Blog dedicated to reporting on Mexican drug cartels
on the border line between the US and Mexico

Wednesday, November 21, 2018

"The narcos have become an explanation to almost any crime in Mexico"

Translated by El Profe for Borderland Beat from Horizontal 


Interview with Oswaldo Zavala, author of 'The cartels do not exist'

The book The Cartels do not exist. Drug trafficking and culture in Mexico (Malpaso Ediciones, 2018) has started a discussion in the last few months about violence in Mexico. Its author, journalist and academic Oswaldo Zavala, defends in its pages that the "war on drugs" is a fantastic narrative created by the authorities - and reproduced uncritically by many journalists and media - to hide another reality: a state strategy aimed at political control and the appropriation of territories rich in natural resources.
Your work questions the existence of 'cartels' as a group in conflict to the State, in fact, you point to the State itself as responsible for the violence, as the protagonist of a dispossessed capitalism that seeks to appropriate natural resources. Where does violence come from to stay and perpetuate itself?
The so-called 'war on drugs' is the public name of a violent state strategy that has had multiple uses in Mexico: from the illegal appropriation of territories rich in natural resources to the mediation of disputes between rival political groups. The most emblematic case, reported by journalists like Ignacio Alvarado and Dawn Paley, but also studied by academics such as Guadalupe Correa, is located in the state of Tamaulipas, where militarization has facilitated the spoliation of natural gas shale by transnational conglomerates. 

Something similar has happened with the militarization of the border strip near Ciudad Juárez, where another important natural gas field is also located. But in the same state of Chihuahua it is important to note how the so-called 'cartel wars' have also been used as a method of political sabotage. At the end of my book I analyze how during the outgoing governorship of César Duarte -now a fugitive from justice-, we were warned about a new war that would star Rafael Caro Quintero, the aging eighties trafficker released in 2013.

In July 2016, Mexican military intelligence said Caro Quintero planned to invade Ciudad Juárez to snatch control of the 'Plaza' from the 'Sinaloa cartel'. It was enough of an interview that Caro Quintero granted to the magazine Proceso that same month that suddenly the attorney general of Chihuahua accused the Jalisco New Generation Cartel of starring in the next war, although there had even appeared a menacing ' narcomanta ' allegedly signed by Caro Quintero.
By October of 2017, the story took a turn: the DEA reported that Caro Quintero had actually joined the 'Sinaloa Cartel' to collaborate with characters like Ismael 'El Mayo' Zambada. In April 2018, the FBI escalated the alarm by offering a reward of 20 million dollars for the capture of Caro Quintero, an unprecedented sum in the United States, including that offered for the capture of Joaquín 'El Chapo' Guzmán, who at the time was considered the greatest trafficker of all time. How is it possible that Caro Quintero, who spent 28 years in prison, suddenly becomes the 'most wanted' in a changing plot of 'warring cartels'?
Even more problematic is the announcement in the month of August 2018: the FBI, the Chicago Police and the 10 DEA offices in Mexico organized a joint operation with the Mexican army and federal police to capture Nemesio Oseguera Cervantes. ' El Mencho ', supposed leader of the 'New Generation Jalisco Cartel'. Despite the inconsistent intelligence information, entertaining in announcing 'wars' between interchangeable 'cartels', the truth is that these security alerts could have a greater objective: to maintain in Mexico the justification of the security strategy by means of which, since the presidency of Calderón, the army has occupied many regions of the country.
And who really suffers from all this? The poorest sectors of the country, young gang members, the unemployed and uneducated that make up the most recurrent profile of homicide victims. Meanwhile, the upper class and the multinationals continue the plundering of natural resources where, curiously enough, violence does not bother extractive companies.
Are there ways to discard the screen with which the State maintains its war narrative against drugs? Is it possible to unmask the true people responsible for what happens in Mexico?
The first step to cracking the narrative of the State involves a consistent effort to question and finally suspend the reproduction of the official version. We have become accustomed to blaming the 'narcos' and their wars because we have uncritically accepted what our government says to explain the radical violence that afflicts us. This work will have to start from journalism before any other field. Journalism is key at this point because it is through 'independent' information that the government legitimizes the official narrative.
Most of our journalists reproduce with too much docility the intelligence reports, the police reports and the statements of officials who deftly insist on attributing all expression of violence to the 'narcos' who, although they do not stop killing each other, while maintaining a implausible control not only of the drug market in Mexico but also in the United States and in many countries in Europe, Asia and Africa.
The official narrative, as I mentioned before, is full of inconsistencies, exaggerations, inaccurate data or flat fantasies. It is enough to carefully follow the dimension of these supposed wars in the media to warn the illogical leaps in the argumentation of these stories.
That is why much of what we are told of the world of 'narco' is ideal material for fiction, which is why there are countless movies and television series that are entertained repeating the fantasies of official discourse. It is so expansive the hegemonic narrative about the 'narcos' that the variations on those characters have already become the standardized explanation for almost any criminal act in Mexico.
The critical recognition of this phenomenon is just the beginning to unmasking it. From there begins the real journalism.
Is it possible to think that the new federal government breaks with this fabric?
The presidential campaign of AMLO was distinguished by the articulation of a discourse of pacification of the country that included, among its most relevant points, two crucial proposals to alter the security policy. First, AMLO has affirmed the need to demilitarize the so-called 'war against the narco' closing the army's spaces within the civil government, and second, reviewing the beneficial contracts that have been granted with the energy reform to transnationals that seek the looting of the regions where violence has been most experienced as a method of forced displacement.
This shift, which also contemplates the possibility of amnesty for traffickers who have not committed serious crimes, would undoubtedly entail the deactivation of the most violent mechanisms that have allowed crimes against humanity committed in the name of national security.
Now, the army is already giving clear indications that it will not abandon its power point so easily. AMLO recently announced, after a meeting with the secretaries of defense and navy, that at least in the first months of his administration it is not feasible to withdraw the army from the security strategy because supposedly the federal police are not "in a position" to replace them.
Note the haste with which they are trying to convince AMLO to renounce their campaign proposals, in addition, in a context manufactured by the military intelligence of Mexico and the US authorities to give the impression of a continuous emergency of national and hemispheric security. I wonder if AMLO's concessions will be maintained once he takes power or if, as President Lázaro Cárdenas once did, once in power, his presidency will be proposed as a radical program of change.
What are the limits of this state narrative?
The official narrative has no limits. It is based on what Pierre Bourdieu called the 'monopoly of symbolic violence' that allows the State to articulate not only its strategy of fighting 'narco' but also to fabricate the image of the narcos themselves. As we have witnessed in the last two years, the multiplicity of alleged 'cartels' and their capos, -'El Chapo', 'El Mayo', 'El Mencho', Caro Quintero, etc.- are inexhaustible material to entertain the attention of journalists and security 'experts' who make their living legitimizing official information through reports and analysis that reproduce the official version point by point.
While there is a political and cultural hegemony that maintains this narrative as an expression of the supposed reality of "organized crime", the State can use it at its convenience where it is necessary to depopulate territories, repress or even kill individuals and resistant groups. Although it is contradicted or even as implausible as a fiction novel, the narrative is sustained because in the face of the brutality of violence it is very difficult to maintain a critical conscience. The State bets that before the spectacle of the murders to the civil society it is only left to condemn to the most evident enemy, the 'narco', while it cries for the aid of the army and the federal police. As long as the bloody wave of violence continues, the 'narco' will continue to be the sole culprit of crimes against humanity.

It is thought that the decriminalization of drug use would end the wave of violence, but I am not so sure about it. The 'narco' is the central object of the current national security discourse but it certainly is not, nor has it been, the only one. Recall that the emergence of securitarismo began in 1947 in the United States to build the anti-Communist strategy after the Second World War. However, once the phantom of communism was exhausted after 1989, the United States, during the presidency of Ronald Reagan, reoriented the security apparatus, constructing the imaginary "narco" as a global threat.
If we eliminate 'narco' as a threat to the decriminalization of drugs, the United States can easily replace one enemy with another. In fact, he is already trying: President Trump's speech that criminalizes undocumented immigration as waves of bad men has attempted to interweave the supposed terrorist threat that represents the border between Mexico and the United States.

Together with the undocumented migrants, we are warned, Islamic terrorists could cross the border, confused by the same skin tone. We must not forget, on top of that, that this racist and xenophobic strategy has been adopted by both Republicans and Democrats in the United States, including Hillary Clinton herself when, from the US Congress, she warned about border 'narco-terrorism'.
What kind of journalism is necessary?
Our journalism could do what it has always done or should do: critically report verifiable information. The problem, nevertheless, has been that the journalism that covers the violence has been divided in two main currents: the one that reports on victims and the one that investigates on the alleged perpetrators.
In both cases, reporters abdicate the essential function of their work as journalists, because they limit their attention to subjects that by themselves do not explain the systems of violence in Mexico. Those who cover the victims, often do so from an indignant journalism that is confused with the activism and militant work of the human rights.
This type of journalism extends then in the chronicle of the pain and the reproach, but not on the causes that produced the violence in itself. On the other hand, those who approach the supposed victimizers are responsible for promoting the official information that most of the time determines a priori the identity of the rival traffickers in any shooting.
It never ceases to amaze me the brazenness of the police corporations that blame this or that narco, but leave unpunished a very high percentage of the most elementary crimes. Not even one day has passed after a homicide, but the authorities already know what hit man from which cartel he attacked which rival. This strategy of (dis) information is of course designed to exculpate the armed forces of the country and to place all responsibility on people and organizations without more evidence than military or police 'intelligence'.
Really critical journalism will require an approach without assumptions, will question the political uses of official discourse at the outset and will try to find the connections between violence and electoral processes, the geopolitics of the exploitation of natural resources and the circulation of arms and money between Mexico and the United States.
The reactions of the journalistic guild about my book have been mostly very positive. I think that journalists in general have a greater capacity for self-criticism than, for example, academic researchers or fiction writers. A trained journalist is interested above all in refining their information and in understanding the sociopolitical processes in depth.
I have been able to converse with numerous colleagues in Mexico since the publication of my book and have had very productive exchanges. This is partly because my book draws on the brave and important work of reporters like Ignacio Alvarado, Dawn Paley, Federico Mastrogiovanni and Julian Cardona, among others, who have been the pioneers in analyzing the anti-drug policy and national security discourses. I am sure that, above all, the new generations of journalists will be able to take a critical distance from the hegemonic imaginary of 'narco' in the next decade, largely thanks to the work of all these indispensable reporters.


  1. So the Huachicoleros have been allowed to do what they want with the pipelines as to take attention from the big companies raping the system??

  2. Manufactured wars? Hmm. I heard someone once mention this somewhere. But I thought it was just another kook with his conspiracy theories. - Sol Prendido

  3. This sounds very academic and intellectual - but it is, at the end of the day, a conspiracy theory. Let's see some facts and data instead of generalities like "First, AMLO has affirmed the need to demilitarize the so-called 'war against the narco' closing the army's spaces within the civil government, and second, reviewing the beneficial contracts that have been granted with the energy reform to transnationals that seek the looting of the regions where violence has been most experienced as a method of forced displacement."

    1. Then go in and read correa's book, or other academic naterials. How else do you expect to find the datas and facts if you do not look for them? You are not going to get them in a blog on-line.

  4. Chapo guzman never existed, hes known as a snitch everywhere and by everyone

    1. Lol in your small world maybe... Like it or not... His name will live on, far longer than any of ours. Snitch or not he was a game changer. This is from a Juarez resident who saw first hand how the landscape will never be the same.

    2. Chapo has no hope

    3. Miguel gallardo was a gamechanger. Chapo messed it all up. Good riddance chapo when you tell on people to get ahead at some point you will be told on. Welcome to ADX Chapo hahahahaha

    4. Well Gallardo was a game changer and if memory serves me correctly Mr Gallardo was not involved in murder of DEA agent Camarena—initially—he got involved and is doing life in prison just as Chapo soon will be

  5. Let's take Guerrero and Michoacan for example. So the government is manufacturing stories of narco's battling it out between each other so they can take over the "natural resources" of those states? Why haven't they done so then?

    To claim that "cartels don't exist" and that the government of Mexico has some evil master plan to take over "areas rich in natural resources" is a big stretch. This guy sounds like one of the many bullshitters in Mexico.

    1. thats not whats hes saying, hes saying that many of these "wars" are funded by different factions of Mexican and even foreign goverments like possibly the CIA, the drug gangs cause chaos and the government then takes over then proceeds to take natural resources and more tax payer money, while the poor get poorer and the poor narcos get eliminated but a new generartion of poor youth waiting to get slaughtered

    2. Well said, I believe it was about 10 years ago, when a CIA owned Learjet crashed in Northern Mexico Loaded to the gills with cocaine…

  6. BIG News!: The Mexican Government is not being truthful regarding drug trafficking and organized crime. No pos descubrio el hilo negro.

  7. It's all meth related crime.

  8. Interesting article BB.
    Somewhat disconcerning and yet truthful to accuse government of officially falsifying
    the categorization of Narcos to what's transpiring in Mexico.
    This label and categorization of the narcos are independent and self governed. While an elevated form of itself are called cartels (a sophisticated criminal structure aided by its government). And its through this association with criminals and government which has led many to acquire illicit riches. All along plundering its countries resources and trafficking illegal drugs.

    Maybe the title should read "Cartel AND GOVERNMENT ARE ONE".

  9. Does anyone know where I can get information on what's going on in San Luis Potosi? I just lost a family member out there

  10. “Maybe the title should read "Cartel AND GOVERNMENT ARE ONE". “
    I agree with this title. And my question is if this is a new revelation. Nobody knew that government and narco are colluded? I am saying this because the author is presenting it as if it was big revelation.

    1. Let's call it an awakening to all else who are obscured to the facts.

      Nice reply to my posting


  11. I see and live the drug wars r real. Lost one nephew. U must be living the US in safety. I live in Mexico not safe. Only corrupt politicians. They worst than the Sicarios. They take blood money and think the new President is any different. Lol

  12. Cartels are fabricated by the government of Mexico, and create fake news to thier advantage...sounds true. It is no wonder, they don't want the towns people/ peathant s to bear arms to protect themselves.

    1. Wonder if ALMO, will run with the cartels or against them?

  13. When I was in the Yucatan. there was a big storm. The next day the mex army was patrolling the beaches, looking for white lobsters. It doesn't take much to see how deep this goes.

  14. It is all about the cash!! Make no mistake about it I personally have known for decades that the biggest drug dealer in Mexico was the Mexican government and the federales. Many years ago if you were caught in Mexico with narcotics by the federales they would simply kill you and take Whatever contraband you had. I suspect it’s still that way in many parts of the country.

    There was a time in Mexico with drugs or legal, it was a time of a little violence and murder was virtually nonexistent. However when exposed to the lirecof easy money everyone has their price. Eliminate The profits and the Narcos will disappear just look at the cannabis market in the United States currently. Cannabis from dispensaries has taken over the market in virtually all parts of the country wherevpeople cannot get it legally;

    It is very easy currently, for someone to enter a dispensary with say multiple other people and purchase that months special and purchase pounds of it. Most dispensaries you can get a pound of marijuana that is approximately 20 Percent THC give or take for six to $800.
    As long as cannabis is illegal in parts of the US this will continue to happen and is a perfect example of what happens when you try to regulate and manage and control a social problem punitively and criminally. It doesn’t work if there’s money to be made in a market based on supply and demand then you will have drug trafficking and narcos.


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