Behind the massacre in Mexico


On Tuesday, August 24, Mexican Marines discovered 72 bodies of murdered immigrants (58 men and 14 women) at a farm near the town of San Fernando in the Northeastern state of Tamaulipas, about 120 miles south of Brownsville, Texas on the Rio Grande.

The victims, although not all have yet been identified by nationality, were not Mexican citizens, but themselves undocumented immigrants traversing Mexico together on the way to the United States.

Mexico's National Security Director, Alejandro Poiré, tentatively identified them as coming from El Salvador, Honduras, Ecuador and Brazil, according to the newsmagazine Milenio.

Evidently a notorious drug gang called "Los Zetas" ("the Zs"), which according to Gustavo Castillo of the Mexico City daily La Jornada and others say controls San Fernando, had kidnapped the immigrants with the idea of enslaving them as part of their criminal operations, but the migrants refused. One of the migrants escaped to a nearby Marine post. After a firefight with the Zetas, the Marines found the corpses.

The original Zetas were started by rogue military officers trained at the U.S. Army School of the Americas in Fort Benning, Ga. At first they hired out as enforcers for the Gulf Cartel, but subsequently formed their own extremely violent cartel. They now contest the Gulf Cartel's control of the Northeastern border area.

That drug cartels kidnap undocumented immigrants and demand that their relatives in the United States or in Mexico pay ransom in exchange for their freedom (and their lives) is not new. This has happened with arrested undocumented Cuban immigrants, for example, with police buses being waylaid and the immigrants they were carrying turning up safe and sound on U.S. soil.

Non-Mexicans are somewhat more vulnerable than Mexicans in these situations as they are already in Mexico illegally. Corruption in Mexican police and immigration agencies makes the matter significantly worse; many non-Mexicans report that they are robbed, beaten and shaken down in their trip through Mexico. But Mexican citizens headed for the U.S. have been kidnapped for ransom also.

Reasonable people might see this latest bloody incident and a number of others like it as a sign that the country's war against drug cartels is spiraling out of control. But Mexico's conservative President Felipe Calderon caused jaws to drop by claiming that this mega-death incident proves that his strategy of militarizing the struggle against drug cartels is successful. According to his logic, groups like the Zetas are on the ropes in the drug war, and thus are forced to try out new rackets like kidnapping undocumented immigrants for ransom. 

But even a busted cuckoo clock like Calderon gives the right time twice a year, and in this case he has made two eminently reasonable requests from the United States on which the government has simply not acted: To crack down on the some 7,000 gun shops that operate near the U.S.-Mexican border, which are a source of weapons with which the cartels often outgun Mexican police forces; and to do a better job of attacking our own country's massive appetite for the narcotics, which have made the cartels rich.

There are other things that can and must be done:

  • First, there has to be a comprehensive immigration reform in the United States that creates safe and legal mechanisms of immigration. If this is complete enough, it will put the kidnappers out of business.
  • Secondly, developing countries like the ones these immigrants come from need to be able to provide jobs and economic security for their poorest people.

Of the four countries that Poiré says were represented in the 72 fatalities, in fact three (Brazil, El Salvador and Ecuador) have left of center governments that are working to improve conditions for poor farmers and workers. The United States should be supporting these efforts.

Honduras was doing so also, but in June 28 its progressive government was overthrown by a military coup and since then landowners and employers have been doing what they can to reverse the previous government's pro-worker and pro-farmer policies, as well as unleashing repression. The United States has not, as far as anyone can tell, been putting pressure on the new Honduran government to reverse this.

Finally, fighting drug abuse and trafficking as a "war" has to be abandoned. Drug abuse has to be seen as a medical and social problem, and treated with medical help, counseling and educational efforts. This is how our tax money should be spent.

Photo: This image released by Mexico's Navy shows the site where 72 bodies were found in San Fernando, eastern Mexico, Aug. 24. (Mexico's Secretary Navy/AP)


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  • "Honduras was doing so also, but in June 28 its progressive government was overthrown by a military coup and since then landowners and employers have been doing what they can to reverse the previous government's pro-worker and pro-farmer policies, as well as unleashing repression. The United States has not, as far as anyone can tell, been putting pressure on the new Honduran government to reverse this."

    That is precisely what has been taking place in this country since the 80's. American business has increased their profits by paying lower wages. They accomplished this by the destruction of protective trade policies for jobs that could be relocated to other countries and by using illegal aliens for jobs that must be done here, on site. Why would they want to reverse that trend in Honduras when they promote the same policies in America?

    Posted by Thomas, 08/29/2010 5:16pm (5 years ago)

  • The Honduran Military coup-d'-etat was also led by Generals and soldiers trained in Fort Benning Georgia, U.S.A. in the former 'school of the Americas, now re-named Whinsec. It seems that Militarism has become the first deal when dealing with Latin America by the U.S.A. This U.S. Imperial practice and theory has become so large that over half the yearly federal budget is now taken by the military. Such societies are the beginning of the fascist state. That is the final phase of empires, before the peoples take over and work the ' organic means of production' for the good of all again, instead of 'means of destruction' that is ruinous to the air, land, water and the plants animals, and peoples.

    Posted by Jack, 08/28/2010 8:09pm (5 years ago)

  • Joe, all Mexico's problems are not the U.S.'s fault. And people like Calderon and his predecessors have a lot to answer for to their own people. But the main thing with the drugs is that, although of course there are drug addicts in Mexico too, the U.S. is providing the market for drugs on an enourmous scale. Many of the drug shipments are coming up from Colombia and naturally go through Mexico to go to the United States. Secondly, the United States is providing the high powered rifles and other advanced weaponry to the drug cartels because our politicians, terrified of the National Rifle Association, have a devil-may-care attitude about controlling the sale of large numbers of automatic weapons to people who need them exclusively for criminal purposes.
    On immigration, the United States and other wealthy countries have imposed trade regimes on countries like Mexico which have undercut the survival ability of millions of poor farmers and workers worldwide. Yes, the Mexican government of former Pres. Salinas jumped eagerly into NAFTA (for which he was excoriated by the Mexican left at the time) but on the other hand, the wealthy US and Canada were not offering any alternative trade model. So millions of Mexican farmers were driven off the land by their inability to compete with U.S. agribusiness imports, and they have nowhere to go to find work except to try to cross the border into the US. Since the US does not give permanent resident visas to displaced grain farmers with 5th grade educations, their only way to come is illegally, running the risks of being kidnapped and murdered by criminals on either side of the border.
    And when in 2006 the Mexicans almost elected a left-wing president who had sworn to renegotiate NAFTA, the United States interfered with hints by the U.S. ambassador that if Mr. Lopez Obrador won, the United States would crack down on Mexican immigrants here. They had done that in El Salvador in the last presidential election but one, also.
    So no, the United States is not "to blame" for every single problem Mexican has, but has had a hand in a lot of them. And the biggest criticism that should be made of Mexican politicians is that they have gone along with US demands and pressures.

    Posted by Emile Schepers, 08/28/2010 2:57pm (5 years ago)

  • If you read this article, you'd think all of Mexico's problems are somehow the U.S.'s fault.

    How will "immigration reform" help this situation? Unemployment in the U.S. is 10% and underemployment is over 20%. The U.S. needs more uneducated, low-skilled workers like it needs 20 more Hurricane Katrinas.

    And gun control? Really? The Mexican drug cartels make $5 BILLION per year. If they want guns, they'll get guns, whether they're from Texas or from Russia.

    How about we start blaming MEXICO for Mexico's problems?

    Posted by Joe, 08/27/2010 11:45pm (5 years ago)

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