Revolution #268, May 13, 2012

From A World to Win News Service

The Drug Wars in Mexico, the War Against the People and Possibilities for Revolution

April 30, 2012. A World to Win News Service. The drug wars in Mexico have killed 50,000 people since 2006, when Mexican president Felipe Calderón first sent troops and federal police to take part in a many-sided battle between drug cartels. Although battle lines and alliances between rival “narcos” and their partners at various levels of government from top to bottom have been shifting, what remains constant are the atrocities against the people by all sides.

Whole families and even neighborhoods have been wiped out. When the situation seems as unbearable as it can get, new horrors appear—again and again.

Dawn reveals bodies hanging from overpasses and headless bodies in the streets by the dozens. Groups of corpses are found everywhere. Often the people are mutilated and burned before they die. The kidnapping of little children and adults is ravaging the country like a plague. Sometimes they are taken for ransom, sometimes for sale, sometimes for revenge, sometimes for their body organs, and often for no known or understandable reason. Rape has become common. Although the massacres started in cities along the U.S. border such as Juárez, they have spread to many parts of the country marked by killing contests whose aim is the control of “plazas,” drug distribution territory and especially supply routes.

In case after case, the victims were killed either by Mexican security forces or with their complicity. Although the government claims that most of the dead are either involved with drug gangs or “collateral damage,” many of the victims have been ordinary people, from peasants, laborers and poor urban residents to poets, journalists and other intellectuals. The police and armed forces have attacked and assassinated individual critics of state-organized crime and raided resistance organizations.

According to a human rights organization, 11,000 immigrants from other countries, mainly Central Americans, disappeared in just six months during 2010. Migrants from all over the world arriving in Mexico on the single train line from Guatemala and headed north in buses and trucks are murdered if the smugglers have not paid off all the right organizations and people—who may be in competition with one another. In a single incident in August 2010, at a town about 150 kilometers south of the U.S. border, gunmen associated with an up-and-coming gang, the Zetas, kidnapped and executed 72 migrants.

This nightmarish murderousness has a purpose: it confers power, commands respect and enforces market share.

The Zetas are said to include Central American special forces commandos and Mexican soldiers organized and led by Mexican anti-narcotics police officers. They are now the main rivals to the established Sinaloa cartel, which, according to many sources, has been backed by the Calderón government and the U.S. The Sinaloa “capo,” Joaquín “El Chapo” (Shorty) Guzmán, has been protected by the highest levels of the Mexican state. (“The Murderers of Mexico,” New York Review of Books, October 28, 2010) As the well-documented article emphasizes, “The whole idea of a Mexican drug smuggling enterprise, or problem, is untenable.” Governments, gangs and irresistible economic forces on both sides of the border are at work.

At least 500 members of U.S. police agencies are known to be actively participating in this “war on drugs.” Pentagon officials, “retired” U.S. military personnel and other “private contractors” and even drones operate out of a base in northern Mexico set up on the model of American intelligence bases in Afghanistan.

There have been many protests of various kinds, from spontaneous, screaming neighborhood protests to large, organized demonstrations and artistic events denouncing the drug gangs and the authorities. Sometimes people demonstrate with their faces covered by necessity. In a memorable Mexico City march, many hundreds of young people wore all kinds of death masks and skeleton make-up to symbolize that many of today’s youth in general can expect to be dead tomorrow. Some are desperate enough that they worship the Santa Muerte [“Saint Death,”] an offshoot Catholic cult, sacrificing other human beings and themselves to a short murderous career rather than accepting the life that their country and its system has offered them.

Following are slightly edited excerpts from a much more extensive piece that appeared in the May 2011 issue of Aurora Roja, the publication of the Revolutionary Communist Organization of Mexico (OCR). We have omitted the footnote documentation. For this introduction we have also drawn on the May 2012 issue, which has articles focusing on the aspect of these drug wars as a “war against the people” and the need for a revolutionary response, including the need for a new emancipatory morality. (

* * * * *

There is a crisis of the state, and the war against the narcotics gangs is both a product and cause of this crisis. The divisions and fractures within the power structure are intertwined with the clashes between the drug cartels that different parts of the state are allied with, undermining the state’s ability to defend the system’s overall interests. The government’s reactionary “war on drugs” aims to reinforce the state’s control over drug trafficking in alliance with certain drug cartels, reinforce the weakened reactionary state, and carry out a “preventative counter-insurgency” against the people, repressing the people to try and prevent them from rising up in the future.

The state and the corporatist political system presided over by the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) and its predecessors that had succeeded in maintaining a certain suffocating, repressive and deadly “stability” for several decades fell into a crisis rooted in the economic and social transformations in the world and in Mexico [marked by splits in the ruling class, the end of the “PRI-government,” the dismantling of state enterprises and the emergence of rival reactionary parties, and repeated social upheavals, starting with the 1994 indigenous peasant uprising in Chiapas].

In this context, drug trafficking, together with extortion, kidnapping and related criminal activities, have contributed to the fragmentation of the power structure. The expansion of organized crime has been simultaneously a cause and product of this weakening of the state. The crisis of the political system was intensified by more popular rebellions and the acute electoral crisis of 2006 [when there was widespread popular anger that the governing PAN stole the election from the rival PRD], leading to a new level of militarization of the government and society.

The current crisis and decomposition of the state has reached a point where it is very difficult to distinguish between the attempts by the central power structure to reaffirm the authority of the state in alliance with one or another drug cartel, and the simple conflicts between different state institutions and levels allied with different drug gangs, or under their control, in competition for the merchandise and trafficking routes. Under the administration of Vicente Fox [2000-2006], the federal government protected the Sinaloa and Juárez drug cartels and hit at their competition, the Tijuana and Gulf cartels. In general, the U.S. government and its so-called “anti-drug” agency, the DEA, were in agreement with this approach and played a decisive role in the operations, although they were not always happy with the way the plans were carried out.

This is how the governments of Mexico and the United States tried to impose order on the drug markets and bring down the level of violence. In the resulting battle, federal police fought municipal police in what was in reality a competition between the Sinaloa cartel (with the support of federal troops) and the Gulf cartel (which mobilized the local police under its command) for control of the “plaza.” Today there is still no “order.”

The current government of Felipe Calderón has continued supporting the Sinaloa cartel headed by “El Chapo” Guzmán in an attempt to “impose order.” Very few of the 53,000 people arrested during 2003-2010 have belonged to the Sinaloa cartel. But the alliances among the drug gangs have shifted. One of the emerging cartels, La Línea,, is mainly made up of local and federal police and Mexican army members. The authorities claimed that “El Chapo” escaped from prison in 2001, but really the federal government decided to let him go, and to ally with him to unite various drug lords in what was called The Federation, as part of a plan to establish a certain order, cooperation and mutual benefit sharing.

Today organized crime has become an international big business. Although its illegality gives it certain particular characteristics, in essence the drug trafficking organizations function like any other capitalist enterprise. They have to compete with other organizations for control of various markets and if they don’t win in this competition they will disappear. Although drugs and other illegal activities are the foundation of their fortunes, the main drug lords also have major legal investments in shopping centers, hospitals, farms and other enterprises.

The illegal capitalists partner with legal ones and try to legalize part of their capital. And the legal capitalists in turn try to partner with the drug traffickers. “Businessmen approach us because they want to use our money to make more money.” For example, money laundering is a big business for the Mexican banking system, which is controlled by foreign capital for the most part. [One big-shot drug lord] happily deposited millions of dollars in cash through his “personal banker” at Citibank, one of the world’s most powerful financial institutions and now the owner of Banamex [Mexico’s second-largest bank].

In the past, during the 1970s, large-scale drug cartels did not yet exist and [various government agencies and service branches took charge of the different aspects of the drug trade. It was under control.] In the 1980s the CIA opened up the U.S. drug market in exchange for the drug lords financing the “Contras” [organized by the CIA to overthrow the Sandinista government in Nicaragua].

The problem today is not just the consumption of drugs, but the enormous profitability of their production and distribution for “illegal” and “legal” capitalists. At the same time, the structural crisis that makes it impossible for 60 percent of the working people to find a job in the formal economy and leaves many youth with no future and no hope makes it a “rational” choice for a broad section of the people to become petty drug dealers or killers for a drug gang. And although increased consumption is not the main factor driving the drug trade, poverty, the tearing of the “social fabric,” the atomization of society and other factors accelerated by imperialist globalization in recent decades make conditions even more propitious for many people to see drugs as a way to gain an illusory and temporary relief from the madness of the “modern” capitalist world.

The economic and social bases underlying the huge leap in drug trafficking, and the crisis of the capitalist-imperialist system that began in 2008-09 that have yet to end has exacerbated all these factors even more. Other particularly important factors for Mexico are changes in the routes taken by the transport of drugs, which have made Mexico’s location next door to the U.S. especially important. While the actions of the U.S. and Colombian governments have done nothing to reduce the production and exportation of cocaine, they have influenced a shift in the drug circuits and the relative weight of the Colombian and Mexican cartels.

In short, drug trafficking and its current boom are part and product of the dynamics of the capitalist-imperialist economy as well as the policies and measures applied by the governments that represent this system. The ultra-high profit rate of the drug trade has made it both an “entrance ticket” to wealth for new sectors of illegal capitalists and a “competitive advantage” and solution for the problems of profitability being experienced by major sections of legal capitalists. Drug addiction, the prostitution of women and children, people kidnapped and forced to work as slaves on drug plantations, people killed or incapacitated when their organs are taken to be sold—this is the sordid reality of the capitalist globalization lauded as “modernity.”

Drug trafficking is a product of this system, but the ruling classes do not have it under control. The fracturing of Mexican government institutions and the increasing intervention of the U.S. government and its army and police agencies are consequences of the basic contradictions of this system and the measures taken by the U.S. and Mexican government, which instead of solving problems aggravate them or create new ones.

Now, during the fifth year of the “war on organized crime,” we are still seeing the growth of drug networks and an increase in kidnapping, extortion and the power of the criminal gangs. A 2010 study by the Senate Municipal Development Committee reveals that 195 of the country’s more than 2,500 municipalities, about eight percent, are totally controlled by the cartels, and six out of ten municipalities, more than 1,500 in all, are under the influence of organized crime. The weight of the Mexican cartels in the international drug trade is increasing, and all indications are that the blows that the federal forces have dealt against the out-of-favor cartels have only resulted in the emergence of new drug lords, the regeneration and multiplication of various local drug organizations, and new alliances that augment the reach and power of organized crime in general.

It is unlikely that the ruling class will be able to resolve this crisis readily. This situation is also extremely undesirable for the vast majority of people who find themselves trapped in the criminal collusion between the cartels and the government and suffer from the enormous increase in the trafficking and use of drugs.

U.S. imperialism has taken advantage of the so-called “war on drugs” to intervene and increase its control throughout the country, but this situation is also a real source of concern for the instability of Mexico and the possibility of a sudden and rapid collapse of the Mexican government. A 2008 report of the U.S. Joint Forces Command put forward what it called a “worst-case scenario” for the sudden collapse of two major states, Pakistan and Mexico. The latter “would require a U.S. response, if only because of the grave consequences for the internal security of the U.S.”

The only “solutions” this system offers us are the unification of the various criminal gangs in alliance with a strengthened reactionary state, or more U.S. imperialist intervention, or both.

But these repressive “solutions” aren’t the only possible outcome. There is a real possibility that the Mexican state would collapse, as we have seen in Egypt, and not just because of pressure from the drug cartels.

The only way out in the interests of the vast majority is to step up the protests and initiatives that have arisen in opposition to both the drug lords and the reactionary state (and its Godfather to the north) as part of building a revolutionary movement and communist party that can offer a real and emancipating alternative amid the tumultuous storms to come.

This armed conflict in which all the “gangs”—the narcos, government and U.S. agents—are all reactionary, creates a difficult situation for the people and the revolutionary movement. Although revolution might seem like a distant possibility, we have to learn the lesson of Egypt: a reactionary regime can suddenly collapse due to the deep underlying contradictions of the system. The current drug trafficking crisis is sharpening many of those contradictions. The system’s own representatives are talking about the danger of a “failed state.” And major cracks among the ruling classes are beginning to appear.

In many parts of the country, people can no longer live as before. They are suffering under intolerable conditions that force them to respond in one way or another. The reactionary violence of the state forces and the cartels inspires fear, and the rawness of the situation depresses and degrades some people, but this same unjustified violence and the state’s connivance with organized crime provoke other people to outrage and fury. People are struggling against the power structure.

We have to support and strengthen this resistance and forge a revolutionary force that can take advantage of the sharpening of these and other contradictions of the system and the weakening of the reactionary state. Then, when other conditions prevail, it can lead the struggle of millions to victory in a communist revolution that can put an end to this nightmare and bring about a new dawn of hope.

A World to Win News Service is put out by A World to Win magazine, a political and theoretical review inspired by the formation of the Revolutionary Internationalist Movement, the embryonic center of the world's Marxist-Leninist-Maoist parties and organizations.

Send us your comments.

If you like this article, subscribe, donate to and sustain Revolution newspaper.

What Humanity Needs
From Ike to Mao and Beyond