Category Archives: Death
My first op-ed for Al Jazeera appeared this week. A shout-out to their editorial team, and especially to Naz, for a seamless experience.
On October 11, the U.S. Department of Justice charged two men with conspiring with “factions of the Iranian government” to carry out a plot to assassinate Saudi Arabia’s ambassador to the U.S., Adel Al-Jubeir, and to bomb both the Saudi and Israeli embassies, all in Washington D.C. Attorney General Eric Holder praised law enforcement and intelligence agencies who worked together to disrupt a plot “conceived, sponsored and directed from Iran.”
According to early reports by Al Arabiya and other news agencies,
The case, called Operation Red Coalition, began in May when an Iranian-American from Corpus Christi, Texas, approached a U.S. informant seeking the help of a Mexican drug cartel to assassinate the Saudi ambassador, according to counter-terrorism officials. The Iranian-American thought he was dealing with a member of the feared Zetas Mexican drug organization, according to agents quoted by ABC News….
An aide to Iran’s President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad denied the U.S. allegations that the Islamic republic was involved in a plot to kill the Saudi envoy. “This is a prefabricated scenario to turn public attention away from domestic problems within the United States”… the president’s press advisor told AFP.
For a Spanish-language account of events, see Animal Político.
In the immediate aftermath of the press conference at which U.S. authorities first publicized the plot, blogsofwar.com began live-streaming tweets that responded to the provocative reports. In an apparent effort to promote coherence, the site divides the broad array of incoming tweets into three columns, headed “Iranian Plot,” “Mexican Drug Cartels” and “Saudi Arabia.” It is still livestreaming at the time of this post’s writing.
A Twitter search filtered through the hashtags #Mexico #Iran likewise turns up a spectrum of responses. While early tweets for the most part conveyed the details of the alleged plot, sometimes with links to news reports, it was not long before editorializing took over. @Sarmastian, based in Tottenham, was provoked to tweet twice in rapid succession:
Writing from Mexico, Carlos (@alquicarlos) used quotation marks, hashtags and a direct mention to Mexican President Felipe Calderón to inflect his intervention:
From the other side of the Rio Grande, @Lima570 from San Antonio wrote,
I hope no one is surprised that terrorist [sic] are working with Mexican drug cartel
@cspanwj If the mexican drug cartels are now terrorist organizations, did Holder give arms to terrorists?
In a similar vein, @TehGoldenRule posed a question that was not simply rhetorical.
@Ryan_Konky If that was an act of war what is letting 1,000s of assault weapons make their way to Mexican drug cartels?
From an unspecified location in the Twitterverse, @brownwc voiced a skepticism shared by many netizens around the globe.
Iranians hire Mexican drug cartel hit squad to assassinate Saudi ambassador. U.S. foils the plan. Can’t wait for the movie. #isthisreallife?
…who thought he had found an efficacious remedy for all human ills, an infallible recipe capable of bringing solace to himself and all mankind in case of any calamity whatever, public or private.
Actually it was more than a remedy or a recipe that Doctor Fileno had discovered; it was a method consisting in reading history books from morning till night and practicing looking at the present as though it were an event already buried in the archives of the past. By this method he had cured himself of all suffering and of all worry, and without having to die had found a stern, serene peace, imbued with that particular sadness which cemeteries would still preserve even if all men on earth were dead.
— Luigi Pirandello, “La tragedia d’un personaggio” [“A Character’s Tragedy”] in Eleven Short Stories, trans. Stanley Appelbaum (New York: Dover, 1994), 149.
Here is my latest post on Mexico for Global Voices. You can find the version with images at http://globalvoicesonline.org/author/deborah-esch/
There is arguably no single, obvious point of departure for a chronicle of the alarming and escalating violence against undocumented migrants in Mexico. But a survey of citizen media provides fragments that, taken together, constitute a grim series of intersecting narratives.
On August 1, the blog espacioperdido [es] published a post that began with a partial historiography of train travel in Mexico.
En 1999 cerro definitivamente la estacion de ferrocarriles de Buenavista. Tiempo atras se venian cerrando otras estaciones en distintas partes de la Republica. Con ello se cancelo definitivamente un logro de principos del siglo XX en Mexico: el transporte ferroviario de pasajeros. Actualmente solo quedan algunas rutas de carga…. Cargan mercancias, en forma de bienes y, desgraciadamente, de personas. Desde la frontera sur, en Ciudad Hidalgo, colindante con Guatemala, hasta las principales ciudades de la frontera norte, circula una de las mayores verguenzas nacionales. La bestia o El tren de la muerte devore a miles de centro y sudamericanos. Viajan sobre los vagones, entre ellos y expuestos a todo, incluida la peor amenaza: el hombre.
Writing for the grassroots journalism site barriozona [es], blogger Eduardo Barraza sheds further light on the aging freight trains that traverse this perilous route, and the passengers who may or may not arrive at their destinations.
In the United States many people refer to them derogatively as “illegals.” In the heart of Central America, these human beings represent some of the most disposed, desperate yet tenacious men and women leaving their impoverished countries in hopes to make it to the United States.
Unable to afford another form of transportation but also seeking to avoid Mexican immigration check points, thousands of Central American nationals from countries like El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras or Nicaragua, dangerously and boldly hop on top of moving freight trains going from southern Mexico to many northern destinations along the U.S.-Mexican border.
Strikingly, both bloggers are writing with reference not only to the recent history of the region, but also to a specific cultural artifact shaped by those material events: a documentary film that takes its title from the sinister nickname given to the freight trains by the migrants who wager life and limb to board them.
Pedro Ultreras’ La Bestia, first released in 2010, chronicles the filmmaker’s journey atop the freight cars with the migrants, capturing for the cultural archive one perilous journey among countless others made every day by destitute and desperate migrants seeking paid work and a better life for themselves and their families. It affords visual testimony of events that continue to go unreported, or underreported, in mainstream media.
The director has posted trailers for the film on Youtube, both in Spanish, one with English subtitles.
The documentary has been screened this summer in cities and towns along the route of the ‘Paso a Paso hacia la Paz’ (‘Step by Step Towards Peace) caravan, involving hundreds of undocumented migrants and family members as well as human rights activists marching against the ongoing violations of migrants’ human rights, and demanding justice and legal protection for this vulnerable population.
Response to the film, as reflected on Twitter, has been positive and supportive. Georgina Cobos (@Ginacobos) signaled the upcoming screening of the film in the Mexican Senate:
Gran tarde con Pedro Ultreras que manana muestra #LaBestia al senado
A communications student at UNAM, Jessca Ramirez (@Jey_21), urged her followers to see the film.
Todos deberiamos verlo, estara hasta el miercoles en la Cineteca. El director lo realizo con SU dinero y deberiamos apoyar #LaBestia
Barbara Cabello (@Barbara_106) ventured her views both on the film and on the reality it documents.
#labestia en @cineteca nacional que buen documental, que triste que esto este en las entranas de Mexico y no se haga nada
In “Migrants as Targets of Security Policies,” blogger and anthropology professor Christine Kovic refers to a group of migrants who were kidnapped on June 23 while attempting to reach the United States on a freight train.
What officials cannot deny is the extreme suffering and vulnerability of Central American migrants crossing Mexico. Without money to pay polleros (human smugglers) and to avoid checkpoints, thousands of migrants ride on the tops and sides of railcars where they are exposed to rain, extreme temperatures, dehydration, and electrocution. Many have lost limbs or their lives as a result of falling from the trains.
Traveling underground, migrants are vulnerable to assault, robbery, extortion, rape, and death.
Even with such powerful evidence of the plight of those willing to risk their lives along the dangerous “migrant trail,” a wider angle is perhaps required to situate the terrors of “La bestia” in a meaningful geo-political context. In the same post, Kovic makes the case that enforcement operations intended to block the passage of migrants over the U.S.-Mexico border – no matter the toll in human suffering – have lately reached Mexico’s southern frontier.
Deterrence policies have reached southern Mexico where migration officials have increased enforcement strategies, especially along the Isthmus de Tehuantepec, Mexico’s narrowest point. This is a security strategy encouraged by the United States to limit Central American migration. Most recently, the U.S.-backed Plan Mexico, also known as the Merida Initiative, provided significant funding to Mexico with the stated intention of “security aid to design and carry out counter-narcotics, counter-terrorism, and border security measures.” As former Assistant Secretary of State Thomas Shannon observed in 2008, “To a certain extent, we’re armoring NAFTA.” What he does not say is that in doing so, poor and working class migrants, among other groups, are left unprotected by the “armor” and even become targets of security measures.
As recently as June of this year, Mexican Attorney General Marisela Morales identified the protection of Mexico’s southern border as a national security issue, declaring that the “illegal flow of people and merchandise that exists and the delinquency it generates demand a strengthened institutional coordination to improve vigilance, security, and respect for human rights.” Kovic connects the dots:
If undocumented migrants passing through the region are part of the “illegal flow of people,” then rather than being the subjects of respect of human rights, they are viewed as generating delinquency. This framework partly explains the actions and inactions of the Mexican, U.S., and Central American governments that lead to the human rights abuses of migrants. These governments, along with transnational corporations, create the economic conditions that cause migration. Enforcement policies, including checkpoints on highways and along the U.S.-Mexico border, push people to travel in extremely dangerous conditions and create a market for human smuggling. Finally, impunity perpetuates abuses as those responsible are not prosecuted.
As news of U.S. Special Forces’ targeted killing of Osama Bin Laden was broadcast around the world, netizens in Mexico tweeted and blogged their responses to this signal event in the “war on terror.” Tellingly, in the vast majority of cases their language invoked the “war on drugs” that has been imposed on them by their own government since 2006. With the tactical deployment of analysis, analogies, irony and hashtags, Mexicans put their own indelible stamp on an event with global ramifications.
On Twitter, users based in Mexico telegraphed the relevance of Bin Laden and the U.S.-led “war on terror” to their own troubled circumstances. Abraham SC (@abraham_360), for example, drew a crisp analogy with Joaquín Guzmán Loera, head of the Sinaloa drug cartel.
#OsamaBinLaden es para USA lo que para #Mexico lo es el #ChapoGuzman
Speculating on the temporal horizons involved, Victor Girón (@victor_giron) posed an open question.
Si #EUA se tardo 10 anos en capturar a #OsamabinLaden, Cuanto tiempo tardara #Mexico en capturar a los mas buscados traficantes de #mx
Es oficial, #osamabinladen esta muerto! Ojala y en #Mexico tuvieramos un objetivo tan claro.
Que coincidencia que matan a #OsamaBinLaden cuando #Obama inicia su campana de reeleccion y en #Mexico a quien matarian!!!????
A tweet by Alex Alan (@alan_weasley), saturated in black humor, made tacit reference to the mass graves recently unearthed in Tamaulipas state.
A #OsamaBinLaden lo encontraron descuartizado en una fosa en San Fernando, eso de la mansion en Pakistan es puro pedo! 😉 #mexico #tampico
The government here, at the behest of the United States, targeted – and killed – any number of supposedly indispensable men in generic evil-doing business. While there’s a tendency to give these groups inappropriate names like “cartels,” or ridiculously inflated bureaucratic terms like “Transnational Criminal Organizations,” the Mexican fight has been against a known – and not all that complicated – an enemy: gangsters.
Every time some “drug king-pin” has been blown away we’re told it’s an incredible victory for the government and the “war on drugs”… and the result is more violence, more mayhem.[…]
The U.S. has supposedly been waging not a war on Al Qaida, but a “war on terror” – the abstract noun that may have on[c]e referred specifically to Bin Laden’s organization, and by extension similar armed ideological movements, but has proven elastic enough to cover nearly any organized violent resistance to the status quo.[…]
What frankly scares quite a number of people here is not that the criminals might “win,” but that the state will lose legitimacy. Or, that in its infinite expansion of the “war on terror,” the United States will drop the pretense of “cooperation” and simply intervene directly in this country. Which, of course, would lead to resistance, which would be labeled “terrorism,” which would require more intervention….
A day after news of Bin Laden’s death was broadcast, Blog El 5antuario [es] published the post “En Mexico se le presta mas atencion al asesinato de osama bin laden que a cualquier asesinato en mexico” (”In Mexico more attention is paid to the murder of Osama Bin Laden than to any murder in Mexico”). Writing anonymously, the blogger began with an anecdote, and wound up with an argument for the singularity of the Mexican instance.
Hoy paso la peor estupidez en la television mexicana, en Televisa transmitian el programa pequenos gigantes todo iba bien era una transmision normal cuando interrumpen transmisiones (me imagino que todas las televisoras paso lo mismo) para decir “Osama Bin Ladin ha muerto.” OK ustedes diran, “bueno pues es Bin Laden.” pero sinceramente, cuantas personas mueren a diario en Mexico? sinceramente yo quisiera que cada vez que asesinan a un mexicano, ya sea sicario, narco, violador, soldado, policia federal, policia municipal, o simplemente una persona que simplemente iba pasando por la calle y le toco fuego cruzado (ya ven como pasan las cosas aqui en Mexico) quisiera que cada vez que muere un mexicano interrumpieran la programacion de Televisa, TV azteca y dijeran “hoy asesinaron a 10 mexicanos” y dedicaran por lo menos 1 minuto de atencion en los noticieros, pero lamentablemente todos sabemos que eso nunca va a pasar, gracias a iniciativa [Merida] es mas importante la muerte de una persona que la muerte de 10, 20, 30 o hasta 100 Mexicanos, lamentablemente esto pasa solo en Mexico. Por eso es mas recomendable buscar la verdadera informacion en Internet.
This post is part of our special coverage The Death of Osama Bin Laden.
In my most recent post for Global Voices, reproduced below, I look at an example of the ways in which Mexicans are taking to citizen media to redeploy the language used by governments, the military and the mainstream media for their own critical purposes. On Twitter, Mexican tweeps are savvy in their exploitation of the user-generated convention of the hashtag: in this example, #estadofallido, which signals a range of responses to the idea, or topos, of Mexico as an actual or potential “failed state.”
A feature article by political historian David Rieff , published in the online edition of The New Republic on March 17, 2011, provides a rich yet succinct context for the genesis of the idea or topos of Mexico as an actual and certainly a potential “failed state.” Its epic title, “The Struggle for Mexico,” is followed by an interrogative subtitle that raises a question that has been pending since late 2008: “Its present is grim, its future uncertain – but is it a failed state?”
From a diplomatic point of view, the U.S. military’s Joint Forces Command did the incoming Obama administration no favors with the stark warning it issued in November 2008. In its annual evaluation of the threats America’s armed forces were likely to face in the future, it declared that, “[i]n terms of worst-case scenarios for the Joint Force and indeed the world, two large and important states bear consideration for a rapid and sudden collapse: Pakistan and Mexico.”
Not surprisingly, this didn’t sit well with the Mexican government of Felipe Calderón. And so, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, whose references to U.S.-Mexico relations during her Senate confirmation hearings had been so perfunctory as to be nonexistent in political terms, was obliged to make a trip to Mexico City in March 2009 to smooth relations between the two governments. This was followed the next month with a visit to Mexico City by President Obama himself. Jorge Castañeda, Mexico’s former foreign minister, quipped at the time that Calderón “wants to hear [Obama] say that Mexico was never a failed state, is not a failed state today, and even in their deepest, darkest fears will never, ever be a failed state.”
Flash-forward two years. “Buggs,” a founder of the popular blog Borderland Beat, which reports on drug violence from both sides of the border, picks up the thread and posts an article from the EFE news agency dated March 27, 2011.
President Felipe Calderon said in an interview published Sunday by the Spanish daily El Pais that Mexico was not a failed state and blamed the United States for the illegal flow of arms into his country. Calderon said he regretted the fact that the matter of referring to Mexico as a failed state appeared in a U.S. government report.
In Mexico, the meme has been adopted as the title of the blog Estado Fallido [es] (Failed State), whose mission statement reads:
Este blog nace por la necessidad de ofrecer una cronica periodistica de la ingobernabilidad, la desbordada crisis de seguridad nacional y la Guerra que vive Mexico.
Intelectuales, academicos y columnistas aun debaten si Mexico es o no es Estado Fallido. Lo cierto es que algunas regiones del pais han caido en la ingobernabilidad absoluta.
This blog was born from the need to offer a journalistic chronicle of the lawlessness, the spiraling national security crisis and the War that Mexico is experiencing.
Intellectuals, academics and columnists are still debating whether Mexico is or is not a Failed State. What is certain is that some regions of the country have fallen into absolute lawlessness.
On Revoluciones Mexico – RMX, blogger Gregorio Ortega Molina posted on April 4, 2011, under the title “Mexico va que vuela para Estado fallido” (”Mexico is well on its way to become a failed state”).
La decomposicion social, la anomia de los gobiernos, la debilidad de las instituciones, el desorden y la impossibilidad de dar seguridad juridica y publica porque la violencia y la desconfianza desborden a las autoridades, son sintomas que permiten establecer un diagnostico: el modelo politico y economico de Mexico dio de si, y intentar la restauracion equivale a llamar a gritos la implosion de las fallas sistemicas y estructurales que afectan al Estado mexicano, para convertirlo en uno fallido.
Some commentators make the case that Mexico is emphatically not an #estadofallido (#failedstate). A post on the blog Burro Hall takes a pragmatic view:
While we continuously hear people refer to Mexico as a failed – or failing – state, no one here went to bed last night wondering if the government would still be functioning in the morning. (On the other hand, if that ever happened, 99% of the government workforce could easily be deemed nonessential.)
And writing under the title “En corto…sin cortes” [es] (”In short…without cuts”), columnist Jose Ortiz Medina provides a global framework for his argument against the “failed state” premise.
Veo lo que esta ocurriendo en Egipto, veo lo que esta ocurriendo en todo el Norte de Africa, veo lo que esta ocurriendo en Asia, veo lo que esta ocurriendo en Africa, veo lo que esta ocurriendo hace mucho tiempo en Somalia, veo lo que esta ocurriendo en algunos de nuestros paises en America Latina. En este pais todos los dias van a la escuela 36 millones de alumnus, puntualmente. El pais functiona. Tenemos poderes muy fuertes separados, independientes: el Ejecutivo, el Legislativo, el Judicial. Es un pais que tiene elecciones regulares. Se gana y se pierde; se debate muy fuerte, no se persigue la prensa. Hay absoluta libertad de publicar, de presenter todos los temas en un ambiente de libertad sin precedents en Mexico. […] La verdad es que Mexico esta realmente muy, muy lejos de ello.
On Twitter, the ubiquitous hashtag #estadofallido (#failedstate) conjoins a range of analysis and opinion. Materia FECAL (@kklderon) tweeted a link to a Facebook page bearing a powerful photo of starkly anti-Calderon graffiti.
Carlos Campos (@CarolvsCampi) used the hashtag to point to a relevant report in La Jornada [es] which quotes former Brazilian President Luiz Ignacio Lula da Silva saying that violence in Mexico stems in part from a history of not paying attention to the poor.
Writing from the city Reynosa in the state of Tamaulipas in the aftermath of the latest discovery of mass graves in the region, Pablo Navarro (@DELREYII) took to Twitter to address his country’s president directly, signaling one among countless impacts of criminal violence on daily life in Mexico:
“Autobuses de pasajeros prefieron no cruzar por Tamaulipas y cancelan sus rutas” // @FelipeCalderon Sr. Presidente ke sigue #estadofallido