Articles by: Todd Miller
Following the modern recipe for corporate enterprise, the directors of Mexico's increasingly powerful murder-for-hire firm, the Zetas, have begun to diversify from the company's principal activity of providing armed enforcement for the drug-trafficking Gulf Cartel. According to U.S. and Mexican officials, the group has gone into the lucrative business of stealing and selling contraband gasoline. It steals from Mexico's nationalized petroleum company PEMEX, and resells to Texas oil companies, including one run by a former Bush administration insider.
On June 20, 2009, soldiers set up a military checkpoint in Huamuxtitlan, a small town in the La Montaña region of the state of Guerrero, one of Mexico's many drug-war hot spots. They called a northbound passenger bus to a halt, searched it for drugs and weapons, and detained a passenger named Fausto Valera because he was wearing military-style boots. Perhaps suspecting that he was an insurgent, the soldiers demanded to know where he got the boots. When his answers failed to satisfy them, they placed him under arrest. The incredulous bus driver asked the soldiers to note in his log book that Valera was in their custody. After some complaining, they reluctantly did so.
On the night of October 10, a joint force of military and police personnel, looking like a SWAT team on the verge of a major drug bust, surrounded hundreds of buildings in and around Mexico City. Equipped with shields, helmets, and billy clubs ready to strike, they waited for a coordinated signal, and then hopped the walls and seized the buildings. The buildings in question belonged not to one of Mexico's big-time crime syndicates, but to Luz y Fuerza del Centro (Central Light and Power), the public power company that for decades has provided electricity to millions of people in the most populated part of the center of the country, including over 25 million people in the Mexico City area. Later that night, around midnight, President Felipe Calderón issued a presidential decree liquidating the company, thereby eliminating its feisty, independent union.
The crisis could finally push Mexico over the brink, into disaster. According to the country's weekly news magazine Proceso, "unemployment, increasingly costly public services, family debt, and desperation because of hunger" as a result of this crisis, "are causing increasingly violent reactions. The fed-up clamor in a wide array of the population, that is now becoming more evident, could soon become what, although some see it as far-fetched, many think is entirely possible: A social explosion."
Since U.S. journalist Brad Will was shot in the streets of Oaxaca during the 2006 uprising, the Mexican government has been dragging its feet on prosecuting his killers. But now that billions of U.S. drug war dollars hang in the balance, the government has tried to pin the murder charges on Juan Manuel Martínez. Evidence strongly shows Martínez's innocence, suggesting the Mexican government is trying to whitewash its human rights record.
The July 5 mid-term election in Mexico will continue narcotraffickers' creeping reach into all sectors of the country's political life. The army and police are already drenched in narco-scandals, while reports show that political campaigns and government offices have also been infiltrated or co-opted by traffickers. But Mexico is not a failed state, such extensive corruption and illicit wealth creation actually depends on the state.
Recent events perhaps demonstrate what a Bush administration official meant when he said that Washington planned the "armoring" of NAFTA. As Mexican security budgets inflate with U.S. military aid, rights groups say security forces are increasingly targeting activist and community groups opposed to foreign-financed and government-backed megaprojects. In the southern state of Oaxaca, these resource conflicts seem inevitable.
As Barack Obama meets Felipe Calderón, Mexico's drug war rages on. The current militarized strategy to the drug problem is abusing innocent civilians, dramatically increasing violence, and having very little effect on the flow of drugs toward the United States. A real solution to the problem would begin by attacking the economic roots of the problem: 25 years of failed economic policies and a renegotiation of NAFTA. The Mexican people need an economic solution, but instead they're suffering the consequences of a U.S.-backed military quagmire.