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