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Organized Crime and the Mexican State

Editors’ note: The writer is a friend of the League in Mexico, who has written and published extensively on the subject of Mexican organized crime and the authoritarian State in Mexico. 

There are few places on the planet where organized crime rivals the power of the State as much as in Mexico. The problem in this country is not only the out-of-control violence caused by the drug trade throughout its territory, but also the infiltration of organized crime into the State apparatus.

Neoliberalism, along with the globalization of Mexico, reinforced by NAFTA, began to take shape last century in the mid-1980s, facilitating the spread of organized crime throughout the fabric of the State. However, in 29 short years from 1988 to 2017, spanning the period from the Carlos Salinas de Gortari presidency to Enrique Peña Nieto’s government, Mexican organized crime as a whole and the Sinaloa cartels – Jalisco Nueva Generación and Zetas – in particular, became prime actors in the international drug trade.

Of course, there’s a before and after in the history of Mexico’s drug trade, pivoting during the decade of the 1980s. The coming to power of neoliberal governments accelerated the pace of globalization of organized crime. Since then, drug trafficking has been one of the main generators of capital in Mexico and we’ve had to add criminal capital to industrial, financial, agricultural, commercial, and IT capital. As a result, there’s a new bourgeois sector, the criminal or delinquent branch that gets mixed with all the rest. Crime capital feeds financial, industrial, commercial, agricultural and services capital.   Regardless of the party in power, crime capital and the State either confront each other or negotiate, depending on the circumstances, at the international and/or national levels that affect each state and municipality. Also crime capital negotiates with the legal sector of the capital on how to launder money, and how and where to invest.

Hidden Power Within the State

Organized crime’s great win was that it permeated the State and all the social sectors. It has enjoyed the protective arm and legitimacy given it by broad layers of the citizenry. Through bribery and violence, it has appropriated the services of almost all the police, many judges, the military, and above all, those strategically placed individuals and groups in almost every political party and at every level of government.

Governors in the states of Tamaulipas, Baja California, Chihuahua, Coahuila Sonora at the border with Unites States, Sinaloa, Durango, Nayarit, Michoacán, Guerrero, Veracruz, Quintana Roo, etc., have been in the service, or at least allied with, one or other sector of organized crime.

While the drug trafficker is not as powerful in every state (much less so in Yucatán or Tlaxcala, in the south, than in Tamaulipas, Chihuahua, Sonora, Baja California, and Sinaloa, in the north, or Michoacán and Guerrero, in the southwestern coast), the truth is that its dominance in several strategically important states has turned it into the hidden power within the State.

However, organized delinquency does not have to penetrate every single township to show that the State has failed its citizens by not guaranteeing the safety of millions. Knowing that hundreds of municipalities and thousands of square kilometers of the land are under the rule of the capos suffices. The State now shares a monopoly on the use of violence with organized crime, and many times in entire regions it is subordinate to it. But worst of all is when the State, especially its security forces, the police and military, get confused with those of crime. In other words, the State grazes the criminal because in many parts of Mexico it serves organized crime. It follows leaders and interests outside of the law.

The number of deaths and the disappeared in Mexico have soared from 2006 to 2015, numbering about 150, 000.  The armed forces and police, as well as the judicial system and political class, have been corrupt and often unpredictable, in dealing with the criminal element. At times, their response has been to confront the delinquents and at other times to follow them, depending on circumstances, their deals and their international, national, state, and local strategies and tactics. A political, military, or police boss may just as easily serve crime, usually for a substantial payoff, as confront it when pressured by civil society, international agencies or parties outside of the government. It is all decided by the situation or the balance of power.

Many of those studying the issue think Mexico could go the way of Colombia—that is, become a failed State—when in the 1980s and early 1990s Pablo Escobar and other drug traffickers paralyzed the population and State. However, to understand the situation in Mexico, one has to see that the power of the Colombian drug dealers, while shaking their society, never reached the levels of covert financial dominance and political influence of the Mexican organizations. Colombians made business with coca and marijuana. Mexican cartels are the most important global crime entrepreneurs of coca, marijuana, design drugs and heroine.

Sinaloa Cartel

Even with Chapo Guzmán locked up in New York, the Sinaloa cartel in particular, now divided in two fractions, is in full global expansion and has become the most powerful in the history of the drug trade globally. It is truly a transnational crime syndicate. Its massive incomes, international ramifications, the great number of people serving, and loyal to it, are examples. Probably over a third of the more than 500,000 jobs, estimated for organized crime in a 2013 study of the Mexican Chamber of Deputies, owe their loyalty to the Sinaloa cartel. Likewise, its might in terms of finances, blackmail, firepower and all, make this organization, even though now divided,  a daunting challenge.

While the Sinaloa operation had control only at the local level before the 1980s, they had already accumulated decades of business, military, and political experience, much more than any other regional outfit. And it’s so because Sinaloa is not only the cradle of drug trafficking in Mexico, but also the birthplace of narcopolitics. This makes sense and couldn’t be otherwise. The drug trade in Sinaloa traces its roots back at least 100 years, so it hasn’t been by chance that almost four generations of narcotics traffickers have thrived in just under a century.  They’ve had sufficient time to learn to play politics with less drama than others.  They know the game in every sphere, though they have their favorite, just as they have several lovers, but one favorite woman. With some exceptions, they don’t go around killing politicians. It isn’t necessary because they know how to nourish them over time, spoil them, shape them, and control them.

However, the Sinaloan drug traffickers don’t only have a lot of experience. Above all, they also have a lot of capital, armies under their command, territory under their control, and an impressive cultural and social legitimacy. Their social and territorial base is imposing. With such a range of capital, their political muscle is assured.

The drug lords of Sinaloa are the only sector of the Mexican ruling class with a truly global reach. Their presence is felt in 63 countries spanning five continents.  No other Sinaloan business – or Mexican business for that matter – matches their range or capital resources. They have the great advantage of sharing the duopoly over the use of violence with government forces.

Being a global power with a local power base, they look for political hegemony in order to continue to grow. Without their territorial roots as a base, they would lose their global power, which is constantly expanding. Neither Calderon’s and Peña Nieto’s wars, nor Chapo’s arrest could stop them.

The Sinaloan drug operation is active in much of the country, including Mexico City the nation’s capital, but control over its primordial territory is a life or death question. Without it, they disappear. Most of its members or strategic assets are born and replaced in Sinaloa. Here, a large part of its commodities for export is produced, much of its money laundering takes place and many of its laboratories for drug manufacturing operate. Their main social base resides in this home region, and the symbolic production infusing them with cultural legitimacy among wide swaths of society is created here. The bodies of their drug traffickers rest forever in Sinaloa‘s cemeteries.

So, for the drug dealer, control over his territory and political action stem from old histories and are fundamental for his propagation.

Not Just One More Political Player

What makes the situation worse is that the drug trafficker is not merely one more political player, but rather an integral component of the capitalist bloc in power in Mexico. And by now, how could it be different when they already form a part of the economic elite of the nation, as one of the largest business, dirty money, and money laundering players of Latin America?

What’s new is that, rather than being part of the legal sector of capital, the drug traffickers are clandestine political operators. That is to say, often the population at large is not even aware that it is dealing with or voting for them.

Plainly, the Sinaloan cartel of contemporary Mexico is an extremely complex and sophisticated social actor in many ways. It has many facets and manifestations. It operates at all levels: illegally and through violence, but also through the law, consensus, and politics. It acts politically, with or without political parties, with or without violence, within or outside of institutions. It has subordinated mayors, legislators, and governors; generals and rank and file soldiers, police chiefs and ordinary officers. It has negotiated with Los Pinos—the President’s residence – the DEA, the FBI, and the CIA. It knows how to act within any political regime – liberal democratic, authoritarian, or totalitarian—and with or without Peña Nieto or Trump.

Organized crime has become a central player in contemporary capitalism, both in Mexico and across the planet.

May/June 2017 Vol27.Ed3
This article originated in Rally, Comrades!
P.O. Box 477113 Chicago, IL 60647 rally@lrna.org
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