Nine US citizens belonging to a Mormon community in Mexico were killed on November 4 by unknown gunmen. Just a day later, President Donald Trump called for an escalation of state violence against Mexico’s so-called drug cartels, members of whom are alleged, but not confirmed at the time of publication, to be behind the deaths of the nine people.
“This is the time for Mexico, with the help of the United States, to wage WAR on the drug cartels and wipe them off the face of the earth,” tweeted President Donald Trump on November 5. Mexican Security Minister Alfonso Durazo speculated that the attack could be attributed to a misunderstanding between “conflicting groups in the area,” reported CNN. In another report, the news outlet noted that “officials have not explicitly said a drug cartel was behind the attack.”
The tendency to shakily label violence in Mexico as involving “cartels” is nothing new, says academic Oswaldo Zavala, author of The Cartels Do Not Exist, as translated to English. “We see a person with a gun and we tend to quickly react and call them ‘cartel members’ or ‘sicarios’. But this is the automatic effect of the established vocabulary instigated by official sources,” Professor Zavala told Filter, elaborating on the argument he makes in his book: that the American and Mexican security states are “exaggerating the power and influence of traffickers” to justify military expansion.
“Behind the ‘cartel’ myth, there remain crucial questions about state violence, para-militarism, and the overall precarious life of Mexico’s vulnerable youth engaged in criminal activity for lack of viable alternatives. These questions are erased when we reproduced the official discourse of the ‘cartel wars’.”
“If Mexico needs or requests help in cleaning out these monsters,” Trump wrote on Twitter, echoing his dehumanizing description of unauthorized immigrants as animals, “the United States stands ready, willing & able to get involved and do the job quickly and effectively.”
Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador, or AMLO for short, responded that he “appreciate[s]” the help of foreign governments, like Trump’s, but remains committed to “act[ing] with independence, according to our constitution and our tradition of independence and sovereignty,” The New York Times reported.
Trump’s giddiness, and on-brand lack of evidence, to escalate the conflict in Mexico could be giving away his underlying motivations to escalate American military control in the region south of the border. Zavala argues that the official narrative surrounding the cartels is constructed by the American security state to justify its imperial influence in other countries, like Mexico, and to advance profitable endeavors of private companies.
“The so-called ‘cartels’ are a pretext to take military control of lands where oil, gas, mining and water await the greed of global corporations,” Zavala told Filter in September, citing the work of journalist Dawn Paley, who authored the book, Drug War Capitalism. “While the governments of Felipe Calderón and Enrique Peña Nieto claimed to fight a war against ‘Los Zetas’ cartel (allegedly made of former military gone rogue), transnational conglomerates were busy preparing the extraction of shale gas, profiting from a major pipeline built by the federal government precisely on the most violent drug war territory.”
Sidestepping an intensification of what Zavala argues to be a de-facto military occupation of Mexico by the US through drug war policies, AMLO has expressed a dedication to ending the violent approaches of his predecessors, like Calderón, who launched the national drug war in 2006.
“This is no longer a war. It is no longer about force, confrontation, annihilation, extermination, or killing in the heat of the moment,” AMLO said last week at a news conferences following the violence in Culiacán associated with the Sinaloa cartel, according to The Guardian. “This is about thinking how to save lives and achieve peace and tranquility in the country using other methods.”
Photo of President Donald Trump in 2016, by Gage Skidmore via Wikimedia Commons