartels’ war, but it is directly linked to the fact that in the past decade Mexico lost competitiveness to Asia, and thus thousands of workers in
sweatshops were fired. Other global causes of violence in Mexico have been the momentary hardening of the networks operating against drug trafficking manifested in a molecular war; the global food crisis and the incipient imposition of transnational industrial farming in Mexico, etc. That is to say, violence in Mexico is not the result of the anomalous or failed functioning of the State, but one of the multiple expressions of the actual world order that results in a specific form of governing democracies which characterizes the neoliberal political economy. This form of government illustrates what Aiwha Ong calls: “calculated sovereignty,” by which she means, the differential management of populations, the creation of a diversity of zones, amongst them some ruled under regimes of exception.

That is to say, with the neoliberal form of governing, the State can be solid and protect
some regions or areas (for instance: the sweatshop industry was not affected by the violence reigning in Juárez), while it is nearly absent in others. At times, State protection has been substituted by private defense organizations, such as communal polices or paramilitaries. In any case, the mechanism of calculated sovereignty has the purpose of allowing some areas to be flexible with regards to markets – or else run the risk of losing their structural relevance in the neoliberal economy – and to eliminate all obstacles to the (legal and illegal) flux of merchandises, resources, money and people.

Taking into account the form of governing under the logic of “calculated sovereignty,” we must also consider what Achille Mbembe calls necropolitics, the fusion between politics and war. This amalgam does not work in function of the first to limit the second, but results in the predatory practices of neoliberal globalization, which are inseparable from the neoliberal privatization of the public sphere. Membe defines sovereignty as a self-instituting and self-limitation process that implies that societies rule themselves by their own norms, deliberatively and within a space of communication.

According to Mbembe, what was repudiated after September 11 (which marks the beginning of the New World Order) is the principle of self-limitation, that is to say, the taboo against murder was eliminated based on the way in which existential threats are defined and how enemies are handled. In this regard, the nihilism inherent to the dynamics of violence renders inadequate the notions of “rule of law” and “sovereignty” to explain the situation. That is to say, at the global level we are facing an uncertain enemy that threatens our existence, our wellbeing and our physical and economic safety, and thus, her elimination is justified beforehand.

Furthermore, necropolitics implies the instrumentalization of human existence and the destruction of bodies and populations considered expendable from the point of view of the political economy justified as “security” measures. If the Mexican State governs differentially its populations according to the political economy’s needs, then the “War
against Drugs” is a necropolitical manifestation and the result of a differentiated government of areas and populations. Characterized by the collapse of legality and illegality and under the shadow of the legitimacy of the struggle against crime, militarization of the country has been accompanied by a series of juridical reforms to harden the State’s repressive function, reducing violent phenomena and dissent to criminal cases.

Debatably, the purpose of this war is to destabilize the country through paramilitarism and State violence to reconfigure Mexican territory on the basis of the interests of the oligarchy and national and transnational corporations. Following Pilar Calveiro, the war against crime is not a war in which enemies fight against each other to death, but a form of State violence against the excluded and dissident. As everyone knows, government institutions, including the army and businessmen at the global level (through banks and corporations who launder money), even the CIA and the DEA are part of the network of organized crime.This network disseminates massive forms of violence in order to control markets, dispossess citizens, disarticulate resistance, scare off or eliminate social fighters, and to negatively impact the lives of an ample sector of society. Following Calveiro, this fake war allows an extraordinary accumulation of resources while it justifies a new penitentiary punitivity. Posited as a series of juridical reforms to combat corruption and to reinforce institutions, the penitentiary system (of which sectors are being privatized) condemns more and more people from the “margins” of society for longer periods and in worst conditions.In this war, collective identity is being destroyed and substituted by fear, uncertainty and vulnerability. As Subcomandante Marcos asks, “What kind of social relationships could be maintained or woven if the dominant image with which a social group could identify itself, if the sense of community is being destroyed by the shout ‘every man for himself’?” Terror felt daily is a form of governing through suffering which also paralyzes and fragments communities.

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