Workers Vanguard No. 953
26 February 2010
U.S. Beefs Up Racist Border Controls
Mexico: Down With Drug Wars Militarization!
For Workers Revolution on Both Sides of the Border!
The massacre last month of 16 people, mostly teenagers, in Ciudad Juárez, Mexico, was just the latest bloody evidence of the “drug wars” that have claimed nearly 20,000 lives in that country since 2001. Last year, some 2,700 people were killed in Juárez alone, making this one of the most violent cities on the planet. Shootouts happen frequently in Mexican cities, many carried out in broad daylight, as drug cartels and their police adjuncts battle over control of the booming trade, which mainly supplies the U.S. market. The cartels often torture and decapitate rivals in the trade, placing their heads next to posters with threatening messages. Videos of such sadistic handiwork are regularly posted on YouTube. One man, nicknamed “El Pozolero” (the Stewmaker), admitted he had dissolved some 300 bodies in acid over ten years to dispose of them for the Tijuana Cartel.
The gruesome reality of narcoviolencia has provided President Felipe Calderón of the right-wing National Action Party (PAN) a pretext to systematically reinforce the repressive apparatus of the bourgeois state. Calderón has deployed some 45,000 army troops throughout the country, along with thousands of federal police. In many cities, including northern industrial centers like Tijuana, Nogales, Ciudad Juárez, Reynosa and Nuevo Laredo, the army assumed police powers.
If anything, the deployment of the military has led to an increase in the bloodletting along with intensified repression of the working class and the urban and rural poor. At stake in the drug wars is control of what is up to a $25 billion a year business (about the same as remittances from the U.S.) that plays a central role in the capitalist economy, directly involving an estimated 150,000 people and linked to some 78 percent of legal business activities, according to Proceso magazine (15 March 2009). Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán Loera, leader of the Sinaloa Cartel, has even made the Forbes magazine list of billionaires. And from the government ministries on down to the cops, Mexico’s capitalist state apparatus is thoroughly interpenetrated with the drug cartels.
From the beginning of his regime, Calderón has moved to bolster the bourgeois state, including through increasing reliance on the military. As he took office in 2006, Calderón was faced with social upheaval as millions protested his fraudulent electoral victory against Andrés Manuel López Obrador of the bourgeois-populist Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD). Miners as well as teachers and indigenous communities in Oaxaca and peasants in the State of Mexico protested government repression and attacks on their livelihoods. One of the Calderón government’s first measures was to hike military pay by 45 percent in February 2007 in order to assure the army’s allegiance. Backed by massive U.S. military aid, the regime has relied on the increasing militarization of the country to push through attacks on trade unions and yet more austerity measures.
While social unrest has subsided over the last couple of years, Mexico remains a deeply unstable society, with the working class and the poor further ravaged by the world economic recession. In describing the militarization that has been reinforced under the “war on drugs,” our comrades of the Grupo Espartaquista de México noted in Espartaco No. 31 (Spring 2009) that “the massive mobilization of the bourgeois state—a machine of repression that serves the purpose of protecting private property and the regime of the capitalists—has nothing to do with ‘protecting’ the population; it is a deployment of force to warn the impoverished masses in the face of the brutal economic crisis.” This was clearly seen on 10 October 2009 when thousands of federal police and soldiers occupied Mexico City’s main electricity plant in order to smash the union, which was an obstacle to the attempt to privatize the electrical industry (see the GEM leaflet reprinted in “Defend SME Electrical Workers Union!” WV No. 945, 23 October 2009).
The labor movement on both sides of the border must oppose the “war on drugs,” “war on terror” and other campaigns that aim to bolster the capitalist state’s repressive powers. In Mexico, even though it is the raids against the big-name traffickers in their mansions that grab the headlines, the drug wars have meant the sowing of murderous terror in poor neighborhoods throughout the country, like Tepito in downtown Mexico City, a favorite target for police raids. In the United States, the “war on drugs” has for decades served the racist capitalist rulers in carrying out the mass incarceration of black people and, increasingly, Latinos and immigrants.
The Spartacist League/U.S. and the GEM, sections of the International Communist League, call for the decriminalization of drugs. We oppose all laws against “crimes without victims”—from drug use to prostitution, gambling and pornography—which at bottom serve to maintain social order on behalf of the capitalist ruling class. By removing the superprofits that come with the illegal, underground nature of the drug trade, decriminalization would also reduce the crime and other social pathology associated with it.
As Marxists, we also oppose measures by the bourgeois state that restrict or prevent the population from bearing arms. In the U.S., the Democratic Party in particular has for years sought to restrict this right, which is supposed to be guaranteed by the Second Amendment to the Constitution. Hysteria about Mexican drug violence is now being wielded to go after gun dealerships in Arizona and Texas that purportedly arm the cartels, despite the fact that these mom-and-pop operations are hardly the places where the narcotraficantes are getting the grenade launchers, antitank rockets and other military-grade hardware they use! In Mexico, where gun control is much more stringent, the drug wars serve as a pretext to further clamp down on the population’s rights. Gun control laws are meant to ensure that the army, police and criminals—often one and the same—have a monopoly on arms. No to gun control!
“Drug Wars”: Made in U.S.A.
Under both Democratic and Republican administrations, U.S. imperialism has used the “war on drugs” as a means to increase its grip on its Latin American “backyard.” “Plan Colombia,” begun in 2000, funneled billions of dollars to the blood-drenched Colombian government, whose murderous campaign against leftist guerrillas was long wrapped in the “anti-drugs” banner. With both the Pentagon and CIA railing that the drug trade threatens to turn Mexico into a “failed state,” the U.S. has increased military aid to Mexico by a factor of seven through the $1.4 billion “Plan Mérida.” Initiated under George W. Bush, the program has been continued and supplemented under Barack Obama, who made a point of traveling to Mexico last spring, as did Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, to lecture Calderón about his handling of the crisis. Down with Plan Mérida and all U.S. military aid to Mexico!
The Obama administration has also seized upon the hysteria over drugs to further tighten the border with Mexico. The economic recession that has thrown millions of both native- and foreign-born workers out of their jobs in the U.S. has also resulted in a sharp decrease in both legal and undocumented immigration. Meanwhile, the administration has boosted the number of Border Patrol agents and is stepping up the deportation of imprisoned “illegal” aliens. Along with anti-black racism, anti-immigrant chauvinism has long been wielded by the capitalist rulers to divide the working class and weaken its struggles against exploitation. We demand: Full citizenship rights for all immigrants! No deportations!
While Washington spokesmen decry the chaos wrought by the drug wars, it is the imperialist economic domination of Mexico that laid the basis for the spiraling violence. Beginning in the 1980s, the International Monetary Fund and other imperialist agencies dictated “debt restructuring” programs to Mexico and throughout the Third World that axed agricultural subsidies as well as social welfare programs. The effect was to wreck small agricultural production, touching off a massive influx of ruined peasants to the cities, creating a fertile ground for the rise of the drug trade and other sectors of the “informal economy.”
This trend qualitatively accelerated with the imposition of the NAFTA “free trade” agreement. In the 16 years since NAFTA was signed, the Mexican countryside has been devastated, including through the removal of protection against U.S.-produced corn and beans, the mainstays of the diet of the poor and the key staples grown by poor peasants. In Ciudad Juárez and other areas along the border, many peasants sought work in “free trade” maquiladora plants, where U.S. and other manufacturers pay miserable wages. But for most of those who came into the cities, finding work was hopeless. Furthermore, the current recession has severely restricted the traditional safety valve of migration to the U.S., and remittances from Mexicans living in el Norte—a major source of foreign currency and a lifeline for millions, especially in the countryside—have plummeted.
Under these circumstances, in much of rural Mexico, and especially for indigenous communities in the most remote and arid regions, drug cultivation provides the only source of livelihood. As an article in the Nation (3 August 2009) put it, “Today, with remittances, oil prices and tourism depressed, the narco trade is probably Mexico’s largest single earner of hard currency.”
As the NAFTA “free trade” rape of Mexico was being negotiated nearly 20 years ago, the SL/U.S. issued a joint statement with the GEM and the Trotskyist League of Canada that declared: “There is a burning need for an internationalist proletarian opposition which stands with the working class and impoverished peasantry of Mexico against the imperialist assault. The Canadian, U.S. and Mexican sections of the International Communist League are dedicated to building a revolutionary vanguard that can unite the working masses of the continent in common class struggle” (WV No. 530, 5 July 1991).
This proletarian internationalist perspective stands in sharp contrast to the pro-imperialist U.S. and Canadian labor bureaucracies, whose opposition to NAFTA was based on chauvinist protectionism. It also stands in opposition to the nationalist populism pushed by the Mexican trade-union misleaders, which ties the workers to the Mexican bourgeoisie. Mexico’s small reformist left follows suit, mainly through its support to the bourgeois PRD. Key to the emancipation of the proletariat on both sides of the Río Bravo (Rio Grande) is the fight for its political independence from all bourgeois parties.
The only road to the liberation of Mexico’s impoverished urban and rural masses is that of permanent revolution—the perspective laid out by Leon Trotsky, co-leader with V.I. Lenin of the Bolshevik Party that led the October 1917 proletarian revolution in Russia. To solve the tasks of agrarian revolution and all-around social and economic modernization requires the seizure of power by Mexico’s proletariat at the head of all the exploited and oppressed. Expropriating the agricultural and industrial capitalists, a Mexican workers and peasants government would lay the basis for building a planned economy and would immediately face the need to extend socialist revolution to the U.S. imperialist colossus.
The emancipation of the working class and the oppressed in Mexico is indissolubly linked to that of workers in the U.S., where the millions of immigrants from Mexico and elsewhere are a key component of the multiracial proletariat. This underscores the crucial need to build Leninist-Trotskyist parties throughout the Americas, as part of the fight to reforge the Fourth International.
Narcoviolencia and State Terror
While brutally enforcing the imperialists’ economic dictates, Mexico’s capitalist rulers became increasingly tied into the booming drug trade. The regime of Carlos Salinas (1988-94), the second-to-last presidency of the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), was marked by corruption that was blatant even by Mexican standards and a shift from the traditional populism that marked decades of PRI rule. Along with the privatization of key sectors of the economy, Mexico was swept by drug-related corruption. During Salinas’s first year in office, his national police chief was found with $2.4 million in drug money in the trunk of his car. Beginning with the Salinas family itself, politicians moved closer to the drug lords, who were becoming more powerful as Pablo Escobar’s Medellin Cartel in Colombia was being destroyed.
The institutionalization of drug-related corruption under the PRI actually served to control the kind of violence that has swept through Mexico in recent years. But the situation changed after the right-wing clerical PAN under Vicente Fox came to power in 2000 and Washington began to put intense pressure on the Mexican government to crack down on the drug trade. In his term of office, nearly 80,000 people were arrested on drug trafficking charges, most of them low-level dealers but also 15 cartel leaders, scores of “lieutenants” and 428 sicarios (hit men). In going after the cartels, Fox began extraditing Mexican citizens to the U.S., something that had been anathema to the PRI nationalists. The campaign destroyed the equilibrium between the different cartels and also between them and the government, touching off increasingly violent clashes.
Many of those killed in the drug violence have been agents of the government—policemen, soldiers, etc.—who hired themselves out to one or another cartel. Even before the current drug wars, Mexican police commonly moonlighted as criminal enforcers or kidnappers. Now each cartel boasts its own paramilitary force with sophisticated weaponry and professionally trained leadership. Like the infamous Los Zetas, these forces are recruited from elite soldiers and police squads. (The cartels pay much more than the government.)
Mexico’s rulers have marshaled the fears and outrage among the population over the drug wars into support for increased repression, including further cracking down on democratic rights. For Calderón, the “war” against the drug trade has also provided a chance to purge the government apparatus by installing PAN cronies in place of PRI leftovers.
It is the bourgeois state that is the biggest force for violence. While the cops in Mexico—and not only in Mexico—are plenty corrupt, the brutal violence they employ stems from the role they play, along with the military, courts and prisons, as a core component of the capitalist state. This murderous apparatus of repression cannot be reformed to act in the interest of the workers and the poor. It must be smashed through socialist revolution and replaced with a new state to impose working-class rule—the dictatorship of the proletariat—to expropriate and suppress the capitalist exploiters.
Ciudad Juárez: City Under Siege
The key staging ground for Calderón’s drug war is Ciudad Juárez, an important industrial city of 1.5 million people whose scores of maquiladoras have attracted thousands of migrants from the interior of Mexico. Long infamous for the unsolved brutal murders of hundreds of young women workers (see “Capitalism and Anti-Woman Terror,” WV No. 812, 24 October 2003), Juárez is also a key locus of the drug trade due to its proximity to the U.S.—across the border from El Paso. Narco News Bulletin online (17 April 2009) described the army’s “Joint Operation Juárez” as a “situation of de facto martial law” in which the planned deployment of 8,500 soldiers and 2,300 militarized police amounted to one officer for every 130 residents, and about 92 troops per square mile. The article reported:
“Soldiers have disarmed 380 transit police and will accompany them as they carry out their duties. Thirteen current and retired military officers have taken control of Juarez’s police force: Ret. Gen. Julian David Rivera Breton, who made a name for himself in Chiapas when he was one of the military officials in charge of anti-Zapatista operations there, is the new police commissioner.”
The troops are scheduled to stay until at least December. The new police officers, replacing those purged, were trained in urban combat at an army base and will carry military-issue German-made assault rifles.
The workers and poor of Juárez are direct targets of the military deployment. As of last June, the Chihuahua State Human Rights Commission was looking into 2,500 reported torture cases involving military personnel and federal police. Longtime activist Géminis Ochoa, leader of the Che Guevara Street Vendors Union, was killed in the midst of organizing a demonstration against the army’s abuse of vendors. At least seven university professors have been murdered; all were involved in labor or social activism. Last May, Dr. Manuel Arroyo Galván, a professor of sociology at the Autonomous University of Ciudad Juárez active around the rights of maquiladora workers, was shot six times in the head in downtown Juárez.
Mexico, like other Latin American countries dependent on U.S. imperialism, has never been a stable bourgeois democracy. Its military (the third-largest in Latin America) is not primarily designed for foreign combat but to repress the population, as the 15-year-long campaign against the Zapatistas in Chiapas makes clear. However, unlike in much of Latin America, the Mexican army has done the bidding of the civilian government since the end of the Mexican Revolution. Under the PRI, the state’s bloody arm was seen in the killing or disappearance of thousands of leftists, militant workers and peasants. In the Tlatelolco massacre of 2 October 1968, government forces killed some 1,000 student protesters in Mexico City. In the broader guerra sucia (dirty war) against the left from the late 1960s through the early 1980s, at least 2,000 people were disappeared or killed. Today the Mexican ruling class faces little threat from the left, which mainly operates under the PRD’s umbrella.
The dramatically increased role the military is now playing will only expand the numbers of victims of state terror. Army officers have been put in charge of several local or state police forces. Troops man checkpoints on the streets and highways while soldiers patrol cities in trucks with automatic weapons pointed at all and sundry. Many cities under occupation are industrial centers with histories of militant workers struggles. Army abuses—including illegal searches and arrest without cause, rape, sexual abuse, torture and death—reported to the National Human Rights Commission have surged from 182 in 2006, when Calderón deployed the military, to 1,230 in 2008. When residents of Monterrey, Ciudad Juárez, Nuevo Laredo, Reynosa and Veracruz protested against the military last year, they were denounced in the bourgeois media as being tools of the cartels.
Frontera NorteSur (4 September 2009), an Internet journal published by New Mexico State University at Las Cruces, noted, “As the body count mounts, the violence increasingly resembles the ‘social cleansing’ carried out by death squads in Honduras, Brazil and other Latin American nations.” Critics of the government and social activists have been among those targeted. Journalists in the north of Mexico are regularly intimidated and threatened for exposing government corruption. In southern Mexico, supporters of the Zapatistas have been tortured under the pretext of the drug war, as have indigenous activists in Guerrero, a state long known for murderous state repression against leftists. Proceso magazine (22 March 2009) called the permanently militarized areas in that state a “counterinsurgency strategy camouflaged as federal action against the cultivation of drugs.” Elsewhere in Mexico, rumors have circulated about vigilante groups linked to the police, an ominous echo of the guerra sucia.
No Illusions in PRD Populism!
The “war on drugs” has been endorsed by politicians across the spectrum of bourgeois politics in Mexico. Harking back to when the country’s rulers offered some social programs and populist rhetoric along with brute force, leading PRDers like López Obrador blame the violence and chaos on Mexican neoliberal regimes, especially those of the PAN, for their corruption and gutting of state institutions. But when a rumor circulated that traffickers were planning to kill Calderón, the PRD closed ranks behind the Commander-in-Chief, with Senate PRD leader Carlos Navarrette declaring that “the Mexican state must make use of all its resources and strength” (El Imparcial, Hermosillo, 11 August 2009). The PRD has for a number of years carried out the “war on drugs” in Mexico City—for example, the raids in Tepito.
Echoing the reactionary anti-drug hysteria is the reformist Militante group, co-thinkers of the International Marxist Tendency of the late Ted Grant. When the government was planning to lessen penalties for possession of small portions of drugs—a supportable if minimal reform—Militante denounced Calderón from the right, claiming in a 2 May 2009 article on its Web site that “the PAN governments have tried to legalize drugs with the objective of undermining the political and organizational capacity of the Mexican youth.” This is of a piece with the Grantites’ long history of retrograde social positions internationally, including hailing anti-drug vigilantism in France, where black African and North African youth are specially targeted by the cops (see the 1994 Spartacist pamphlet, Militant Labour’s Touching Faith in the Capitalist State).
In the U.S., International Socialist Review (July/August 2009), published by the International Socialist Organization (ISO), opined that through decriminalization, “The billions of dollars wasted on the war on drugs in Mexico could go to rebuild the Mexican economy in order to provide the education and jobs that the Mexican people so desperately need. In the United States, the money could be put toward drug treatment instead of incarceration.” One might think that the ISO was smoking some peculiar stuff here. But the dream that the imperialists who ruthlessly exploit workers at home and abroad and their bagmen south of the border would open jail-cell doors and “rebuild” an economy they systematically loot is illustrative of reformism’s entire framework: the notion that the bourgeois state can be pressured to serve the interests of the exploited and the oppressed.
The ISO’s reformist plea was a faint echo of the plan offered by the PRD’s López Obrador, who appealed last March in an open letter to Hillary Clinton: “We think that it is a mistake to confront the problem of the lack of safety and of violence with an iron hand, with the military, with jails, with more severe laws and longer prison terms. The solution to the scourge of criminal behavior must come by retaking control of the state, by changing the current economic model and by guaranteeing better living and working conditions to the population.”
Bourgeois-populist parties like the PRD cannot fundamentally better the living and working conditions of the workers and peasants. When in power, their job is to administer the capitalist profit system and enforce its needs against the working people, occasionally adding some social programs to try to maintain class peace. And when faced with workers, students and others fighting for their rights and livelihoods, the PRD no less than the PRI and PAN uses organized state violence.
Offered as an alternative to neoliberalism, populist appeals serve to reinforce the chains binding the combative Mexican proletariat to the capitalist order. By preaching the common interests of “the people,” populist nationalism obscures the irreconcilable class divide between the working class and the bourgeoisie that exploits its labor for profit. As the GEM wrote in defending the SME electrical workers union:
“The proletariat has unique class interests and enormous social power based on its role in the productive process; this means it is called upon to play the leading role in championing the aspirations of all the poor and oppressed through its own emancipation and the establishment of a workers and peasants government. The working class does not lack the will to fight; but as long as it remains dominated by the politics of bourgeois nationalist populism, it will be derailed towards illusions in the democratic reform of capitalism.”
The GEM fights to break militant workers and radical youth from the PRD and all forms of bourgeois nationalism. As the North American sections of the ICL, the GEM, SL/U.S. and TLC are dedicated to the struggle to forge Trotskyist workers parties that will lead the fight for socialist revolution from the Yukon to the Yucatán.