Might in the 'right' hands

Mexico, assault weapons, and the international re-order

Might in the 'right' hands

Dear friends,

With the incorporation of the National Guard into the Army, Mexico continues the ‘war on drugs’ model of public security. Thousands of victims of what is otherwise known as a ‘war on the poor’ protested this on the occasion of the Independence Day military parade that was joined by the National Guard, marking their new union:

For Hasta Encontrarte, a group of mothers and other family members of the missing, it’s about the role of the Mexican army in forced disappearance in a country where more than one million have never come home. 16 years ago was the declaration of the ‘war on drugs’ by then President Felipe Calderón, who put soldiers on the streets to fight drug cartels, to ongoing catastrophic effect.

As the rest of the country celebrated Mexican independence on September 15 — the Zócalo in the centre of the capital teeming with people in patriotic colours and shouts of ¡Viva México! from the early hours of the morning — several members of Hasta Encontrarte (until you are found; until I/we find you) scaled the Estela de Luz, a 104-metre-high building erected to commemorate the bicentenary of independence from the Spanish crown. (As another Independence Day protest slogan went, ‘so when will be independent from the military?’)

From the top of the monument, the activists unfurled a vertical banner that came to rest about a quarter of the way down. It read: 16 YEARS OF MILITARY IMPUNITY. NO TO A MILITARY COUP.


A post shared by Hasta Encontrarte (@hasta.encontrarte)

For the parents of the 43 forcibly disappeared students of the Ayotzinapa teacher’s college, a case in which military involvement has been proven to the highest level, it’s about bringing the top brass to justice. As perpetrators of the event such as General José Rodríguez Pérez, Captain José Martínez Crespo and Corporal Eduardo Mota are being rounded up by the AMLO government, parents of the 43 demand that former national security council secretary Tomás Zéron, General Salvador Cienfuegos and former President Enrique Peña-Nieto face accountability, too. This Friday, marking 8 years since the event, the parents of the disappeared and current Ayotzinapa students protested at the army base in Mexico City, calling soldiers murderers and papering the gates with the message, ‘it was the army’:

(Photo: Sin Embargo)

For fighters for gender justice like Intersecta it’s the increased violence against women, girls, and queer people that comes with military-led public security.

For journalist groups it’s the continuing ‘crimes of the state’ in a year where at least 13 journalists have been killed.

For the nearly 75,000 who signed this Change.org petition, it’s the unconstitutionality or indeed the sheer folly of continuing “the imposed and failed trend of more than 16 years of military action in the civilian sphere without results for the security of the population.”

New monopoly, much like the old monopoly:

As I wrote in this twitter thread, the current militarisation of public security in Mexico is a charged performance of the legitimisation of the state in a place where it ostensibly struggles for authority; staging a kind of return of the monopoly on violence to its ‘right’ place. The ongoing protests of thousands of victims of state violence against incorporating the National Guard (introduced under AMLO’s completely disingenuous ‘hugs not bullets’ maxim that got him elected) into the Defense Forces tells us everything we need to know about the felt contradictions and  injustice of it all. (More on this to come - it’s been a weekend).

Growing militarisation comes at the same time as the state of Mexico has brought a lawsuit against 10 US-based gun manufacturers and distributors in the Massachussetts District Court, charging them with responsibility for the flow of deadly weapons from the US to Mexico, which has strict gun ownership laws and only one, Army-run, gun store.

Projecting some $10bn in damages, Mexican Foreign Minister [and probable 2024 candidate for President] Marcelo Ebrard has used his platform on the international stage to push the merits of the lawsuit, posing to the UN Security Council for example in November: “[w]hat better way to prevent the escalation of armed conflicts than through actions that truly address the trafficking and diversion of arms and ammunition?”

A very creative litigation, the lawsuit already has important power. As León Castellanos, international law scholar at the Asser Institute in The Hague, told me when I interviewed him for this Al-Jazeera piece, arms are “in the spotlight” on the international stage right now with the war on Ukraine.

“We're seeing that war crimes and crimes against humanity, in high likelihood, are being committed”, he said.

“Companies who are knowingly supplying arms to either party which commits war crimes and crimes against humanity could be held liable under international criminal law.”

As a political move, the lawsuit also appears as a play in a certain current international re-ordering of violence:

After the Security Council

With much of the world, I watched the news coming through on the evening of February 21 this year with a sad, sinking feeling. My opinions on the international system are anti-colonial ones, but/and there’s no denying its logistical power and authority; of a kind where we might still hope it could at least protect the bargains and sovereignties that fall within its selective geography of WW2 victors. Watching Russia send its troops into Ukraine at the very moment the UN Security Council was meeting in New York, ostensibly with the aim of stopping the former, was a dread-laden optic. Over 5,718 killed, at least 12 million displaced and dog knows what other ongoing dark fruit later, it’s hard to see woods for the trees. For news on the war in Ukraine, The Kyiv Independent has round-the-clock coverage online in English. I also recommend following my independent journalist colleague and longtime friend Charles McPhedran who has lived in the region for years and is also covering the war from on the ground. See also:

Notable within all this is AMLO’s proffered peace plan for Ukraine, which at home was tied to the militarisation of the National Guard as a tool for peace in Mexico.

In other news:

More Troubled Region, More of the Time

As I’ve written on the cursed socials (this is also a plea for better platforms PLEASE OMG), I have two deadlines for articles for early October and then will have no more commissioned work apart from a piece due at the end of the year. This is usually the point in the cycle that I start pitching again, but I'm taking the rest of the year to try something different: putting the reporting and writing I might ordinarily pitch and write for news outlets and magazines into this newsletter, which I started four years ago.

I'm keen to see if this could generate better returns (for me, and the stories I tell/embed in) on payment, energy, and good faith (the chances are high, it's coming off a pretty low base lol).

Subscribers, there's only been one dispatch this year, I've been neglecting you! I’ll be posting again shortly on protests in Iran, next week with more on Mexico’s lithium following my report published recently with Diálogo Chino, and, going forward, on reproductive rights; the local contexts of the continuing murders of Mexican journalists; the work of translating news into English, and of translated news in English; Brazil’s October election; disability activism and policy in Mexico; the lives of drug policy between Colombia and Mexico (s/o to Gustavo Petro at the UN last week); supply chains and food security (think CORN); the power and problem of splaining on social media; y más.

As ever, content is free for everyone, your monthly subscription of $5USD helps to pay me for it.

Thanks as ever for sticking with this project — it means a lot. Always open to ideas and recommendations for things you want to hear about, advice on format and accessibility, and I’m looking forward to writing you more in the coming months :)

- Ann.

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Jamie Larson