Last Thursday, August 25, at about three in the afternoon, five or six armed men walked into the Casino Royale, a gambling house in Monterrey, Mexico, ordered patrons and employees to leave, and then quickly set fire to the place. At least 52 people died in the blaze, most of them, according to Nuevo León state authorities, middle age women.
The following day, President Felipe Calderón expressed his condolences to the families of the victims, and his outrage at the attack. He argued for quick congressional passage of proposed reforms to Mexico’s National Security Law that would broaden the power of the military to intervene in such cases. One way or another, he declared, this act of “terrorism” would not go unpunished.
Just what this terrorism was supposed to accomplish, or toward what political end it was meant to lead, is not clear. In fact, at first glance, the crime does not appear to have much to do with conventional terrorism, but rather with a fight for economic profits and market share.
“Terrorism” is conventionally understood to be the systematic use of violence and intimidation, principally against civilians, for political ends. Did the Casino Royale massacre fit that definition? Was it an act taken from the playbook of Al Qaeda or, perhaps, from Al Capone? The actions of the Calderón government have strongly implied that it doesn’t really matter—that criminals and terrorists can be fought in much the same way.
State authorities, much closer to the ground, are treating the attack as an act of mafia-like extortion. It seems that the criminal group called Los Zetas was extorting the owners of the Casino Royale to the tune of $10,000 dollars a week and that the owners, perhaps feeling protected by (and simultaneously extorted by) some rival criminals—or by some rival state authorities, apparently unaware that their historical impunity was being supplanted by Los Zetas—were refusing to pay. If this is the case, we are looking at the blowback of an old-time mafia protection racket, and not what is commonly understood to be terrorism.
But perhaps it doesn’t matter. Perhaps “terrorism” is just a word that allows the argument for the militarization of the state to grow more credible. Indeed, Calderón seized the moment at his Friday press conference, stressing the need for Congress to authorize new and extended powers to the armed forces.
Porfirio Muñoz Ledo, a leftist congressional deputy, remarked that the president’s words could have very serious consequences. “Calderón should be very careful with what he says. To say in the name of the Mexican state that [the attack on the casino] was terrorism, he is announcing that the door to militarizing the country is open,” said Muñoz Ledo
Some key players have already walked through the open door.
The Pentagon announced over the weekend that several high-ranking anti-terrorist experts would be transferred from Iraq and Afghanistan to the U.S. Northern Command, based in Colorado, to work with the Mexican government to counter the “terrorist threat” posed by organized crime to both countries.
See Also: Mexico, Bewildered and Contested blog, by Fred Rosen.
Nowhere to Turn: Sex Trafficking in Nuevo León, Mexico," by Sanjuana Martínez, Aug 25 2011.
NACLA Report on the Americas, May/June 2011 Issue, "Mexico's Drug Crisis: Alternative Perspectives."
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