Where is the American corporate media at on the disappearance of 43 normalistas from a rural teachers college in Iguala, Guerrero, Mexico? Where is the wall to wall coverage? Where are the calls for Enrique Peña Nieto to resign? Or, at least, where are the calls for Aguirre’s resignation, the governor of Guerrero? Where are the pundits oversimplifying and labeling the Mexican government whatever they want, regardless if it has a basis in fact? The corporate media is eerily silent.
Let us contrast this silence with their coverage of Venezuela not so many months ago. 43 people from all sides of the conflict were killed over a couple of months of violent conflict between the opposition, chavismo supporters and state security forces. The coverage was almost 24/7. The pundits were labeling Maduro a dictator and calling for his head. The coverage was oversimplified and made to push the US government’s position that chavismo must go, without any mention of Maduro or the PSUV being elected, or that this should be decided by referendum and not just by protest.
The difference in coverage of the two cases represents a clear example of imperial priorities in the corporate media. The Mexican students are “unworthy victims” for the US corporate media. The students do not fit neatly into a narrative that supports imperialist ambitions. Actually, because the rural teachers college is a “leftist” school, the students are probably considered deviant by much of the US corporate media, and therefore “legitimate” targets of the Mexican state. So, the coverage, as it was of El Salvadorian Archbishop Oscar Romero’s death in the 1980s, is minimal and passive.
Whereas, in contrast, Venezuela became the cause célèbre of every major media outlet, even though there was no execution/kidnapping of civilians by the state in collusion with vicious drug cartels, but instead a drawn-out conflict begun by a very hostile opposition that is part of a decade long campaign to oust the PSUV from power that already had the 2002 coup attempt under its belt.
For the US corporate media the Venezuelan opposition are “worthy victims” whose narrative fits neatly into the framework of US imperial ambitions as it attempts to make Latin America its backyard once more. They are also “worthy” because they are mostly whiter, more middle and upper class and vacation in Miami. This is unlike the normalistas, who are predominantly indigenous campesinos, a group who only gets paternalistic coverage, if any.
So, let us weigh these two cases.
The case in Mexico is blatantly a state crime against its citizens, with local and state authorities having connections to drug cartels and the police and military implicated. It was carried out against peaceful students who had no weapons, although they did commandeer a bus, which is nothing new for them and has never led to physical harm. One of the students was left in the street with a flayed face and eyes gouged out. So far, the Mexican government has said the kidnapped/murdered students harm foreign investment and gave their “sincerest” condolences.
The case in Venezuela was a conflict between competing political groups representing different class and ethnic/racial interests in which people from all sides died over the course of the conflict and all most likely committed crimes. Those protests continued over a couple of months, even though the Venezuelan government was considered to be absolutely authoritarian in handling the protests by the US corporate media. So far, the Venezuelan government had an open dialogue with all opposition members who wanted to talk with them and made policy concessions.
The former is a much more grievous crime than the latter. Also, the government reaction in the former is callous, compared to the reconciliation proffered by the Venezuelan government. Yet the former receives scant, if any, attention, while the latter was unavoidable during its peak. Only so many conclusions can be drawn from this.
So, please, tell me again how objective the media is. Or maybe at another award celebration the pundits from the US corporate media can tell us how principled they are.
This is not new; acrobatics are normally done in order to make Enrique Peña Nieto seem as if he is trying to stop the bloodshed. This is scandalous seeing as EPN is implicated in the violent police repression in San Salvador Atenco, Mexico State, Mexico that happened while Peña Nieto was Governor. That repression led to two deaths and 207 incidences of cruel treatment, including 26 cases of sexual assault against women. The Nation Human Rights Commission said that preference was given to force by the government, instead of diplomacy, leading to the human rights violations. The New York Times dedicated one paragraph to the heinous act which doesn’t mention Enrique Peña Nieto even once.
Communities lose out to oil palm plantations
Palm oil is not something you would associate with a Mexican kitchen. But go to any supermarket in the country, and you will find countless products containing it. The country’s food system has changed immensely since the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) came into effect in 1994 and multinational companies moved in to take control of the country’s food supply. The alarming rate of obesity, now higher than that of the US, is one manifestation of Mexico’s changing food landscape, and tied to this is the escalating consumption of palm oil.
Palm oil consumption has increased by over four times since NAFTA was signed, and it now accounts for one quarter of the vegetable oil consumed by the average Mexican, up from 10% in 1996. Other countries in Latin America undergoing similar changes to their food systems have also increased their consumption of palm oil. Venezuelans have doubled their intake, and Brazilians are consuming 5 times what they did in 1996.
This growing consumption is matched by growing production, not in Mexico, but in those countries where oil palm can be most cheaply produced. A third of Latin America’s palm oil exports now go to Mexico.
Colombia, with about 450,000 ha under production, is the biggest palm oil producer in the Americas. Since the late 1990s, Colombia’s palm oil production has taken off for several overlapping reasons, including government incentives and a national biodiesel mandate. Oil palm has also been promoted as a substitute crop for coca as part of the US-backed “Plan Colombia” – a programme aimed at ending the country’s long-standing armed conflict and curbing cocaine production. Paradoxically, palm oil is also proving a useful way for drug cartels, paramilitaries and landlords to launder money and maintain control of the countryside.
The most notorious land grabs for palm oil in Colombia have occurred in the north west Chocó province, where businessmen and paramilitaries have colluded to force Afro-Colombian communities to cede their territories for palm oil plantations and contract farming. After dozens of Afro-Colombian leaders were killed resisting such land grabs, Colombia’s Prosecutor General’s Office brought forward charges against 19 palm oil businessmen for crimes of conspiracy, forced displacement, and the invasion of ecologically important land. Three of these businessmen have so far been convicted.
Disease outbreaks have limited palm oil’s expansion in Chocó Province and most of the expansion has instead happened on the pasture lands of the central and eastern parts of the country, where the oil palm industry claims there is little deforestation and displacement of peasants. But studies show that these pasture lands are in fact typically common areas vital to peasants for the production of their food crops and the grazing of their livestock. The “pasture lands” are often the only lands that peasants have access to, and palm oil companies routinely use force and coercion, including paramilitaries, to take control of these lands from them or to force them into oppressive contract production arrangements. Across Colombia, the expansion of palm oil and the presence of paramilitaries are tightly correlated.
Ecuador, Latin America’s second largest palm oil producer, has also seen a recent expansion in oil palm production. While much of its palm oil is produced on farms of less than 50 ha, new expansion is driven by private companies who have been moving into the territories of Afro-Ecuadorians and other indigenous peoples in the Northern part of the country, leading to severe deforestation and displacement and meeting with stiff local resistance.
Land conflicts over palm oil are also erupting in Central America. In Honduras, peasants in the Aguan Valley have been killed, jailed and terrorized for trying to defend their lands and small palm oil farms from powerful national businessmen who have been grabbing their lands to expand their palm oil plantations with the backing of foreign capital. Ironically, these peasant families first moved into the forests of the Aguan in the 1970s as part of a government land reform programme, and were encouraged to grow palm oil and establish their own cooperatives. The neoliberal policies of the 1990s and a coup d’état in 2009, opened the door for powerful local businessmen like Miguel Facussé, to destroy the peasant cooperatives, violently grab lands for plantations, and reorient the supply chain towards exports for biofuels and multinational food companies. Likewise in Guatemala, where production of palm oil has quadrupled over the past decade, the palm oil sector is now entirely controlled by just eight wealthy families who have been aggressively seizing lands from indigenous communities, such as the Q’eqchi,
Some industry insiders predict that an expansion of oil palm production in Brazil will soon dwarf all other production in the region. Brazil is a net importer, and production has so far been confined to a small area of Pará, in the North. But, unlike in other regional palm oil producing countries where production is dominated by national companies and wealthy landowning families, transnational corporations have recently made significant investments in Brazilian palm oil production, such as the mining company Vale, energy companies Petrobras and Galp, and ADM, one of the world’s largest grain traders and a major shareholder in the world’s largest palm oil processor Wilmar.
Tanya M. Kerssen, “Grabbing Power: The New Struggles for Land, Food and Democracy in Northern Honduras,” FoodFirst, 1 February 2013
Human Rights Everywhere, “The flow of palm oil Colombia- Belgium/Europe: A study from a human rights perspective,” 2006
In order to overcome massive US and world public opposition to new wars in the Middle East, Obama relied on the horrific internet broadcasts of ISIS slaughtering two American hostages, the journalists James Foley and Steve Sotloff, by decapitation. These brutal murders were Obama’s main propaganda tool to set a new Middle East war agenda – his own casus belli bonanza!
This explains the US Administration’s threats of criminal prosecution against the families of Foley and Sotloff when they sought to ransom their captive sons from ISIS.
With the American mass media repeatedly showing the severed heads of these two helpless men, public indignation and disgust were aroused with calls for US military involvement to stop the terror. US and EU political leaders presented the decapitations of Western hostages by the so-called Islamic State (ISIS) as a direct and mortal threat to the safety of civilians in the US and Europe. The imagery evoked was of black-clad faceless terrorists, armed to the teeth, invading Europe and the US and executing innocent families as they begged for rescue and mercy.
The problem with this propaganda ploy is not the villainy and brutal crimes celebrated by ISIS, but the fact that Obama’s closest ally in his seventh war in six years is Saudi Arabia, a repugnant kingdom which routinely decapitates its prisoners in public without any judicial process recognizable as fair by civilized standards – unless tortured ‘confessions’ are now a Western norm. During August 2014, when ISIS decapitated two American captives, Riyadh beheaded fourteen prisoners. Since the beginning of the year the Saudi monarchy has decapitated more than 46 prisoners and chopped off the arms and limbs of many more. During Obama and Kerry’s recent visit to Saudi Arabia, horrendous decapitations were displayed in public. These atrocities did not dim the bright smile on Barak Obama’s face as he strolled with his genial royal Saudi executioners, in stark contrast to the US President’s stern and angry countenance as he presented the ISIS killing of two Americans as his pretext for bombing Syria.
The Western mass media are silent in the face of the Saudi Kingdom’s common practice of public decapitation. Not one among the major news corporations, the BBC, the Financial Times, the New York Times, the Washington Post, NBC, CBS and NPR, have questioned the moral authority of a US President who engages in selective condemnation of ISIS while ignoring the official Saudi state beheadings and the amputations.
Decapitation and Dismemberment: By Dagger and Drones
The ISIS internet videos showing gaunt, orange-suited Western prisoners and their lopped-off heads have evoked widespread dismay and fear. We are repeatedly told: ‘ISIS is coming to get us!’ But ISIS is open and public about their criminal acts against helpless hostages. We cannot say the same about the decapitations and dismemberment of the hundreds of victims of US drone attacks. When a drone fires its missiles on a home, a school, wedding party or vehicle, the bodies of living people are dismembered, macerated, decapitated and burned beyond recognition – all by remote control. The carnage is not videoed or displayed for mass consumption by Obama’s high command. Indeed, civilian deaths, if even acknowledged, are brushed off as ‘collateral damage’ while the vaporized remnants of men, women and children have been described by US troops as ‘pink foam’.
If the brutal decapitation and dismemberment of innocent civilians is a capital crime that should be punished, as I believe it is, then both ISIS and the Obama regime with his allied leaders should face a people’s war crimes tribunal in the countries where the crimes occurred.
There are good reasons to view Washington’s close relation with the Saudi royal beheaders as part of a much broader alliance with terror-evoking brutality. For decades, the US drug agencies and banks have worked closely with criminal drug cartels in Mexico while glossing over their notorious practice of decapitating, dismembering and displaying their victims, be they local civilians, courageous journalists, captured police or migrants fleeing the terror of Central America. The notorious Zetas and the Knights Templar have penetrated the highest reaches of the Mexican federal and local governments, turning state officials and institutions into submissive and obedient clients. Over 100,000 Mexicans have lost their lives because of this ‘state within a state’, an ‘ISIS’ in Mexico – just ‘South of the Border’. And just like ISIS in the Middle East, the cartels get their weapons from the US imported right across the Texas and Arizona borders. Despite this gruesome terror on the US southern flank, the nation’s principle banks, including Bank of America, CitiBank, Wells Fargo and many others have laundered billions of dollars of drug profits for the cartels. For example, the discovery of 49 decapitated bodies in one mass in May 2014 did not prompt Washington to form a world-wide coalition to bomb Mexico, nor was it moved to arrest the Wall Street bankers laundering the ‘beheaders bloody booty’.
Obama’s hysterical and very selective presentation of ISIS crimes forms the pretext for launching another war against a predominantly Muslim country, Syria, while shielding his close ally, the royal Saudi decapitator from US public outrage. ISIS crimes have become another excuse to launch a campaign of ‘mass decapitation by drones and bombers’. The mass propaganda campaign over one crime against humanity becomes the basis for perpetrating even worse crimes against humanity. Many hundreds of innocent civilians in Syria and Iraq will be dismembered by ‘anti-terrorist’ bombs and drones unleashed by another of Obama’s ‘coalition’.
The localized savagery of ISIS will be multiplied, amplified and spread by the US-directed ‘coalition of the willing decapitators’. The terror of hooded beheaders on the ground will be answered and expanded by their faceless counterparts in the air, while delicately hiding the heads rolling through the public squares of Riyadh or the headless bodies displayed along the highways of Mexico … and especially ignoring the hidden victims of US-Saudi aggression in the towns and villages of Syria.
Local police shot and killed two students during a civil disobedience action in protest of their college’s underfunding.
A group of protestors from teacher-training college Normal de Ayotzinapa in Iguala, Guerrero privince, attempted to seize three buses on Friday night in an escalation of their campaign against their college´s poor conditions.
Representative of the Student’s Committee, Pedro David Garcia, said the protesters were unarmed and non-violent.
“We were trying to raise money, we took these measures because the government always ignores us. We spoke to the bus drivers and they agreed to give us the buses, but we did not threaten them, because we are students,” said Garcia.
According to the demonstrators, two of them tried to negotiate with police when officers arrived on the scene, but they were shot dead. The police continued firing at the protesters.
After the shootings, the students ran away. At least 25 of them have not yet been found.
Representatives of the Mexican Human Rights Commission went to Iguala to investigate allegations of police brutality and to support the victims of the attack.
Another shooting occured the same night near Iguala city’s highway. A teenage amateur football player traveling with his team in a bus was killed. The bus driver was badly injured and died some hours later. Another woman traveling in a taxi was also killed.
Members of Mexican federal police have come to Iguala to take charge of the city’s security while the incidents are investigated. The local police force has been detained, while their weapons were seized.
At least 25 students and four other football players were injured during the attacks.
Guerrero is one of the poorest states in Mexico, and violent episodes are frequent due to the presence of drug cartels in the state.
A group of Mexican legislative deputies announced on June 2 that they would call on the federal Governance Secretariat to guarantee the security of family members of Nestora Salgado, an imprisoned community activist from the largely indigenous town of Olinalá in the southwestern state of Guerrero. The announcement came one day after an attack on a bus that Salgado’s daughter Saira Salgado was riding from Olinalá to Mexico City for a scheduled meeting with legislators. Armed men stopped the bus shortly after it left Olinalá and without explanation executed a woman passenger. Saira Salgado said the victim was dressed the way she herself is usually dressed. After the murder, the men left without harming or robbing the other passengers. Deputy Roberto López, of the center-left Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD), charged that the attack was not an isolated incident.
Nestora Salgado is a naturalized US citizen from Olinalá who migrated to the US and settled in Washington state. In recent years she began visiting her hometown and became involved in community affairs there; eventually she was elected head of the community police force. Community police forces are legally recognized in Guerrero, and Salgado originally had good relations with the state government. But in August 2013 she ordered the arrest of a local official, Armando Patrón Jiménez, in connection with cattle rustling and the deaths of two ranchers. Five days later Salgado herself was arrested on charges of kidnapping and was removed to a federal women’s prison at Tepic in the western state of Nayarit. She has been held there ever since without access to a lawyer; her daughter’s meeting with legislators was intended to discuss their plan to have her transferred to a more accessible prison in Mexico City.
Mexican and US activists have organized a campaign for Salgado’s release, along with a petition drive. The US government had done nothing to help with Salgado’s case despite her status as a US citizen, Deputy Loretta Ortiz Ahlf, of the small leftist Labor Party (PT), said on June 2. (La Jornada (Mexico) 6/3/14; Desinformémonos (Mexico) 6/8/14)
Subcommader Marcos has spoken “his last words in public,” reads a statement from the Zapatista National Liberation Army (EZLN). According to the statement, the figure of Marcos is “no longer necessary,” reported Pulsar news agency.
Marcos announced he will no longer be the spokesperson for the EZLN and will change names to subcommander Galeano, in tribute to the indigenous leader killed on May 2 during an attack on the small farmer and farm worker organization Central Independiente de Obreros Agrícolas y Campesinos Histórica (Cioac).
The new Zapatista spokesperson is subcommander Moses, explained Marcos. He noted that “the baton of command is not passed on due to illness or death or by internal displacement, purging or cleansing, it is due to internal changes that took place and take place in the EZLN.”
Recalling the birth of the character “subcommander Marcos”, he said it was “a complex maneuver of distraction, a trick of terrible and wonderful magic, a malicious move of the native heart.”
“The character was created and now its creators, the Zapatistas, destroy it,” said Marcos.
“It is our belief that to rebel and fight that neither leaders, political bosses, messiahs or saviors are necessary. To fight it just takes a little sense of shame, a bit of dignity and a lot of organization,” concludes the Zapatista statement.
Mexico City, Mexico – Oil in Mexico is much more than a symbol of national pride. For the past 75 years it has been an enormous source of income for developing Mexico’s infrastructure and improving social welfare. When, on this day in 1938, President Lázaro Cárdenas expropriated U.S.- and U.K.-owned oil companies, he allowed Mexico to achieve relative independence and modest prosperity. The nationalization of oil saved Mexico from becoming a paralyzed, essentially colonized country like Guatemala, which has a major mining industry that is almost entirely foreign-owned.
Petróleos Mexicanos (PEMEX), the state-owned company with exclusive access to Mexico’s oil, is one of the most lucrative companies in the world. In 2012 it declared profits of over 900 billion pesos (or $70 billion), earnings comparable to those of American oil and gas giants like ExxonMobil and Chevron. More importantly, PEMEX has historically distributed its profits among the Mexican population more equitably than any other industry in the country. Sixty percent of Mexico’s spending on social welfare comes from oil income. Among the things this income currently pays for are education, health care and programs to fight extreme poverty. Every Mexican citizen owns PEMEX, and the profits the company generates have made palpable differences in all of our lives.
Lucrative as it is, PEMEX could make and distribute much greater revenues if it were not so corrupt, inefficient and archaic. We have long known of grave problems with the oil industry and union, such as losses in refining and production. (Output has fallen 25 percent since 2004.) If PEMEX isn’t brought up to date in the next few years, there is a serious danger that the company will collapse. But instead of reforming the institution, the current government has exploited PEMEX’s deficiencies under the guise of reform to fiercely promote a very different agenda: the privatization of oil in Mexico.
Far from modernizing PEMEX, eliminating corruption or directing more income to Mexico’s citizens, the so-called energy reform passed by Congress and signed into law by President Enrique Peña Nieto in December will radically shift the distribution of oil profits from the public to a few private investors. The bill modified Mexico’s constitution to allow private oil companies to compete with PEMEX in every aspect of oil production. Underground oil reserves will still belong to Mexico, but since all profits derived from production will go to corporations, these reforms effectively constitute a privatization. Yet the president never admitted to this underlying agenda in the lead-up to the bill’s passage; his administration has altogether avoided using the word “privatization,” in favor of vague references to “modernization” and “the need for private investment.” This lack of honesty has generated tremendous confusion among the Mexican population, greatly debilitating potential opposition to the bill.
As Peña Nieto and his Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) prepare a new set of bills that will implement the changes to oil laws, a multimillion-dollar publicity campaign of disinformation initiated last year by his administration still saturates the mass media, diverting the debate on “energy reform” by reducing it to obvious questions: Is reform necessary? Is PEMEX efficient? Do we need progress and modernization? As a result, we have skipped over the most pressing and fundamental questions: What should the nature of this reform be? How will profits be distributed? What measures are in place to fight the corruption that causes us to lose so much of our oil income? In order to modernize, do we have to abandon the idea that Mexican oil belongs to the people of Mexico?
The recent history of PEMEX is a story of deliberate sabotage. PEMEX managers have enabled politicians to keep a portion of the company’s profits for decades, laying the groundwork for privatization by making corruption seem like the natural result of a nationalized industry. But the underlying problem has always been and still is political corruption, not a lack of private investment. Consider Romero Deschamps, the leader of PEMEX’s union since 1989, who is accused of stealing an estimated 3 billion pesos’ worth of the union’s assets and of having illegally created secret “private” companies that undertake contract work for PEMEX. In spite of the abundant proof of his guilt, Deschamps is currently a senator for the ruling PRI. Peña Nieto claims that stamping out such criminality is one of the primary objectives of the current “reform,” but his policy for overhauling the industry doesn’t contain a single strategy aimed at fighting corruption.
The majority of the proposed structural changes to PEMEX aren’t even necessary for the task of modernizing Mexico’s oil industry. PEMEX already has access to cutting-edge technologies since private oil companies can operate in Mexico and have been doing so (for example, PEMEX is currently contracting the services of Halliburton and OHL). Whether or not PEMEX should contract private companies is irrelevant; what matters are the terms on which it partners with the private sector. The fact that the Peña Nieto administration is permitting profit-sharing contracts—which have historically been imposed on poor countries, with disastrous results—rather than limiting partnerships to licensing permits that would pave the way for increased efficiency without signing away the democratic ownership of resources, is another clear indicator of the underlying agendas behind the “energy reform.” As former PEMEX director general Adrián Lajous has argued, profit-sharing contracts render private companies unaccountable, leaving the state, its resources and its people vulnerable.
Peña Nieto presents his “reform” as the magic solution to PEMEX’s problems, as if the neoliberal dream of privatization without regulation were synonymous with social justice, economic well-being and democracy. But the facts paint a very different picture. Since neoliberal policies surged in the 1980s and former president Carlos Salinas de Gortari signed NAFTA into law in 1994, a weakened state, incapable of protecting the environment and the rights of its poorest people, has created the perfect conditions for political and corporate corruption. We live every day with the consequences of Carlos Slim’s acquisition of Telmex, the telecommunications company that Salinas privatized in 1990. Because there is little regulation, prices are high and service is poor, and Slim is now one of the richest men in the world. Another dark legacy of Salinas is his privatization of the banking sector and creation of Fobaproa, an agency intended to prevent banks from going bankrupt. After Mexico’s 1994 economic crisis, the institution of Fobaproa meant that the public paid off banks’ massive debts. High-ranking politicians and businessmen have pocketed extraordinary profits, while everyday people have borne greater economic burdens, with each move to privatize. The result is a spectacular growth in inequality. More than 53 million people in Mexico today—nearly half the country—live in poverty, and 11.5 million Mexicans live in extreme poverty. Meanwhile, the eleven richest men in the country have accumulated roughly 11 percent of the GDP.
We cannot undertake true energy reform in Mexico without first undertaking political reforms that would decisively and effectively tackle corruption. Sadly, because it does nothing to change political structures and curb corruption, the current legislative process is taking us further away from democratic values and constitutes a huge step in the wrong direction. Approved by politicians who never consulted voters, the bill passed in December opens the field for companies that are known the world over for their abusive practices and for co-opting politicians (ExxonMobil, Shell, BP, OHL) to operate in Mexico without regulation or restriction. In the words of the historian Lorenzo Meyer Cossío, we are opening the door to “mercenaries.” The Mexican government expects its citizens to place ownership of our hydrocarbons in private hands, without our agreement and in exchange for minimal revenue. But modernization does not require that we give up our resources. Improvement shouldn’t entail changing the basic principle that natural resources belong to us all.
The “energy reform” currently under way is a huge step toward greater inequality, environmental devastation and the loss of economic and political independence for Mexico. It is one example of the neoliberal fantasy of unregulated capitalism that has landed us in our present situation, in which the 85 richest people in the world hold the same amount of wealth as the 3.5 billion poorest. We are living through the greatest inequality in the history of humanity and unprecedented ecological destruction. To combat this urgent situation, we need to strengthen fragile regulatory structures by creating independent, democratically owned institutions. By instead dismantling the few supportive social structures left, Peña Nieto’s government is pushing Mexico to a dangerous place. Against a backdrop of extreme poverty and social injustice, the PRI’s “reforms” will, sooner or later, lead to revolt.
Translated by Georgia Phillips-Amos.
This piece was made possible, in part, by the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts.
Professor Cyrus Bina relates the facts that (outside of Zionism) the colonial era ended decades ago and that the oil industry and markets have been globalized. The various theories that have been put forward from both the left and the right regarding war rationales that rely on demonisation of OPEC are essentially nothing more than outdated fear mongering. Cyrus Bina has been vindicated by more recent events which have shown that oil prices have been determined by Western financial markets rather than exporters.
The history of Middle Eastern oil, including its subsequent development into a modern industry, can be divided into three distinct stages: (1) the era of international cartels, 1901-1950; (2) the era of transition, 1950-1972; and (3) the era of globalization since the mid-1970s. A slightly different historical periodization can be provided for the U.S. domestic oil industry: (1) the era of classical cartelization and early oil trusts of 1870-1910; (2) the era of regulated neo-cartelization of 1911-1972; and (3) the era of globalization since the mid-1970s. A close examination of the entire 1870-1970 period would reveal that administrative pricing under the International Oil Cartel (known as Seven Sisters) were predominantly the rule in the oil business. The cartel, however, began to lose its grip during the 1950s and 1960s. Proliferating market forces, in con-junction with the development of capitalist social relations in the colonial and semi-colonial oil regions, had overcome the colonial concessions and worldwide administrative control of oil under the international oil cartel. The oil crisis of 1973-1974 was but the symptom of this transformation toward globalization. Moreover, the so-called “OPEC offensive”—which was misperceived by both the right and the left as the cause for re-control of oil market/prices —was but the catalyst of this de-cartelization and globalization of oil.
The war-for-oil scenario, as a popular myth, ignores the deeper understanding of the complex web of contradictions and regulating dynamics of today’s economy and polity. Yet, the very anachronism of this scenario is understandable in the view of the anachronistic U.S. behavior that is so dreadfully attempting to reverse the loss of American hegemony against the time and, more importantly, history. Therefore, parallel with the anachronistic reality of U.S. colonial conduct in Iraq, the anachronism of the “oil grab” becomes “reality” in the minds of those who chant “No Blood for Oil.” Yet, holding a parallel between the U.S. invasion of Iraq and the control of oil is a far fetched proposition, if not an outright illusion. For, since the mid 1970s, the material bases and dynamics of post-cartelization and globalization of oil render the physical access, prearranged inter-company allocation, and indeed administrative control and pricing of oil redundant. This rather counter intuitive reality also renders any connection between the war and oil—other than given disbursement to finance matters such as the establishment of a puppet government—superfluous.
Nevertheless, in an interview, James Schlesinger remarked: “The United States [Bush, 41st] has gone to war now, and the American people presume this will lead to a secure oil supply. As a society we have made a choice to secure access to oil by military means. The alternative is to become independent to a large degree of that secure access.” It is indeed surprising that a market worshipping Chicago School economist fails to see the formation of (spot) oil prices within interconnected and unified markets since the post-cartelization of oil in the 1970s. Schlesinger, on the one hand, stresses the phrase “secure access” and, on the other hand, underscores the alternative of “independence,” as if one can insulate the U.S. oil industry from the rest of transnational oil. This thesis provides a convenient cover for two separate strategic projects: justifying the war without exposing its real cause, and creating panic by playing the familiar scarcity card to extend the exploration of oil in the pristine U.S. regions of wildlife such as ANWAR. In this context this was also what the Bush administration and Cheney’s “Task Force on Energy” probably had in mind when they were referring to “secure oil.”
In a nutshell, the above thesis ignores (1) the mutuality of oil producers and oil consumer, the need of both sides in selling and purchasing in the competitive global oil market, (2) the interdependence of oil regions in the present interdependent world, (3) the formation of global prices based on the cost of highest cost (U.S.) producer, not the cost of individual oil regions, and (4) the formation of differential oil rents, given the existing differential (regional) costs, through competition. Here, the dramatized “oil dependency” is but an empty phrase in the view of the trans nationalization of oil since the 1970s.
On the opposite side, hardly anyone on the left fully recognized the implication of uncritical acceptance of the above tautological thesis. Thus, the left-wing liberals and the radical left adopted this theory and dressed it up in leftist garb before applying it to either the question of war or the problem of environment. Michael Klare is one of the remarkable defenders of this thesis on the left. He declares: “Two key concerns underlie the Administration’s [Bush, 43rd] thinking: First,the United States is becoming dangerously dependent on imported petroleum to meet its daily energy requirements, and second, Iraq possesses the world’s largest reserves of untapped petroleum after Saudi Arabia.” Klare, however, takes this thesis one step further to an improvised level of neo-Malthusian scarcity:
“Global demand for many key materials is growing at an unsustainable rate. As the human population grows, societies require more of everything (food, water, energy, timber, minerals, fibers, and so on) to satisfy the basic material requirements of their individual members…. Because the production and utilization of these products entails [sic.] the consumption of vast amount of energy, minerals, and other materials, the global requirement for many basic commodities has consistently exceeded the rate of population growth.”
This worn-out neo-Malthusian message has again been reiterated in Blood and Oil. Yet, Klare, who is perplexed by the gravity of U.S. involvement in Iraq is “compelled … to conclude that petroleum is unique among the world’s resources that it has more potential than any of the others to provoke major crises and conflicts in the years ahead.” Again for Klare (and for many on the left) the specificity of the cause-and-effect seems to have no bearing on this historically unique epochal conflict and his fascination with oil is so intensive that he fails to realize a need for a specific and independent analytical proof.
I contend that, at best, the war-for-oil scenario is a text with out a context. On a logical level, the oil scenario is a remarkable example of a post hoc, ergo propter hoc fallacy, misplacing the real cause of U.S. military intervention. Moreover, by neglecting the depth of the last two decades of global transformation, the protagonists on the left and the right both have adopted a very voluntaristic-functionalist view of the U.S. global role. The left tends to capitalize on a voluntaristic interpretation of the concept of hegemony and the functionalist pivot of U.S. military might. For Klare, though, the global conflict “is entirely the product of geology.” The right, on the other hand, tends to rely on the notion of a “unipolar” world and wishful arguments of the “bound to lead” variety, without adequate attention to the emerging new polarities associated with the loss of American hegemony and the forces of globalization.
Others on the left, who are obsessively fond of the war-for-oil scenario, argue that this war may not have been for oil in the interest of U.S. capitalism as a whole, but rather in the interest of “U.S. oil corporations.” Hence, they propose that the cost of war amounts to a huge subsidy by the entire society given to the oil industry. This is a fictitious argument derived from the blind assumption of “direct access” and physical control of oil, and absolute denial of the reality of global transformation of the oil industry in the early 1970s. It is also crude and arbitrary, given the reduction of the material interests of the entire (U.S.) capitalist class to the alleged interests of its tiny fraction. And, appealing to casual observation, such as watching news from the Iraqi oil fields and the arrival of oil service contractors for “rebuilding” Iraq, is not sufficient to turn away from serious analysis. The truth is that this adventurous undertaking is in the interest of neither.
Finally, attaching significance to the switching of the currency, from dollar to euro, by OPEC oil producers is unjustified. As Paul Krugman pointed out in a short note, any possible shift from the dollar to the euro on the part of OPEC will result in a “small change,” for the U.S. economy, much smaller than the switching made already by the “Russian Mafia.” However, many on the left are not losing any opportunity to grasp this straw.
In a historic move, Mexican congress members have voted to open the state-controlled energy sector to foreign investment for the first time in 75 years. On Thursday, President Enrique Peña Nieto applauded the legislation, which is poised to become the nation’s most significant economic reform since the North Atlantic Free Trade Agreement.
“The energy reform marks a fundamental transformation that will allow us to increase our energy sovereignty and self-sufficiency in Mexico,” Peña Nieto wrote on Twitter Thursday morning. “It will also drive productivity, economic growth and job creation in Mexico.”
The legislation will alter several articles of Mexico’s Constitution, allowing private multinationals to develop the country’s oil and natural gas resources for the first time since 1938, when former President Lazaro Cardenas nationalized the energy industry with the creation of Pemex, or Petróleos Mexicanos.
Though Mexico still owns its natural resources, foreign companies such as Exxon Mobil Corp. and Chevron Corp will be able to search, drill and open gasoline stations under contract with the Mexican state.
The end of the Pemex energy monopoly is expected to bring Mexico an additional $20 billion in foreign investment per year as multinationals race to tap vast deepwater oil reserves in the Gulf of Mexico. According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, the region is the largest unexplored oil patch outside the Arctic Circle.
Yet in a country where local oil production has long been a source of national pride and is often equated with sovereignty, the reform has been heavily contested by opposition leaders from the Party of Democratic Revolution (PRD), who have said the measure should go before a national referendum.
“We warn all private, national and, above all, transnational businesses and companies that want to come and invest in Mexico and petroleum, in order to expropriate Mexican petroleum, to think again,” said Jesus Zambrano, president of the PRD. “The most probable outcome is that within a year and a half, a recall referendum will reject this change.”
On Thursday, PRD members blocked the entrances to the lower house’s main voting hall to prevent discussion of the bill. Antonio Garcia, a PRD lawmaker, even stripped down to his underwear during to symbolize a nation stripped of its wealth.
Regardless, members from the ruling Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) and the conservative National Action Party (PAN), met in an adjacent conference room where they passed the legislation with 353-134 vote. Peña Nieto is expected to sign the bill in February after it has been ratified by state legislatures.
Currently, Mexico is the 10th largest oil producer in the world and proponents of the reform say it could propel the nation into the top five by taking advantage of new extraction and deepwater exploration technologies that Pemex cannot afford.
After peaking in 2004, Mexico’s oil production has declined by 25 percent to 2.5 million barrels a day. During the same period, Pemex has more than doubled operational spending to $20 billion per year, gaining the company a reputation for inefficiency and corruption.
Still, Pemex revenues provide a third of Mexican government’s annual budget and the company’s 160,000 employees face an uncertain future as lawmakers finalize the reform details, which include the removal of all five representatives of Pemex’s worker’s union from the company board.
To put the PRI agenda in perspective, The Financial Times said “energy is the climax of a sweeping agenda of reforms, including telecoms, labor, tax and education, which Enrique Peña Nieto has championed in his first year as president.”
El Pais: México cambia su historia energética a contrarreloj – http://internacional.elpais.com/internacional/2013/12/12/actualidad/1386888542_011957.html
Bloomberg: Mexico Passes Oil Bill Seen Luring $20 Billion a Year – http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2013-12-12/mexico-lower-house-passes-oil-overhaul-to-break-state-monopoly.html
New York Times: Mexico’s Pride, Oil, May Be Opened to Outsiders – http://www.nytimes.com/2013/12/13/world/americas/mexico-oil.html?hpw&rref=business
Financial Times: Mexico courts foreign investment with energy reform – http://www.ft.com/intl/cms/s/0/e2242e2c-632e-11e3-886f-00144feabdc0.html#axzz2nIk7FhZe
Wall Street Journal: Mexico Congress Passes Historic Energy Bill – http://online.wsj.com/news/articles/SB10001424052702303932504579254013051981266
Reuters: Mexican Congress passes radical shake-up of oil industry – http://ca.reuters.com/article/businessNews/idCABRE9BB16820131212
Twenty years since its passage, NAFTA has displaced workers on both sides of the U.S.-Mexico border, depressed wages, weakened unions, and set the terms of the neoliberal global economy.
Foreign Policy In Focus is partnering with Mexico’s La Jornada del campo magazine, where an earlier version of this commentary appeared, to publish a series of pieces examining the impacts of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) 20 years since its implementation. This is the first in the series.
The North American Free Trade Agreement, or NAFTA, was the door through which American workers were shoved into the neoliberal global labor market.
By establishing the principle that U.S. corporations could relocate production elsewhere and sell their products back into the United States, NAFTA undercut the bargaining power of American workers, which had driven the expansion of the middle class since the end of World War II. The result has been 20 years of stagnant wages and the upward redistribution of income, wealth, and political power.
A Template for Neoliberal Globalization
NAFTA impacted U.S. workers in four principal ways.
First, it caused the loss of some 700,000 jobs as companies moved their production to Mexico, where labor was cheaper. Most of these losses came in California, Texas, Michigan, and other states where manufacturing is concentrated (and where many immigrants from Mexico go). To be sure, there were some job gains along the border in the service and retail sectors resulting from increased trucking activity. But these gains are small in relation to the losses, and have generally come in lower paying occupations. The vast majority of workers who lost jobs from NAFTA, therefore, suffered a permanent loss of income.
Second, NAFTA strengthened the ability of U.S. employers to force workers to accept lower wages and benefits. As soon as NAFTA became law, corporate managers began telling their workers that their companies intended to move to Mexico unless the workers lowered the cost of their labor. In the midst of collective bargaining negotiations with unions, some companies even started loading machinery into trucks that they said were bound for Mexico. The same threats were used to fight union organizing efforts. The message was: “If you vote to form a union, we will move south of the border.” With NAFTA, corporations also could more easily blackmail local governments into giving them tax breaks and other subsidies, which of course ultimately meant higher taxes on employees and other taxpayers.
Third, NAFTA drove several million Mexican workers and their families out of the agriculture and small business sectors, which could not compete with the flood of products—often subsidized—from U.S. producers. This dislocation was a major cause of the dramatic increase of undocumented workers in the United States, putting further downward pressure on North American wages, particularly in already lower-paying labor markets.
Fourth, and ultimately most importantly, NAFTA created a template for the rules of the emerging global economy, in which the benefits would flow to capital and the costs to labor. Among other things, NAFTA granted corporations extraordinary protections against national labor laws that might threaten profits, set up special courts—chosen from rosters of pro-business experts—to judge corporate suits against governments, and at the same time effectively denied legal status to workers and unions to defend themselves in these new cross-border jurisdictions.
The U.S. governing class—in alliance with the financial elites of its trading partners—applied the NAFTA principles to the World Trade Organization, to the policies of the World Bank and IMF, and to the deal under which employers of China’s huge supply of low-wage workers were allowed access to U.S. markets in exchange for allowing American multinational corporations to invest there. The NAFTA doctrine of socialism for capital and free markets for labor also drove U.S. policy in the Mexican peso crisis of 1994-95, the Asian financial crash of 1997, and the global financial meltdown of 2008. In each case, the U.S. government organized the rescue of banks and corporate investors while letting the workers fend for themselves.
A Watershed in U.S. Politics
In U.S. politics, the passage of NAFTA under President Bill Clinton signaled that the elites of the Democratic Party—the “progressive” major party—had accepted the reactionary economic ideology of Ronald Reagan.
A “North American Accord” was first proposed by the Republican Reagan in 1979, a year before he was elected president. A decade later, his Republican successor, George H.W. Bush, negotiated the final agreement with Mexico and Canada.
At the time, the Democrats who controlled Congress would not approve the agreement. And when Democrat Bill Clinton was elected in 1992, it was widely assumed that the political pendulum would swing back from the right, and that therefore NAFTA would never pass. But Clinton surrounded himself with economic advisers from Wall Street and in his first year pushed the approval of NAFTA through the Congress.
Despite the rhetoric, the central goal of NAFTA was not “expanding trade.” After all, the United States, Mexico, and Canada had been trading goods and services with each other for three centuries. NAFTA’s central purpose was to free American corporations from U.S. laws protecting workers and the environment. Moreover, it paved the way for the rest of the neoliberal agenda in the United States: the privatization of public services, the deregulation of finance, and the destruction of the independent trade union movement.
The inevitable result was to undercut the living standards of workers all across North America: Wages and benefits have fallen behind worker productivity in all three countries. Moreover, despite declining wages in the United States, the gap between the typical American and typical Mexican worker in manufacturing remains the same. Even after adjusting for differences in living costs, Mexican workers continue to make about 30 percent of the wages that workers make in the United States. Thus, NAFTA is both symbol and substance of the global “race to the bottom.”
Creating a New Template
Here in North America there are two alternative political strategies for change.
One is repeal: NAFTA gives each nation the right to opt out of the agreement. The problem is that by now the three countries’ economies and populations have become so integrated that dis-integration could cause widespread dislocation, unemployment, and a substantial drop in living standards.
The other option is to build a cross-border political movement to rewrite NAFTA in a way that gives ordinary citizens rights and labor protections at least equal to the current privileges of corporate investors. For example, all three NAFTA nations should adopt similar high standards for the protection of free trade unions, collective bargaining, and health and safety—and their citizens should have the right to sue other countries for violations.
This would obviously not be easy. But a foundation has already been laid by the growing collaboration among immigrant, trade unionist, human rights, and other activist organizations in all three counties.
If such a movement could succeed in drawing up a new continent-wide social contract, North American economic integration—instead of being a blueprint for worker exploitation—might just become a model for bringing social justice to the global economy.
Jeff Faux is the founder, and now Distinguished Fellow, of the Economic Policy Institute in Washington DC. His latest book is The Servant Economy.
As of Dec. 8 the Mexican Senate was set to begin debates on President Enrique Peña Nieto’s plan for opening up the state-owned oil and electric companies, Petróleos Mexicanos (Pemex) and the Federal Energy Commission (CFE), to greater participation by foreign and Mexican private companies. Supporters say the “energy reform” will bring needed capital investment and technical expertise to the energy sector, while opponents consider it a disguised plan for privatization, especially of oil production, which President Lázaro Cárdenas del Río (1934-1940) nationalized in 1938.
The legislative proposal–worked out by the governing centrist Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) and the center-right National Action Party (PAN), which together hold a majority in the Congress—includes changes to Articles 27 and 28 of the Constitution. Article 27 asserts state control over oil, gas and coal and bans the granting of concessions; the proposal would add a qualification that private companies could share in profits, could be paid in cash or barrels of oil and could count their share of oil reserves as assets. Article 28 would no longer define the refining of oil and the generation of electricity as strategic activities. According to opponents, the changes to Article 27 would create de facto concessions and the changes to Article 28 would allow private companies to compete with Pemex and the CFE. Opposition in the Senate is being led by Sen. Alejandro Encinas of the center-left Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD) and Sen. Manuel Bartlett of the small leftist Labor Party (PT). (La Jornada (Mexico) 12/8/13)
Since the beginning of December protesters have organized daily picket lines outside the Senate and the Chamber of Deputies to express their opposition to the “reform.” The National Regeneration Movement (Morena), a new center-left party which broke away from the PRD in 2012, is sponsoring the street protests, with support from PRD and PT activists and grassroots groups. The movement suffered a setback in the early morning of Dec. 3 when Morena founder Andrés Manuel López Obrador (“AMLO”) was hospitalized with a heart attack and underwent surgery. A two-time presidential candidate and the head of government of the Federal District (DF, Mexico City) from 2000 to 2005, López Obrador was released from the hospital on Dec. 7; his doctors said the patient’s progress was satisfactory but told him to rest at home for four weeks. His son, Andrés Manuel López Beltrán, and Morena president Martí Batres are now leading the protests. (LJ 12/8/13, 12/8/13)
The Congress has nearly completed approval of another set of sweeping constitutional changes. On Dec. 3 the Senate passed a measure that would allow reelection of federal legislators for up to 12 years; currently they cannot stand for reelection after one term–six years for senators and three years for legislative deputies. Presidents would still be limited to one six-year term. The changes would also allow independent candidates to run; now candidates need to be nominated by registered political parties. The measure passed the Chamber of Deputies on Dec. 5 with support from the PRI, the PAN and part of the PRD, but the legislation was returned to the Senate to iron out differences between the versions from the two chambers. The PAN has insisted on the electoral changes as a condition for its support of Peña Nieto’s energy program. (Miami Herald 12/4/13 from AP; LJ 12/6/13)
The revelations leaked by Edward Snowden that the NSA committed acts of espionage against top Mexican officials and the president himself have so far provoked only mild indignation from the Mexican political class. Secretary of Foreign Affairs José Antonio Meade appeared to be reassured by President Obama’s ‘word’ that he would launch an investigation into the workings of the U.S. government. Notwithstanding the incongruity that any government investigating its own internal wrongdoing would have any interest in publicizing conclusive evidence of its own criminal activity, President Peña Nieto has been reluctant to push the Obama administration further on the issue, presumably for fear of undermining Mexico’s position as a staunch U.S. economic and political ally.
Ex-president Vicente Fox, meanwhile, enthusiastically endorsed U.S. spying on Mexican politicians, claiming he knew the U.S. spied on him while he was president. Indeed, Fox took comfort in the fact that the world’s superpower monitored his every move and his phone calls, evoking the ominous adage reminiscent of all authoritarian political institutions: one has nothing to be concerned about so long as one has nothing to hide and done nothing wrong. “Everyone will do better if they think they’re being spied on,” he noted, at once reinforcing the dubious entitlement of the U.S. government to act as the world’s police force while simultaneously apologizing for the illegal activities of the NSA. Mr. Fox seems unable to comprehend the basic moral and legal truism that merely because many are involved in committing criminal activities, the moral and legal implications do not simply vanish into thin air. A reasonable observer might instead conclude that the greater the number of international government institutions that are involved in criminal activity, the more serious the problem, not the reverse. “It’s nothing new that there’s espionage in every government in the world, including Mexico’s,” Fox observed. Flummoxed as to why Snowden’s revelations have provoked outrage among the Mexican populace and investigative journalists (if not in government itself), he declared, “I don’t understand the scandal.”
One document obtained by the National Security Archive at George Washington University details Janet Napolitano’s (then Secretary of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security) official meeting with President Peña Nieto in July 2013. According to Napolitano’s briefing, avoiding discussion of NSA spying on the upper echelons appears to be a Mexican, not solely U.S., initiative. The Mexicans, the document claims, wanted to ‘put to bed’ the issue of NSA intrusions. Indeed, nowhere in the summary of their meeting does the issue arise. Instead, discussions focus on maintaining and increasing border security in order to protect commercial interests and on reducing the number of undocumented migrants entering the United States.
The listless and at times surreal reaction to NSA surveillance by Mexico’s political class demonstrates their level of craven subordination to their U.S. counterparts. One can only begin to imagine the response of the U.S. political class and media pundits were they to discover that Mexican intelligence had repeatedly intercepted the electronic communications and tapped the phones of the Commander in Chief himself.
The Mexican reaction to NSA snooping on the inner circle of government stands in stark contrast to that of Brazil’s. Snowden’s leaks provoked fury within the government of President Dilma Rousseff. She blasted the NSA tapping of her phone and interception of government communications in a fiery speech clearly aimed at President Obama at the UN General Assembly. She lambasted the NSA for spying on millions of Brazilian citizens, tapping the phones of Brazilian embassies, and spying on the country’s partly state-owned petroleum giant, Petrobras. Interestingly, she remarked that the bulk of NSA spying in Brazil was not designed to thwart potential terrorists or to undermine the activities of transnational criminal organizations, but instead, to further U.S. business interests through both international economic and commercial spying. As a result, Rousseff cancelled her planned diplomatic visit to Washington, called for an international conference on data security, began setting up a protected governmental electronic communications system, and proposed changing underwater cables so that international Brazilian internet traffic would no longer pass through U.S. territory.
Brazil’s position, of course, is a reflection of the changing nature of U.S.-Latin American relations more generally. Brazil, the emerging regional power and now less of a fixture of Uncle Sam’s backyard, can afford to take an increasingly independent stance from Washington. Several countries in the region are integrating with each other politically and economically and establishing firm trade links with China, India, and South Africa—an unprecedented dynamic which has had the effect of undermining U.S. hegemony in the region.
Mexico, however, dependent on the U.S. market for 80% of its exports, is much less able to stand up to the superpower. Indeed, Mexico’s traditional position as a subordinate and reliable ally of its northern neighbor is becoming all the more crucial in maintaining the waning U.S. empire, increasingly defensive and militaristic as it reasserts its influence over the region. With a myriad of uncertainties lying ahead for U.S. power in a region that has witnessed the birth of new left-wing social movements that have had considerable success at the ballot box, it is becoming imperative for the United States to uphold and preserve its political, economic, and military alliances as per Mexico and Colombia. In Mexico, U.S. funding for the so-called ‘War on Drugs’ has provided a convenient pretext for heavy militarization throughout the country and a clamping down on political dissent and organized popular movements. Spying and surveillance programs are key to achieving the U.S. objective of continuing and reinforcing a status quo that now sees well over half the population in Mexico living in poverty and unparalleled levels of economic inequality.
As in Brazil, U.S. spying in Mexico seems less to do with the ‘War on Terror’ and the ‘War on Drugs’—two key rhetorical tenets of U.S. interventionism—and more to do with the realpolitik of ensuring that a pliant and subservient political class, personified by Fox, Calderón, and Peña Nieto, guard the current transnational dynamics—a socio-economic system that rewards the powerful moneyed neoliberal elites on both sides of the border and keeps the poor and marginalized in their place.
There is a further aspect to the Mexican response to NSA spying which warrants scrutiny. Throughout the Cold War, the CIA and its Mexican counterpart, the DFS, shared all manner of material and intelligence on dissidents (Marxists, communists, students, guerrillas, trade unionists, peasant activists, feminists, etc.) who were often incarcerated or liquidated because, as the authoritarian and paternalistic President Gustavo Díaz Ordaz claimed, they were a threat to ‘national security.’
The current partnership between the U.S. and Mexican governments allows for a level of surveillance of which Mexico’s Cold Warriors could only dream. In collaboration with telecommunications giants, the U.S. and Mexican governments provide the wherewithal and funding for large-scale spying on the Mexican citizenry. Indeed, Mexico’s Federal Ministerial Police (PFM) has recently designed a system of total surveillance and increased storage of electronic communications. In a climate in which there exist widening socio-economic disparities, a grave security crisis, and a growing disillusionment with the status quo, both the U.S. and Mexican governments have a shared interest in forestalling the development of a widespread popular political revolt and a potential ‘Mexican Spring.’ Were there any mystery as to why the Mexican response to Snowden’s revelations was so moderate, one would only need to recall Vicente Fox’s unintentionally shrewd observation that all governments have an interest in spying on one another and on their own citizens. The lackluster reaction from Los Pinos to the NSA revelations is reflective of the extent to which Mexican elite politicians acquiesce in the intrusions, largely because they themselves use domestic spying to further their own sectional interests in a country in which, little more than a decade after the ‘transition to democracy,’ the majority of the population are excluded from meaningful political participation.
Peter Watt teaches Latin American Studies at the University of Sheffield. He is co-author of the book, Drug War Mexico. Politics, Violence and Neoliberalism in the New Narcoeconomy (Zed Books 2012).