Mexico, Bewildered and Contested

This blog covers Mexican politics, U.S.-Mexico relations, and Mexico’s place in the (licit and illicit) global economy. On the one hand, the blog is drawn to stories about guns, money, and the Mexican state (or at least two of the three). On the other hand, it is drawn to stories of civic resistance, everyday survival, and the possibilities of political transformation. Its major concerns are with the ubiquity of violence, the complexity of survival, and the opacity of rule in this perplexed and suffering country.

Carlos Slim’s Empire Broken Up But Oligarchs Still Control Mexico
Jul 14, 2014
Watered down telecoms reforms represent a victory for big business in Mexico.
Good Enough to Work: Low Pay and No Rights
Apr 22, 2014
Mexicans make up the highest number of underpaid workers in the world’s most powerful economy. Much of the story of Mexican migrants in the United States can be seen as a criminalization of poverty.
Big Banks Back Mobsters and Murder in Mexico (Audio)
Apr 10, 2014
Violence in Mexico is the result of a climate of impunity in which violent crime goes largely unpunished.
Self-Defense Groups, Sovereignty, and Cross-Border Collaboration with Mexico (Interview with John Ackerman)
Mar 10, 2014
There’s nothing new about drones flying over Mexican airspace without congressional approval. But Peña Nieto is challenging the most traditional—and also progressive—practices of sovereignty and national development in Mexico.
Autodefensas Gain Legitimacy Where the Mexican State Has None
Feb 20, 2014
That groups of armed peasants are more successful in controlling organized crime than the state should be a terrible embarrassment and public relations disaster for the government of Enrique Peña Nieto.
Jim O’Neill’s MINT Theory Advances a "Perfect Storm"—for Whom?
Feb 2, 2014
Credited with developing BRICs theory, Jim O'Neill is now onto a trendier acronym. According to his MINTs theory, Mexico’s competitive manufacturing edge and cheap and “flexible” labor will place the country among the ten most powerful economies.
NACLA Blogger Peter Watt Talks with Voice of Russia: Mexican Vigilantes Take Over Cities, Oust Cartel and Confront Police
Jan 17, 2014
Over the last year, vigilante groups have become a survival method in Mexican towns. Yet now, they aren’t just fighting the cartel. This week, they clashed with police forces too. Mexican federal forces seized control of the war-torn state of Michoacan Tuesday, in an attempt to reestablish public order.
Selling Off and Selling Out: Mexico's Energy Reform
Dec 18, 2013
In a move that appears to complete Mexico’s loss of national sovereignty to international capital, the senate has finally passed a sweeping and far-reaching reform of the country’s oil industry. The restructuring is treated with widespread skepticism—polls suggest that about 65-75 percent of the population oppose the initiative.
Peña Nieto Set to be Worse Than Calderón Sexenio
Dec 12, 2013
Following Mexico’s “transition to democracy” in 2000, many of the old systems of political and judicial control which the one-party state had at its disposal were dismantled, leaving a power vacuum that was filled by both legal and illegal capital. This process did not replace the older structures and failed to bolster democratic institutions, allowing for the most ruthless and merciless capitalist institutions to rise to the top.  
Business as Usual: the Anniversary of the Return of the PRI
Dec 4, 2013
The neoliberal project in Mexico, as elsewhere, has achieved a totalizing dominance over almost every aspect of everyday subsistence, work, and even leisure time. And yet the apparent power of the current order also makes it increasingly vulnerable to popular activism, dissent, and political mobilization.
U.S. Alarmism Denies Complicity in Rising Mexican Asylum Requests
Nov 29, 2013
By 2008, one in ten Mexicans, some 11.4 million people, resided in the United States. However, the global financial crisis, combined with the increased militarization of the U.S.-Mexico border and the numerous costs and perils associated with emigrating to the United States from Mexico and Central America, have dissuaded increasing numbers from taking the risk. 
The Disappeared and Mexico's New Dirty War
Nov 21, 2013
It is becoming increasingly difficult for Mexican officials to pretend that the massive number of murders and enforced disappearances is not part of a deliberate government strategy. Political rhetoric, unsurprisingly, points to drug cartels as the sole perpetrators of violent crime in Mexico. But the mantra that the Mexican state, supported with funds and military wherewithal by the U.S. government, is waging a genuine war on organized crime is a pervasive but totally false myth.
Mexico's Blood Banks
Nov 14, 2013
The war on drugs—like its counterpart, the war on terror—promises a hazy pastiche theme park beyond the rainbow, where hard-working families and humble entrepreneurs will succeed and realize their dreams via honest resolve and determination. For the moment though, and in order to win, the tale goes, the state must first wage war on those who would do harm. But the war is a sham, for the simple reason that the groups that benefit from the conflict have no interest in seeing it end. 
In Bed with the Bully—Consensual U.S. Surveillance in Mexico
Nov 7, 2013
The revelations leaked by Edward Snowden that the NSA committed acts of espionage against top Mexican officials and the president himself have so far provoked only mild indignation from the Mexican political class. The lackluster reaction from Los Pinos to the NSA revelations is reflective of the extent to which Mexican elite politicians acquiesce in the intrusions, largely because they themselves use domestic spying to further their own sectional interests in a country in which, little more than a decade after the ‘transition to democracy,’ the majority of the population are excluded from meaningful political participation.
Wachovia, Tyson and Wal-Mart: The Transnational Face of Impunity
May 1, 2012
In Mexico, it is not only Mexican institutions that play the impunity game. While it has become commonplace to argue that the most important U.S. export is “the rule of law,” U.S. institutions have played an important role in reinforcing a transnational culture of impunity. And Mexicans have been paying attention.
Impunity Revisited: Another Confrontation in Cherán
Apr 24, 2012
Just a year ago the indigenous Purépecha community of Cherán established a self-imposed “state of siege” to protect itself from the illegal logging that was decimating the community’s forests. This past Wednesday, April 18, the communal council of Cherán reported that a group of 20 comuneros engaged in a project of reforestation were ambushed by an armed group, leaving two dead and two others seriously wounded.
Recovery in the U.S. and Mexico: A View From the Bottom
Mar 6, 2012
It is a sad truth that the structure of the Mexican economy in the early twenty-first century requires that poor citizens who seek work north of the border do so in sectors of the U.S. economy that provide sub-minimum wages, horrendous working conditions and unscrupulous employer practices. 
Interview With Javier Sicilia Part II: Reweaving Mexico’s Social Fabric
Feb 13, 2012
"In Mexico we have the case of Monterrey, a wealthy, dynamic northern city that is supposed to be an example for the rest of the country to follow..... But when we arrived in Monterrey we found a destroyed city. We found a city with no social fabric; a city built on an economic paradigm of competition, on the legal form of criminality, because competition is another form of violence."
Ex-President Zedillo Faces Charges for Overseeing State Violence in Mexico
Jan 10, 2012
This past September 19, in a federal civil court in Hartford, Connecticut, former Mexican president Ernesto Zedillo—now a resident of Connecticut and an economics professor at Yale—was charged with crimes against humanity for the 1997 killing of 45 unarmed members of the Tzotzil Maya ethnic group, in the Chiapas village of Acteal.
Calderón, Chávez, and CELAC
Dec 13, 2011
This past December 2 and 3, in Caracas, the heads of 33 Latin American and Caribbean states signed on to a project that has long been dear to Venezuelan president Hugo Chávez's heart. Conservative Mexican president Felipe Calderón opened the founding “presidential summit” of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC) with phrases Chávez has long championed.
The Mexican Drug War Goes to The Hague
Nov 28, 2011
The Mexican president in the Dock? Well, not yet, but charges of “crimes against humanity” were filed last Friday in the International Criminal Court in the Netherlands against President Felipe Calderón, the Secretaries of Mexico’s Army, Navy and Public Safety, and notorious drug trafficker Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán.
AMLO’s Moment
Nov 22, 2011
With the virtual nomination of Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO) as presidential candidate of Mexico’s multiple lefts last week, the 2012 Mexican campaign began to define itself. Two independent polling agencies confirmed what followers of Mexican politics already knew: López Obrador, the left’s 2006 presidential nominee, is one of the most popular and charismatic figures on the left and also one of the most polarizing.
The Mexican Lefts Pick a Candidate
Nov 14, 2011
As this is written, Mexico’s electoral lefts are anxiously awaiting the results of two public opinion polls that will determine the identity of their presidential candidate in next summer’s national election. The polls are meant to measure the relative strengths of the left’s two declared presidential candidates: 2006 presidential candidate Andrés Manuel López Obrador and Mexico City’s current mayor, Marcelo Ebrard.
The U.S. War in Mexico
Nov 7, 2011
A year and a half ago, the Mexican magazine Proceso reported on the presence of a U.S. Office of Bi-National Intelligence (OBI), occupying several suites of offices in a tall building on Mexico City’s upscale Paseo de la Reforma, just a few blocks from the U.S. Embassy. The OBI continues to house an alphabet soup of U.S. intelligence agencies, the DEA, DIA, CIA, FBI, ATF, and others.
The Days of the Dead
Nov 1, 2011
On these first two days of November, known as All Saints Day and the Day of the Dead, many Mexicans bring offerings to their relatives, friends, and sympathetic public figures who have died within living memory. This year, groups around the country are using the occasion to remember the thousands who died violently over the past year at the hand of combatants in the country’s many-sided war on organized crime.
Double Speak and Intervention in Mexico
Oct 25, 2011
Just a few days after President Felipe Calderón excoriated the opposition Institutional Revolutionary Party for wanting to dialogue with Mexico’s drug traffickers (a charge PRIistas vigorously deny), his position was undermined by a proposal of a prominent member of his own party and by comments made by U.S. officials.
The President, the PRI, and the Poet
Oct 18, 2011
Javier Sicilia, the poet, speaking to cabinet members of the Calderón government on behalf of the Movement for Peace with Justice and Dignity: "Your decisions [to use the military to fight drug trafficking], in addition to generating more violence and terror, are provoking the rise of paramilitary groups who, in this rarified and atrocious atmosphere, feel authorized to practice, killing more Mexicans with impunity."
Gangsters or Paramilitaries: What’s in a Name?
Oct 11, 2011
There is some disagreement in Mexico as to whether the state and civil society are engaged in a tough battle against organized crime, or whether organized crime has so permeated these institutions that it is no longer a separate entity. The emergence of a group called the Mata Zetas (Zeta Killers) that has sworn to rid Mexico of its most brutal criminal predators, the Zetas, but which has strong and acknowledged links to rival criminal groups, has brought this argument to a head.
The Train of the Flies
Oct 4, 2011
Every year some 400,000 undocumented Central Americans cross Mexico trying to make their way to a better life in the United States. Most of them successfully make the trip, but many die, disappear, or are kidnapped en route. As they pass through Mexico they frequently encounter great brutality, but they also meet with great humanity.
Paramilitary Justice
Sep 27, 2011
Last Tuesday, in broad daylight, 35 bodies were dumped around the city of Veracruz. All the bodies had a Z painted on their torsos, presumably indicating membership in Mexico’s most brutal and vicious criminal gang, the Zetas. The Jalisco Nueva Generación Cartel took responsibility for the killings, and is presenting itself as a paramilitary force, fighting alongside “the people.” What is happening is ominous, as the militarization of the drug war is spawns competing armies.
Nonviolence Grows in Mexico
Sep 20, 2011
It is not likely that the small but persistent pacifist movement—the Movement for Peace with Justice and Dignity—will bring a genuine internal peace to Mexico any time soon, but its growing visibility and its persistence in the face of threats and smug dismissals from all sides is encouraging.
Guatemala and Mexico
Sep 13, 2011
In Sunday's presidential election, Mexico’s southern neighbors gave some 60% of their votes to two candidates of the hard right who will now face each other in a November 6 runoff. It was disheartening to many Mexicans to see the "iron fist" emerge as a symbol of the Guatemala campaign’s leading candidates.
Dangerous Walks of Life
Sep 6, 2011
When the bodies of two female reporters were found dead in Mexico City last Thursday, public opinion questioned whether their murder should be investigated as a crime against free expression or a crime against women. Before any evidence was gathered, it was assumed that they were killed because they were reporters on the trail of information that somebody didn’t want uncovered. The second supposition was that they were killed simply because they were women.
Was Al Capone a Terrorist?
Aug 30, 2011
Last Thursday, 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. President Calderón called the attack an act of "terrorism," though the crime does not appear to have much to do with conventional terrorism, but rather with a fight for economic profits and market share.
Mexico’s Lefts and the Coming Elections
Aug 23, 2011
As Mexico gears up for next summer’s presidential election, the country’s electoral “lefts” are deeply divided. The mere fact that Mexico’s “lefts” are almost always referred to here in the plural, even when the discussion is limited to the electoral arena, highlights this division.
Asymmetric Warfare in Mexico?
Aug 16, 2011
I blogged last week about the Obama administration’s attempt to control drug-war damage by regulating the flow of arms southward across the U.S.-Mexican border. This week we will look at a contradiction: The President’s people seek to control the damage, but at the same time they want to up the ante. You can’t go both ways at the same time.
Stemming the Arms Flow: Will Obama Face Down the NRA?
Aug 9, 2011
This coming Sunday—or so the U.S. Justice Department has ordered—gun dealers in the four U.S. states that border on Mexico will be required to report sales of two or more high-powered rifles to the same person within any five-day period. The idea is to stem the flow of military-style weapons from the United States to Mexico, where such weapons have been implicated in some of the most atrocious excesses of the crime wars, and cannot be legally sold to private individuals. The National Rifle Association (NRA), of course, is suing to block the order.
The New Disappeared: Homage and Resistance
Aug 2, 2011
A week and a half ago, a group of activists and immigrants began a trek from various locations in Guatemala and Mexico’s southern border to Mexico City. Among them were anguished mothers and fathers carrying portraits of their missing sons and daughters. The mothers, in particular, looked, talked, and mourned like any other “mothers of the disappeared”—decades ago in Argentina and Chile; more recently in Guatemala and El Salvador—only this time their sons and daughters were not disappeared for being radical activists, but for being undocumented migrants trying to make their way northward.
Military Impunity: One Step Forward, Two Steps Back
Jul 26, 2011
One step forward: Mexico’s Supreme Court ruled on July 12 that members of the military could not be covered by military immunity (fuero) in cases involving the violation of civilian rights. The court ruled unanimously that military personnel accused of crimes against civilians must be tried by civilians, not by their fellow soldiers. The military, ruled the Court, must be held accountable to civilian authority.
Is the Mexican Economy Booming?
Jul 19, 2011
Mexico’s Secretary of the Treasury, Ernesto Cordero, recently provoked some outrage when he announced that Mexico “was no longer a poor country.” Mexico, he tweeted to the press, echoing the line of the ruling National Action Party (PAN), “is now a middle income country.”
Love and Its Purest Weapons: Resistance and Sacrifice
Jul 12, 2011
“For some,” writes Javier Sicilia, responding to critics within his own fledgling movement, “to dialogue is to capitulate.” If you haven’t humiliated your adversary, you have failed. But to change the dynamic of the violence that has beset the country over, especially, the past five years, he argues, it is necessary to change the discourse of violence. “Since March 28,” he writes, “when the Movement for Peace with Justice and Dignity began its work, there began a change in the language of war and pain.”
The PRI Strikes Back
Jul 5, 2011
To no one’s great surprise, Mexico’s once-and-future ruling party (or so it seems), the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), scored major victories in four state elections this Sunday. Mexico State has been governed by the PRI (or its direct ancestors) for over 80 years and that was not expected to change after Sunday’s election. The magnitude of the party’s victory, however, was surprising, impressive and a worrisome sign of its return to hegemony.
Conversation in the Castle: The Victims Meet the President
Jun 28, 2011
Last Thursday, President Felipe Calderón held a highly publicized encounter with several victims of the extreme violence that has accompanied his ongoing war against drug trafficking and organized crime. The victims didn’t succeed in getting Calderón to apologize for the inordinate number of deaths and disappearances that have occurred on his drug-war watch, but they did get the president to listen to tales of immense suffering.  
El Wache and the Most Vulnerable
Jun 21, 2011
Central American migrants are the most vulnerable of the vulnerable. Their resources are few and once they leave home they have no legal rights. Crossing Mexico, they are routinely held captive and extorted, not only by criminal gangs, but by unscrupulous public officials, private guards, transporters and even their own guides as they make their way northward. Sometimes, they simply disappear—not infrequently into enforced prostitution or perhaps into common graves.
On the Enemies List: Arms Dealers, the PRI, and the Pacifists
Jun 14, 2011
Last weekend, while in California, Mexico’s free-trading, conservative president, Felipe Calderón identified some of his principal political enemies: U.S. Arms Dealers, the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) and Mexican pacifists. He named no names, but the identities were clear. He was invited to Palo Alto to deliver Sunday’s commencement address at Stanford University. A portion of his speech included a sharp, campaign-style attack on Mexico’s once, but no longer dominant PRI.
A Civics Lesson
Jun 7, 2011
  There are times in which the enforcement of the law may represent a step backward for the rule of law. Jorge Hank Rhon, a powerful figure in Mexico’s once-dominant Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), was arrested before dawn last Saturday for the possession of a sizable illegal arsenal in his home. He may not be one of the world's good guys, but the circumstances and timing of his arrest are suspicious.
Social Insecurity
May 30, 2011
For many Mexicans, holding a decent, steady job has become either a distant memory or a fading hope. An increasing number are opting to simply call out their trades on the street, offer their services or sell what they can on the street and other public spaces. Or leave the country. Or accept an offer—plomo o plata (a bullet or a nice sum of money)—they can’t refuse.
Calderón in Juárez
May 24, 2011
Last week, President Felipe Calderón spent two days in Ciudad Juárez, ostensibly to commemorate the hundredth anniversary of the signing of Treaty of Ciudad Juárez, the pact that transferred power from the dictatorship of Porfirio Díaz to the provisional Revolutionary government of Francisco Madero. Harking back to the city’s glory days, Calderón called Juárez a “heroic city,” and presided over a parade of 700 soldiers and a huge amount of sophisticated military equipment (and a contingent of university students dressed as Pancho Villa’s cavalry).
Naming the Killers and the Dead
May 17, 2011
Last week’s massive National March for Peace with Justice and Security called for, among other things, the naming of the killers and the dead: the active investigation of all murders, disappearances, kidnappings, clandestine graves and person trafficking, along with the publication of the names of the victims and the “material and intellectual authors” of these crimes.
Mexico’s March for Peace, Justice and Security
May 10, 2011
Since President Felipe Calderón militarized the “war” against drugs and organized crime upon taking office in late 2006, drug trafficking cartels and their violent spinoffs have gotten bigger, bolder and more numerous. Since the beginning of Calderón’s term in office, over 35,000 Mexicans have died violently either at the hands of organized crime, in the fights among organized criminals, in the...