The Other Campaign, in the Land of Narco-Corridos, Sifts Reality from Myth
Testimonies “From Below and to the Left” Explain that the U.S.-Imposed Drug War Has Been a Disaster in Northern Mexico
By Dan Feder
The Other Journalism with the Other Campaign in Durango
November 15, 2006
SOMEWHERE IN NORTHERN MEXICO: Over the last two decades or so, two big changes have been especially noticeable in northern Mexico. The first is la maquila: the simultaneous death of the small farms that once sustained much of the population and explosion of the maquiladora industry (maquiladora being a Spanish word probably best translated as “sweatshop”; maquiladoras are assembly plants making everything from clothes to car parts for foreign, mostly U.S. companies that take advantage of the minuscule wages and low standards for working conditions).
The second is el narcotrafico: the drug trade. This is the land that gave us the “House of Death” – a land where politicians, Mexican police and U.S. narcotics agents do the same dance year after year, making and breaking alliances, plugging up one leak while another two spring out, claiming to be fighting harder and harder at the same time that it becomes more and more difficult to tell the cops from the robbers.
Since early October, Subcomandante Marcos, spokesman for the Zapatista Army of Liberation (EZLN in its Spanish initials), has been traveling through Mexico’s northern states, listening to people from hundreds of communities tell of their own lives and struggles. They are struggles he and his allies in the “Other Campaign” hope to unite in a national uprising to create an “other Mexico,” a country built up “from below and to the left,” free of the corrupt rule of political parties, the rich and domination by the United States and other powerful foreign nations.
It’s hard to spend much time in Northern Mexico without hearing about the drug war. In these dry lands of desert and mountains, the narcocorrido rules popular radio and reports of drug money corruption in politics hardly raise an eyebrow.
We’ve been especially interested in this here in the Narco Newsroom: the time when the Other Campaign – an initiative of the Zapatista movement that was such an inspiration for Narco News since the beginning – would march across one of the primary drug war battlefields that we have reported on for years. The testimonies we have heard on the Other Campaign trail, printed below, present very different experiences and perspectives, but all point to the inevitable conclusion that the U.S. and Mexican governments’ so-called “war on drugs” is a farce, and that it is the politicians and the rich who are truly behind the “drug problem.”
Bruno, a 19-year-old organizer from Ciudad Juárez, said that the drug trade could be strongly felt in his city:
We’re supposedly at war against local drug-dealing now, but it’s a joke. They sell drugs out of the maquiladoras, and the government sells them, too. You can see all the drug dealers in town when you go out to the clubs. We know that all the big families are involved… The Zaragoza Fuentes family, which has a monopoly on the gas here and other industries, is involved.
Bruno had also seen another side of the link between the drug and sweatshop industries:
I worked for a month in the maquiladoras. We have to work long days, nine to twelve hours… Sometimes there are people who get exhausted. So they offer you narcotics so that you can keep working – I don’t know what it is, but it’s a blue pill, sometimes a red one. They offered this to people I worked with in the factory.
His revelation brought to mind the practices of the Spanish in colonial Bolivia and Peru, who would cart tons of coca leaves into the mines for their indigenous workers, who would have been unable to endure the long hours and lack of food without their stimulating alkaloids. Little has changed, it seems… only now, the drugs the bosses give out to their overtaxed workers are likely much more unhealthy.
Jesús Gonzalez Rangel, a peasant farmer and leftwing activist from the Comarca Lagunera region, spoke at a meeting of “adherents” to the Other Campaign in Torreón, Coahuila, on November 4:
The businessmen are building maquiladoras where our fields are,” he said. “In school, our children are now only learning how to become factory workers for the foreign-owned businesses. And the businessmen are all narcos, too. Drugs are sold everywhere now, and suddenly there are beer stores on every corner, too.
Later, he spoke privately with the Other Journalism and elaborated on what he had told Subcomandante Marcos and the other adherents:
The customs of everyday life have changed since neoliberal policies came into effect. They have come in to destroy the family unit. This has always been an area that drugs were trafficked through, but we really started to see them in our lives around the years 1988–1990. There are many capos here, but they are part of the state… We realized that the entrepreneurs of the maquiladoras have connections with the drug business, and that drug trafficking is actually a state policy. The Comarca was a place of much class-consciousness, and the drugs have been part of getting rid of that.
At a public meeting the next day in the town of Gómez Palacio, in the state of Durango, the topic of drugs came up again. One of the local Other Campaign organizers who took the stage there (and later spoke with us directly) was a public school teacher named Gustavo Américo Oteo Oropeza, who denounced what he had seen in the Cobaed High School, in the neighboring town of Lerdo:
In that school, the teachers’ union, controlled by the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), is running under a corrupt system. They corrupt the students. Teachers sell them drugs. They sell them to other teachers, too, and of course, the union has everyone controlled. Female students were raped, one became pregnant and no one does anything, because the general secretary of the union, Rogilio Torres, covers it up and the governor of Durango, who is from the same PRI party, protects him. This has been going on for 12 years, and no one does anything
We have documents that we sent to the federal government, to the Interior Department, because the state government wasn’t doing anything. The people at the Department of Education, despite our having denounced all this, didn’t do anything. We went to see President Fox, and the federal government sent the state government a recommendation, that it be investigated, but here the state government still has not done anything.
It’s been two years now since a movement exploded in which many female students who had been hurt by Principal Próspero Hernández and union secretary Rogelio Torres participated. The girls took over the school, because they were tired of so much sexual hostility. They expelled a lot of students from the school for having rebelled, for having mobilized, for taking over the school. They also got rid of many teachers, including me. They fired me for denouncing the corruption and for defending my students from the claws of that narco-union.
In the city of Durango (the capital of the state of the same name), references to problems with drug trafficking and consumption came up constantly at a public meeting held in a community school there. The alternative school is set up in a large building complex occupied by hundreds of members of the Popular Workers’ Coordinating Council (COCOPO). Two COCOPO leaders spoke to us after the event.
“Here in the capital city there aren’t many options for work,” said Oscar Martínez, one of the most visible organizers with the Other Campaign in the area. A lot of narco-trafficking passes through here; it is the main economic activity. Compare it to Gomez Palacio, which is more industrialized than the capital. There is just not much opportunity here.”
Hilario Romano, also from the COCOPO, added his own thoughts:
Small-scale drug trafficking is protected and covered up by the authorities themselves. It has been proving that the Municipal Public Safety Administration protects the dealers. The cops – both the preventive and ministerial police – come by but just for their payoff, they never do anything.
The youth here are persecuted whenever they want to organize. That is when the police do act. When the kids start to get together in large numbers, they attack them because it is seen as something dangerous, and they use the pretext of drugs.
“That’s happened to me. Have they ever locked you up on bogus drug charges?” a young organizer for the Other Campaign in the city of Durango who goes simply by the alias “Mesh” asked his compañeros.
“Yeah, I think they’ve used that excuse to arrest or hassle almost all of us at some point,” answered another member of Jovenes de hoy (“Youth of Today”), an anarchist-punk collective in the city. They work among the youth of the city, active in the local music scene, and setting up stands at city markets to distribute information.
“There are factories right here in Durango,” says Mesh, “where they make something called Crystal. They sell that to people here. But everything moves through here: cocaine, weed, all of it.”
Look, here in the city of Durango, the mayors, whatever party they are from, are in the drug business. Term after term. The mayor that just came in has ties to the previous one. And it’s been proven, with documentation and everything, that the previous mayor’s ranches are a source of drug addiction. He distributes drugs himself, he grows things there, and he has ties to the current mayor. It’s all about the money; he doesn’t really care whether or not people are getting high. And as far as I understand it works like this across the country.
But there are many Mexicans who are in favor of drug legalization. There are a ton, really, a ton of them. We take a libertarian approach, we feel that one’s decision on whether to use drugs or not is part of the liberation of the body. We also try to talk about alternatives, pass out flyers trying to raise consciousness about what drug addiction is. We’re interested in veganism and the strait-edge movement, and feel that drug addiction is something the state promotes, to make people stupid, to make it easy to lock them up. But for the government of the entire republic, it is really mostly about capital.
Subcomandante Marcos, using his own “Other” alias “Delegate Zero,” continues to travel around Northern Mexico, and these tales of drug corruption and hypocrisy travel with him. At a meeting in the Zacatecas village of Mesa de Palmira, one of the last your correspondent was able to attend in his time traveling with the Other Campaign, he related the story of an indigenous community he had visited in Sonora that, like Mesa de Palmira, was struggling to continue using its lands:
Some compañeros who are indigenous Pima people in… Sonora, right up against the Chihuahua border. So, they say that the marijuana growers invade their land. They say there, I used to plant corn, beans. Now it’s all marijuana, and it’s not even mine. But when the army comes, it’s me they fuck with. Because the marijuana farmers invade my land and plant their stuff, but when Fox’s army comes, they say, we’re fighting narco-trafficking; it’s not our fault if people don’t know what’s happening on their own land.
You think those people aren’t going to fight? …They are going to rise up. And we aren’t telling them to rise up with guns, but rather that these people, the Yaquis, the Mayos, are going to mobilize.
The Other Campaign, especially after its tour through the North, has both the narcos and the drug warriors in Mexico City and Washington in its sights as well. The national uprising that Marcos promises is coming could dramatically change the drug war in Mexico as we know it. To be continued…
Click here for more Narco News coverage of Mexico
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