Tag Archives: citizen media

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

The following is my latest post for Global Voices (globalvoicesonline.org), 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, 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:

@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 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.

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), [http://twitter.com/#!/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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#estadofallido: Mexican netizens deploy the “failed state” meme

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.

Social decay, the anomie of governments, weakened  institutions, disorder and the impossibility of providing juridical security and public safety because violence and mistrust are overwhelming the authorities, are symptoms which can lead to a diagnosis: the political and economic model of Mexico gave rise to this, and attempting restoration is equivalent to crying out at the implosion of the systemic and structural flaws that affect the Mexican state, converting it into a failure.

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.

I see what’s happening in Egypt, what’s happening in all of North Africa. I see what’s happening in Asia, in Africa, I see what’s been happening for a long time in Somalia. I see what’s happening in some of our countries in Latin America. In this country, 36 million students go to school every day, on time. The country functions. We have strong, separate, independent powers: the Executive, the Legislative, the Judicial. In this country we have regular elections. They are won and lost; they are hotly debated, and the press is not muzzled. There is absolute freedom to publish, to present ideas in an atmosphere of freedom that is without precedent in Mexico.[…]  The reality is that Mexico is very, very far from [being a failed state].

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

“Passenger buses prefer not to cross into Tamaulipas and are canceling their routes”// @FelipeCalderon  Mr. President, what next? #failedstate

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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 chomsky-must-read.blogspot.com, 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.


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Mexico and Afghanistan borders, juxtaposed

My latest post for Global Voices, reproduced below, can be accessed at http://globalvoicesonline.org/2011/03/09/mexico-and-afghanistan-border-conflicts-juxtaposed/

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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Mexico: Subcomandante Marcos on Calderon’s ‘War from Above’


During the final week of an eventful February in the Middle East and North Africa, many on Twitter have taken to tweeting and re-tweeting an epigrammatic quotation attributed to the iconic spokesperson for the Zapatista Army of National Liberation (EZLN), Subcomandante Marcos.

Its English translation, circulated by @EagleIreports, @culturatist, @paperstargirl and many others, reads: “We are sorry for the inconvenience, but this is a revolution.” The applicability to circumstances in Tunisia, Egypt, Lybia and around the region is all but self-evident. In Mexico, the Subcomandante has come to the forefront of netizen’s discussions with the recent publication of a letter about the country’s current problem with organized, drug related crime.

Subcomandante Marcos

Those seeking a refresher course on Marcos and his role in the Zapatista insurgency and ongoing campaign for human rights for the indigenous peoples of southeastern Mexico need only watch a recent interview with Marcos on the history of Zapatismo’s long struggle for dignity in the name of this forgotten segment of Mexican society.

Just as readers around the globe grasp the humor and urgency in “We are sorry for the inconvenience, but this is a revolution,” they now respond with fresh eyes and ears to Marcos’ declaration in the interview that “History is a battleground in this war.”

Subcomandate Marcos in Zapatista Caravan. January 29, 2006. Image by Flickr user orianomada, used under a CC BY-NC-SA 2.0 license

The Latest Letter: “About the Wars”

Meanwhile, on February 14, the website Enlace Zapatista [es], the online arm of theEZLN, opened another front with the publication of “Sobre las Guerras.” This was translated overnight by blogger Kristin Bricker as: “About the Wars: A Fragment of the First Letter from Subcomandante Marcos to Don Luis Villoro, beginning the correspondence about Ethics and Politics.” The text, dated January-February 2011, is part 2 of 4 which will appear in the next issue of Rebeldia magazine” (forthcoming at the time of this posting).

The recipient of the letter, Don Luis Villoro, is a long-time professor of philosophy at UNAM and the author of The Challenges of the Society to Come. The correspondence has as reference point, an earlier exchange of letters between Marcos and author John Berger.

Readers familiar with Marcos and the EZLN (which has not engaged in military operations since its initial insurgency in Chiapas in January 1994) may anticipate some of his argument: that the U.S will be the only winner in the Mexican government’s war on drugs; that President Calderon’s battle with organized crime was doomed from the start because it was conceived, “not as a solution to a problem of security, but to a problem of legitimacy”. The specifics of Marcos’ language in this fragment of a letter to Villoro defy easy summarization.

What follows are several citations from Bricker’s translation of the fragment of the first letter [find the text in Spanish at Enlace Zapatista]. Global Voices will track the correspondence as it unfolds.

As Mexican native peoples and as the EZLN, we have something to say about war.  Above all if it is carried out in our geography and in this calendar: Mexico, in the beginning of the 21st century….

And in all of Mexico, thanks to Felipe Calderon Hinojosa’s sponsorship, we don’t have to look towards the Middle East to critically reflect on war.  It is no longer necessary to turn the calendar back to Vietnam, the Bay of Pigs, always Palestine.

I don’t mention Chiapas and the war against Zapatista indigenous communities, because it is known that they aren’t fashionable (that’s why the Chiapas state government has spent so much money so that the media no longer puts it on war’s horizon; instead, it publishes the ‘advances’ in biodiesel production, its ‘good’ treatment of migrants, the agricultural ‘successes’ and other deceiving stories that are sold to editorial boards who put their own names on poorly edited and argued governmental press releases).

The war’s interruption of daily life in current-day Mexico doesn’t stem from an insurrection, nor from independent or revolutionary movements that compete for their reprint in the calendar 100 or 200 years later.  It comes, as all wars of conquest, from above, from the Power.

And this war has in Felipe Calderon Hinojosa its initiator and its institutional (and now embarrassing) promoter.

The man who took possession of the title of President by de facto wasn’t satisfied with the media backing he received, and he had to turn to something else to distract people’s attention and avoid the massive controversy regarding his legitimacy: war.

When Felipe Calderon Hinojosa made Theodore Roosevelt’s proclamation that ‘this country needs a war’ his own (although some credit the sentence to Henry Cabot Lodge), he was met with fearful distrust from Mexican businessmen, enthusiastic approval from high-ranking military officials, and hearty applause from that which really rules: foreign capital….

It is not insignificant what is at stake…

In the first four years of the ‘war against organized crime’ (2007-2010), the main governmental entities in charge (the National Defence Ministry – that is, army and air force – the Navy, the Federal Attorney General’s Office, and the Ministry of Public Security) received over $366 billion pesos (about $30 billion dollars at the current exchange rate) from the Federal Budget.  The four federal government ministries received:  in 2007 over $71 billion pesos; in 2008 over $80 billion pesos; in 2009 over $113 billion pesos; and in 2010 over $102 billion pesos.  Add to that the over $121 billion pesos (some $10 billion dollars) that they will receive in 2011.

The war (which was lost from the moment it was conceived, not as a solution to an insecurity problem, but rather a problem of questionable legitimacy) is destroying the last redoubt that the Nation had: the social fabric.

What better war for the United States than one that grants it profits, territory, and political and military control without the uncomfortable body bags and cripples that arrived, before, from Vietnam and now from Iraq and Afghanistan?

Wikileaks’ revelations about high-ranking US officials’ opinions about the ‘deficiencies’ in the Mexican repressive apparatus (its ineffectiveness and its complicity with organized crime) are not new.  Not only amongst the people, but also in the highest circles of government and Power in Mexico, this is a certainty.  The joke that it is an unequal war because organized crime is organized and the Mexican government is disorganized is a gloomy truth.

What exists is an imposition, by the force of weapons, of fear as a collective image, of uncertainty and vulnerability as mirrors in which those collectives are reflected.

What social relationships can be maintained or woven if fear is the dominant image with which a social group can identify itself, if the sense of community is broken by the cry ‘Save yourself if you can’?

The results of this war won’t only be thousands of dead…and juicy economic gains.

Also, and above all, it will result in a nation destroyed, depopulated, and irreversibly broken.


Alright, Don Luis.  Cheers, and let critical reflection inspire new steps.

To date, the letter has been circulated on Twitter via links provided by @burgerchrist and a host of others. It has been reproduced in full on blogs including My Word is my Weapon –which is maintained by Bricker– Censored News, The Speed of Dreams and el Kilombo.

The blog post that has generated the most commentary – some of it heated, even hateful – can be found on blog del Narco [es], which excerpts a few passages from the letter and provides links for key terms. The 946 comments (as of 26/02/2011) make for difficult, sometimes chilling reading (one instance among others is a response posted by nuek [es]). Others, like that of Rvillareal [es], are more simply pragmatic:

El hecho es que Calderon ha actuado de una forma pertinente.  La guerra es dura y el pais no lo es.  No estamos listos para una guerra como esta, simplemente ataco desprevenidamente.

The fact is that Calderon has acted in an appropriate form. War is tough and the country is not. We are not ready for a war like this, simply attacked unawares.

[Rumours and reports are currently circulating about SCI Marcos’ state of health.  Ojala que esta bien, o que se mejore pronto.]

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