Category Archives: Mexico

Of typewriters and masking tape

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Mexico: U.S. Alleges Iranian Assassination Plot Involving Los Zetas

The following is my latest post for Global Voices (, published this morning.  My thanks to Silvia Vinas, editor of the Latin America “desk,” for her support.

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, 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:

@Sarmastian: #US have for years been looking for an excuse to crack down on Mexican border by linking cartels with IRGC. #Iran #Mexico #MidEast

@Sarmastian: #Iran could easily get to a #Saudi target within Saudi itself via non-Iranians. The news reported stinks inside-out. #US #MidEast #Mexico

Writing from Mexico, Carlos (@alquicarlos) used quotation marks, hashtags and a direct mention to Mexican President Felipe Calderón to inflect his intervention:

Que #NarcoUSAterror “descubrió” que los Z les maquilan armas de destrucción masiva a Iran #IRAN#MEXICO#INVASION traidor @felipecalderon

#NarcoUSAterror “discovered” that the Z [Zetas] make weapons of mass destruction for Iran #IRAN#MEXICO#INVASION traitor @felipecalderon

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

Several netizens linked the alleged plot to the ongoing scandal over U.S. Operation “Fast and Furious”@JamesinSELA, for example, tweeted to a morning radio show:

@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?


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“La bestia”: Mexico’s “train of death”

Here is my latest post on Mexico for Global Voices.  You can find the version with images at

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.

In 1991, the train station at Buenavista closed for good. Over time other stations in distinct parts of the Republic also closed. With this, a fundamental achievement of the 20th century in Mexico was definitively written off: passenger train travel. Now there are only a few freight lines…. These carry merchandise in the form of goods and, unfortunately, people. From the southern border, in Ciudad Hidalgo, adjacent to Guatemala, to the main towns and cities of the northern borderlands, one of the great national shames runs its course. The beast, or the train of death, devours thousands of Central and South Americans. They journey atop the rail cars, between them, and exposed to everything, including the worst threat: the human.

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

Great evening with Pedro Ultreras who will screen his #LaBestia tomorrow in the Senate

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

We should all see it, it will be at the Cineteca till Wednesday. The director made it with HIS money, and we have to support #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

#labestia at @cineteca nacional what a good documentary, how sad that this is happening in the heart of Mexico and nothing is being done

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.

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Mexico: Netizens put death of Osama bin Laden in context

Below is my most recent post for Global Voices.  It appears as part of their special coverage of the death of Osama bin Laden.


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

#OsamaBinLaden is for the USA what #ChapoGuzman is for #Mexico

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

If it took the USA 10 years to capture #OsamaBinLaden, how long will it take #Mexico to capture the most wanted traffickers of #mx
Pilar Munoz (@mari3_1416) struck a tone both wistful and ironic:

Es oficial, #osamabinladen esta muerto!  Ojala y en #Mexico tuvieramos un objetivo tan claro.

It’s official, #osamabinladen is dead!  I wish that we in #Mexico had such a clear objective.

 A lawyer from Campeche, Victor Valencia (@ViCoValEnCiA), [!/ViCoValEnCiA] wrote skeptically – and with some apprehension – about the timing of the U.S. strike on Abbottabad.

Que coincidencia que matan a #OsamaBinLaden cuando #Obama inicia su campana de reeleccion y en #Mexico a quien matarian!!!????

What a coincidence that they kill #OsamaBinLaden just as #Obama begins his re-election campaign and in #Mexico who are they going to kill!!!????

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

They found #OsamaBinLaden dismembered in a grave in San Fernando, the stuff about the mansion in Pakistan is pure crap!  😉  #mexico  #tampico
With more characters at their disposal, bloggers were in a position to expand on the complex sentiments briefly signaled on Twitter. Writing for The Mex Files, Richard Grabman (a U.S.-born resident of Mazatlan) posted under the title “‘We are the champions’…and now? On Osama Bin Ladin and Mexico.”

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.

Today the worst stupidity happened on Mexican television. Televisa was broadcasting the program “Small Giants”, all was well, it was a normal transmission, when they interrupted the broadcast (I imagine all the networks showed the same thing) to say “Osama Bin Laden is dead.” OK, you will say, “well, it is Bin Laden.” But honestly, how many people die every day in Mexico? Honestly, I wish that every time they murder a Mexican, whether it is a hit-man, a drug dealer, a rapist, a soldier, a federal police officer, a municipal police officer, or simply a person who just stepped into the street and got caught in the crossfire (you see how things happen here in Mexico), I wish that every time a Mexican is murdered they would interrupt the programming on Televisa, TV Azteca and say “Today 10 Mexicans were murdered” and dedicate at least 1 minute of attention to them on the news, but sadly everyone knows this will never happen, thanks to the [Merida] initiative the death of 1 person is more important than the deaths of 10, 20, 30 or even 100 Mexicans. Sadly this happens only in Mexico. So it is more advisable to look for true information on the Internet.

This post is part of our special coverage The Death of Osama Bin Laden.


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News of U.S. Clandestine Operation draws “Fast and Furious” response

What follows is my latest post for Global Voices, just published on their website , where you can find some valuable citizen reporting on current hotspots as well as underreported countries and communities around the world.

Posted 8 April 2011

Written byDeborah Esch
Recent Twitter searches under the twin hashtags #estadofallido [es] and #failedstate turned up a tweet in common that bore news of a scandal that continues to unfold. On March 26, 2011, Pedro Lara (@Lohomabe) signaled the breaking story:

Rapido y furioso se autorizo en Washington, revela ex jefe de ATF #LaJornada y #CBS #estadofallido #failedstate

Fast and furious authorized in Washington, says former head of ATF [Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives] #LaJornada and #CBS #estadofallido #failedstate

The link provided by Lara yields a report [es] in the Mexican daily La Jornada. The article followed up on a series of investigative reports by Sharyl Attkisson of the American broadcast network CBS that included an interview with Darren Gil, a former senior official in the ATF (Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives).

The CBS interview with Gil, which was promptly picked up by a host of news organizations in both countries, brought to light the secret operation, sanctioned at high levels by United States (US) officials, under which ATF officers monitored without intervening as more than 2,000 weapons were purchased at a handful of gun stores in Arizona and transported over the border into Mexico.


The practice is known as “gunwalking,” which in theory gives the ATF an opportunity to observe patterns of circulation and establish the eventual destinations of the firearms. In the event, according to the CBS reports, some of the weapons found their way to crime scenes deep within Mexican territory. One was used in the murder of a US agent.

One blogger among many to take verbal aim at the ATF’s secret operation was Horacio Garcia Fernandez, who posted [es] on ApiaVirtual, taking issue first of all with name of the mission, which he parsed like an impassioned linguist:

“RÁPIDO Y FURIOSO”  fué el nombre que eligieron para una cruenta acción de guerra contra México.[…]

¿Qué significan exactamente esas dos palabras así reunidas?

Acudimos a un buen “tumba burros”, también llamado “diccionario” y leemos que “rápido”significa “con ímpetu”, “impetuoso”.[…]

Por tanto, lo de “rápido” lleva asociada la idea de “energía”; un movimiento “rápido” es un movimiento “enérgico”.

El programa de acción que fué bautizado ( ¿? ) con ese nombre de “rápido y furioso” nos envía un mensaje de fondo: “¡Cuidado! este asunto está cargado de energía”, en lo que claramente es un intento de asustarnos.

“Fast and Furious” was the name they chose for a vicious act of war against Mexico.[…]

What exactly do these two words, so conjoined, signify?

We consulted a good […] “dictionary,” and we read that “fast” means “with impetus”, “impetuous”.[…]

Therefore, “fast” is associated with the idea of ​​”energy”; a”fast” movement is an “energetic” one.

The operational plan that was baptized (??) with the name “fast and furious” sends us a fundamental message: “Caution! This matter is full of energy,” in what is clearly an attempt to scare us.

He continues:

Viene después la palabrita” furioso”, la cual nos dice el diccionario que significa “poseído de furia”, “violento”, “terrible”.

A su vez, “furia” significa ” ira exaltada”, “violenta agitación”.[…]

Por tanto, la “furia” ES UNA VIOLENTA IRA DESATADA Y FUERA DE CONTROL, provocada por alguna causa mayor, fuera de lo común.[…]

Los E.U han puesto las armas, y nosotros, los mexicanos, hemos puesto las víctimas, los cadáveres.

Next comes the little word “furious,” which the dictionary tells us signifies “possessed by fury,” “violent,” “terrible.”

In turn, “fury” means “exalted rage,” “violent agitation.”

Therefore, the “fury” is a violent rage spinning out of control, caused by a force majeure, extraordinary.[…]

The US have their weapons, and we Mexicans have the corpses.

On EjeCentral, contributor Martha Anaya noted [es]:

Pero acercarse a la información de primera mano sobre la operación “Rápido y Furioso” no es nada fácil. Ni siquiera en Estados Unidos, pues ningún funcionario del Departamento de Justicia ni de la  ATF han comparecido ante el Comité senatorial que investiga el caso.Según un reporte de la CBS, Kenneth Melson, director general de la ATF, tenía programada una audiencia en el senado el jueves pasado, pero no asistió.

Así que, al igual que en México y Estados Unidos, la operación “Rápido y Furioso” está provocando que sus principales implicados se escondan. Pero, como la avestruces, sólo ocultan la cabeza, todo lo demás queda –o va quedando– al descubierto.

But to obtain firsthand information about operation “Fast and Furious” is not easy. Even in the United States, no officials from the Justice Department or the ATF have appeared before the Senate committee investigating the case. According to a CBS report, Kenneth Melson, general director of the ATF, was scheduled to appear at a hearing in the Senate last Thursday, but did not attend.

In Mexico and the United States, then, Operation “Fast and Furious” is prompting its major players to hide. But, like ostriches, they only conceal the head, everything else is being – or will be – exposed.

Twitter reactions

In the meantime, Twitter users were likewise galvanized by the revelations. Ross Romero (@rosseromero) ventured on March 30:

#Mexicorojo  Seguro que rapido y furioso pronto va ser el nombre de la empressa que armara a los mexicanos para defenderse de la violencia???

#Redmexico For sure, fast and furious will soon be the name of a business that will arm Mexicans to defend themselves from violence???

Mexican journalist Juan Pablo de Leo (@juanpadeleo) wondered on April 5:

Bueno, el operativo rapido y furioso ya fue, nos guste o no. Pero ahora yo quiero saber: cuales fueron los resultados? Que encontraron?
Well, operation fast and furious is over, whether we like it or not. But now I want to know: what were the results? What did they find?

North of the Rio Grande, a self-described “American. Conservative. Mom. Wife. Blogger” with 160,000+ followers, Michelle Malkin (@michellemalkin) leavened her skepticism with humour on March 30:

Code name for Obama stonewall/denials on Operation Fast and Furious — Operation False and Spurious.

Writing from Mexico City (D.F.) on the same day, Julieta Boy (@julieboy) perhaps spoke for others south of the border:

Estados Unidos tuvo un operativo llamado “rapido y furioso”, Mexico tiene el suyo: “en chinga y encabronado”

The US had an operation called “fast and furious”, Mexico has its own: “screwed and pissed off”

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Mexican netizens cite Chomsky on Mexico

A survey of blogs, YouTube accounts, Twitter and other social media emanating out of Mexico turns up many predictable names – and some that are perhaps less to be expected.

Longtime MIT professor of linguistics and political historian Noam Chomsky has for decades written widely and polemically on Latin America as well as the Middle East. With the notable exception of interventions in the debates surrounding the North America Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), however, Mexico hasn’t played a pivotal role in his corpus. Yet informed netizens looking for answers to vexed questions about contemporary Mexican public life and politics persist in seeking out Chomsky, whether for direct critique and commentary on Mexico, or analysis of other cases for possible extrapolation.

Noam Chomsky, by Flickr user jeanbaptisteparis (CC BY-SA 2.0)

In one instance, Jose Martin Preciado – preciado1000 to his YouTube viewers – posted a clip under the title “Noam Chomsky on the Militarization of the Mexican Border.” While the video was first shared in January 2010, its content remains highly pertinent.

Under the auspices of Z Magazine and its blog site, interviewer “Amauta” likewise encountered Chomsky in January 2010 and took the occasion to ask him about Mexico. The interview resonates powerfully a year later, not least through Chomsky’s observations on the media and the current state of Mexican society.

Amauta: So I wanted to start the conversation with your recent trip to Latin America. I just heard you were in Latin America and you were in Mexico this Monday and this weekend. How was it? Just a general statement.

Chomsky: I was in Mexico City. It’s a very pleasant city in many ways. It’s [a]vibrant, lively, pretty exciting society, but also depressing in other ways, and sometimes almost hopeless, you know. So it’s a combination of vibrancy and, I wouldn’t say despair, but hopelessness, you know. Doesn’t have to be, but it is. I mean, there is almost no economy.

Amauta: And you went there specifically for the anniversary of La Jornada?

Chomsky: La Jornada, which is, in my opinion, the one independent newspaper in the whole hemisphere.[…] And amazingly successful. So it is now the second largest newspaper in Mexico, and very close to the first. It is completely boycotted by advertisers, so when you read it…there are no ads. Not because they refuse them, but because business won’t advertise….   But nevertheless they survive and flourish.

A Twitter search of Chomsky’s name turns up a recent tweet from Luis (@LUT3RO) linking to the article The hopes of Noam Chomsky and two postscripts.” This was retweeted by Ivan Oliver (@popochazCape), who appends “Great article by my idol Chomsky!”

The article, dated March 1, 2011, on the website Prodavinci [es] transcribes, in Spanish, an interview with Chomsky conducted by Boris Munoz. “The hopes of Noam Chomsky and two postscripts” is a wide-ranging exchange, but at two junctures the conversation turns to contemporary Mexico.

Pocas semanas atrás estuve en México y gente ligada al periódico La Jornada me comentó que hay grandes áreas al norte dedicadas a la producción, zonas incluso vigiladas por militares. El asunto de fondo es que, al parecer, un 25% de la economía mexicana depende de los narcos. Otro tanto depende de las remesas que llegan del exterior, lo que quiere decir que la economía productiva y funcional se ha reducido. Incluso las maquiladoras multinacionales, que no se ajustan a los patrones nacionales de la economía productiva, se están yendo del país debido a la competencia de China.

A few weeks ago I was in Mexico, and people at La Jornada told me that there are large areas to the north dedicated to production [of opium], including areas controlled by the military. The bottom line is that, apparently, 25% of the Mexican economy depends on drug traffickers. The economy is likewise dependent on remittances sent from abroad, which means that the productive economy is functionally reduced. Even multinational maquiladoras, which do not meet national standards for a productive economy, are leaving the country due to competition from China.

He goes on to say,

Por otro lado, […] el declive de la calidad de vida con Calderón es terrible. No hablo solo de los niveles de nutrición, sino de la caída de los salarios. Eso también es crucial para entender el avance de la economía de las drogas. En el World Economic Forum se ha discutido otro fenómeno derivado: la paradoja de que en un país con ese tipo de violencia, la bolsa se encuentre por los cielos, alcanzando hace poco máximos históricos. En realidad, eso habla de dos Méxicos, uno rico y otro pobre. No hay nada paradójico al respecto. Es algo que viene sucediendo desde que las reformas neoliberales de los ochenta dividieron al país. El número de billonarios ha aumentado casi tan rápido como la tasa de pobreza. Así se explica el fenómeno de Carlos Slim, el hombre más rico del mundo, y se entiende que a la bolsa le esté yendo bien, porque los inversionistas estadounidenses asumen que a los sectores privatizados, a los billonarios y a los narcos les seguirá yendo bien. Mientras tanto la población colapsa.

On the other hand […] the decline in quality of life under Calderon is terrible. I am not speaking only of the levels of nutrition, but of the fall in wages. That is also crucial to understand the progress of the drug economy. At the World Economic Forum another phenomenon has been discussed: the paradox that in a country with such violence, the stock market is skyrocketing, reaching record highs recently. Actually, that speaks of two Mexicos, one rich and one poor. There is nothing paradoxical about it. It’s something that has been happening since the eighties, when neoliberal reforms split the country. The number of billionaires has risen almost as fast as the rate of poverty. This explains the phenomenon of Carlos Slim, the richest man in the world, and it is understood that he is succeeding because U.S. investors assume that a privatized sector, the billionaires and the narcos, will continue to do well. Meanwhile, the population collapses.

He adds,

Encontrar soluciones para esos problemas exige reconocer que existen y eso no lo vemos. Así que tenemos por delante un largo camino por recorrer.

Finding solutions to these problems requires recognizing their existence, and we don’t see this. So we have before us a long way to go.

Such observations and insights retain their force more than a year after they were first made public. This may explain, at least in part, why Chomsky continues to serve as a resource for Mexican netizens seeking thoughtful analysis of problems that appear, at times, intractable.


Filed under Books, Culture, Current events, History and historiography, Journalism, Media, Mexico, News, Reading and writing, Tech, Weblogs

Mexico and Afghanistan borders, juxtaposed

My latest post for Global Voices, reproduced below, can be accessed at

This post is part of our special coverage Mexico’s Drug War.

A broad swathe of netizenry has mobilized in response to several reports that juxtapose the violence taking place along the Mexico/U.S. border with the ongoing conflict in Afghanistan. While uncoordinated and apparently disparate, these updates have served to crystalize problematic aspects of American foreign policy in Mexico and the Middle East.

Reuters correspondent Matt Robinson wrote from Sharana, Afghanistan that U.S. military commanders in that country are now talking openly about “looking to their own country’s heavily monitored border with Mexico as part of efforts to stem the flow of Taliban fighters crossing from Pakistan to wage a growing insurgency.”

U.S. forces say they are considering employing sensors and radar systems of the kind used on the U.S.-Mexico border to control the insurgent “rat lines” (escape routes) straddling Afghanistan’s porous 2,430-kilometer (1,510-mile) border with Pakistan.

[…]”The southern border of the United States has a system, and it’s been there for decades.  We’re actually looking back to an individual that works with that system to see if that would be beneficial.”

Robinson’s report goes on to specify that “U.S. authorities use mobile surveillance systems, unmanned drones and 20,000 border agents with trucks and horses to stem illegal immigration, drug-trafficking and the spillover of drug violence along 3,140 km (1,950 miles) of border that the United States shares with Mexico.”

On the day of its publication, the article was swiftly circulated on Twitter, tweeted and retweeted with and without comment by @AfghanNews24, @ghost22sas, @mexicoreporter, @5lem1, @FZMexico, and a host of others. After providing a link to the report, @SanhoTree asked,

Why not look to Charlie Sheen for ideas on how to win hearts and minds?

Blogger Vikas Yadez, was more expansive, and more scathing.

This article demonstrates some of the utter nonsense that reigns supreme in the US military.  The US-Mexico border is hardly a model for how to conduct effective control.  With over 12 million undocumented immigrants in the US, the idea that the US knows how to police its own border is completely absurd.

There is a technophilia that has infected the minds of the defense department which leads them to believe that drones and computers are the solution to every problem.

“Mexico/US border near Campo, California” by Flickr user qbac07 (CC BY-NC 2.0)

Two days later, a report by Edwin Mora for CNS News appeared, inviting juxtaposition with the Reuters story. Under the title “One U.S.-Mexico Border Town Had More Civilian Casualties Last Year Than All Afghanistan,” Mora did the math:

More civilians were killed last year in Ciudad Juarez, the Mexican city across the border from El Paso, Texas, than were killed in all of Afghanistan.

There were 3,111 civilians murdered in the city of Juarez in 2010 and 2,421 in the entire country of Afghanistan – the majority of them by anti-government forces including the Taliban.

About one out of every 427 civilian inhabitants was killed in Juarez last year, while about one out of every 12,029 civilian inhabitants was killed in Afghanistan.  (There are 1,328,017 people in Juarez, according to Mexico’s 2010 census, and 29,121,286 people in Afghanistan, according to the CIA’s World Factbook.)

Mura’s brief report drew comments that were mostly pragmatic in tone, like those of Bonnie Joslin: “Drugs make a lot of money for our government. Why would they do anything about it?” and S14: “The only differences to the liberals is that the Afghans are not potential voters and the illegals are…. So nothing will be done about the border.” Links to the report ricocheted around Twitter, accompanied by diverse opinions.

Kevin Eder (@keder) prefaced the link with the virtual expletive “Security!”. The Texas Farm Bureau (@TexasFarmBureau) wrote:

It’s not #Iraq or #Afghanistan but the dangers for Texas farmers and ranchers near the Mexico border are just as real

The right-wing blog Wooden Dentures exemplified a view prevalent north of the border in question.

If one were to think about the most violent places on earth, Afghanistan would no doubt come to mind, but a city, just a single city on the southern border of the U.S., is far more violent than the entire country of Afghanistan…. With our open southern border, there is little doubt that the Mexican violence will eventually spill over into Texas, resulting in innocent American deaths on American soil.  How much longer can the federal government shirk its duty to protect U.S. citizens by ignoring the security along our southern border?

On The New Normal, blogger “Say It Ain’t So” coined a new place name – Mexghanistan – and wrote:

You’d think this would be shocking news, but only if you believed for a moment that the Obama administration and its department of information and propaganda, the mainstream media, cared about either Mexico or Afghanistan, which they don’t.  Imagine, a town right across America’s own border is far more deadly and dangerous for civilians than an entire war zone!

Mexico-based tweeps put two and two together. Hector Guerra (@hrguerra), from Monterrey, wrote:

Siempre bromeo que Afghanistan es mas seguro que Mexico, gracias por quitarme material, mundo

I always joke that Afghanistan is safer than Mexico, thank you for stealing my material, world

Later the same day, @hrguerra responded to the second report:

Y a riesgo de senalar lo obvio, Ciudad Juarez es una ciudad de 1.5 millones de habitantes, Afghanistan es un pais de 30 millones.

And risking pointing out the obvious, Ciudad Juarez has 1.5 million people, Afghanistan is a country of 30 million.

Meanwhile, as reported by El Universal [es], UNESCO affirmed that Mexico is experiencing “intense violence” and that, though it is not technically in a state of armed conflict, violence involving government forces and organized crime in recent years has caused more civilian deaths than those reported as of 2008 in Afghanistan.

Although most strident responses to these reports come from the fringes of American public opinion, and in many cases from the southern edges of that country, there are notable exceptions. One of these is a post by blogger Kristin Bricker for Borderland Beat, which affords, not reactionary and racist opinion, but research, analysis and insight, beginning with the vaunted death tolls.

In the prologue to his new anthology, Pais de Muertos (Country of the Dead), renowned journalist and Monterrey native Diego Enrique Osorno writes, “It’s not the same to count the dead as it is to recount our dead’s stories.”

Osorno has joined the growing number of Mexican journalists who criticize the ejecutometro or “execution-meter,” which refers to the running tallies of drug war dead kept by the government and newspapers. Thanks to the public’s obsession with the execution-meter, Mexico’s murdered citizens are metaphorically heaped together into the drug war’s mass grave.

With an average of one person killed every hour in the drug war (and eight per day in Ciudad Juarez alone), newspapers don’t even bother to report the dead’s names, let alone the circumstances of their lives and deaths. They simply report the gruesome manner in which the bodies were found….

Mexico’s skyrocketing homicide rate means that the bodies are dumped in the metaphorical mass grave with increasing frequency. Journalists find it more and more difficult to keep up with the death toll, let alone carry out a serious investigation into individual murders. Moreover, argues Proceso reporter Marcela Turati in her new book Fuego Cruzado (”Crossfire”), “When violence competes with itself and habitually breaks its own record, it stops being news.”

Still, by all accounts, reporting and commentary on the devastation along these contested borders continues in the full range of media, from traditional news outlets to far-flung tweeps including the likes of Fritz (@Copydechocolate):

OK, ya llevamos mas muertos en Mexico que en Afghanistan, alguien quiere defender a nuestro gobierno? #yodigo

OK, now we have more dead in Mexico than in Afghanistan, does anyone want to defend our government? #isay

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Filed under Current events, Death, Global Voices, History and historiography, Journalism, Media, Mexico, News, Reading and writing, Tech, Weblogs