On December 3rd over 25 community members and activists from various social justice organizations based in Burlington, Vermont convened in conjunction with #UStired2, a nationwide effort that involved students, Mexican and Latino organizations, immigrant rights activists, and others concerned with human rights violations in Mexico following the recent disappearance of the 43 students in Iguala, Guerrero.
Phrased after the recently popularized #yamecanse (I’m tired of corruption, impunity, violence) hashtag in Mexico, to express the heavy toll that drug war-related disappearances and killings have had on civil society across the country, with #UStired2 US-based groups were attempting to bring attention to the role that US policy has had in maintaining the so-called war on drugs.
Migrant Justice, Toward Freedom, Women’s International League for Peace & Freedom (WILPF), and others convened the speak out in front of the office of Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT) regarding the US-funded Plan Mexico (Merida Initiative) and the disappeared students to pressure him and others to apply the Leahy amendment, which states that if “credible evidence that an individual or unit has committed a gross violation of human rights, U.S. assistance is withheld.”
Organizers of the event circulated a petition which was delivered to Leahy’s office, and which asked the Senator for a “serious investigation of the disappearance of the 43 students,” “more stringent oversight” over US funding of security forces in Mexico, and “a rethinking of the drug war strategy” which is directly linked to the over 26,000 disappearances and have resulted in over 100,000 dead.
Enrique “Kike” Baltazar, an organizer with Migrant Justice spoke at the event. As he is from Mexico, Baltazar stated that he lived “in a country where being a student is worse than being a delinquent,” and that the insecurity and lack of safety produced by the war on drugs “plays a big role in why people migrate.” He said that the everyday life of people in Mexico is often one of “fear” and “terror to walk the streets”.
A brief statement written by the Zapatistas regarding the Mexican political system was also read publicly at the #USTired2 speak out:
“It is not only that this system has links to organized crime, to narco-trafficking, to the attacks, aggressions, rapes, beatings, imprisonments, disappearances, and murders, but that all of that is now part of it’s very essence.
Corruption, impunity, authoritarianism, organized and unorganized crime: these are now the emblems, statues, declarations of principals, and practices of the entire Mexican political class.”
After the gathering, a group walked up to Senator Leahy’s office to deliver the petition signed by those present at the rally. Later that same day he issued the following response:
“There are two laws — both of which I wrote and defend each year against attempts by some in Congress and the Pentagon to weaken them — which tie a portion of our aid to foreign governments, and to Mexico specifically, on protection of human rights and punishment of those who violate human rights. The Mexican Army and police have a long history of violating human rights with impunity, and no one in Congress has worked harder than I have to keep our aid to Mexico from going to those who commit such crimes. I will continue to do that.”
The #UStired2 national demonstrations shed further light on the critical role the US plays in funding military and police forces in Mexico. The links between US foreign policy and human rights violations abroad must be carefully examined and investigated.
Canadian investigative journalist and author of the recently published Drug War Capitalism has been conducting such investigations for years, uncovering the harsh truths of the US-funded war on drugs in Latin America. I interviewed Paley for analysis on how US policy contributes to the drug war in Mexico, and on what’s often missed when attempting to understand the drug war:
Armando Carmona: How does US Policy contribute to the Drug War in Mexico?
Dawn Paley: In a nutshell, the US funded Merida Initiative is a major driver of violence in Mexico. It has increased the level of militarization in the country, which has had an echo in the creation and spread of paramilitarism (via drug cartels) throughout much of the country. As US assistance to Mexico began to flow, the body count and number of people disappeared rose. US funding in Mexico has also been tied to promoting legal and regulatory reforms that deepen neoliberalism, and which over the medium term will be tantamount to a new austerity agenda in Mexico.
AC: What’s missing from the current analysis regarding US policy with Mexico?
DP: I think in general there has been a reluctance to acknowledge that the US backed war on drugs in Mexico and elsewhere is political, that it is a reactionary war on the people, which is deeply intertwined with capitalist expansion. In the US people knew the invasion of Iraq was a war for oil, but that kind of context has been missing in terms of the drug war. Over the course of the Merida Initiative Mexico’s oil sector has been privatized, and I argue that that is not a coincidence. Part of what Drug War Capitalism aims to do is provide a framework through which we can begin to change the way we think about this war.
AC: Do you have a response to Senator Leahy?
DP: There is no way to ensure that US assistance to the Mexican police and army will not end up in the hands of killers, of kidnappers, of drug runners, other than cutting it completely. We’re not talking about a few bad apples, we’re talking about a systemic issue of abuses and killings by state security forces. Police and soldiers are among the primary sources of violence against the people of Mexico. This has been brought to the surface recently following a massacre committed by soldiers in Tlatlaya in Mexico State and in the case of the multiple murders and the 43 students disappeared by police in Iguala, Guerrero.
Dawn Paley is currently on tour launching her new book and will be speaking in Burlington, VT on December 17th at 5:30pm at the Fletcher Free Library (235 College St. Burlington, VT.) This event is sponsored by Towardfreedom.com, the Peace & Justice Center, and UpsideDownWorld.org.
Armando Carmona is an editorial intern at Toward Freedom. Contact him at email@example.com
Photos by Ben Dangl