A Strategy Up For Debate?

by Raúl Romero*

The tragic murder of Jesuit priests Javier Campos and Joaquín César Mora and of the tourist guide Pedro Palma1, as well as the disappearance of two other people, has sparked the public outpouring of solidarity and discontent of various social actors. Rightly, voices such as that of Father Javier Avila have situated the problem as one that affects the entire country and society as a whole, and not as one that concerns only religious people, Rarámuris or the state of Chihuahua. There are thousands of voiceless victims crying out for justice in our nation, said Father Avila.

Jesuit priests celebrating Mass on Tuesday at San Ignacio de Loyola church in Mexico City, next to photos of the murdered Jesuit priests Javier Campos and Joaquin Mora. Photo: Edgard Garrido/Reuters

As a result, in the national press and in other spaces, there have been calls to review the security strategy of the current government, while the President has questioned these calls, placing the debate once again in two options: the current model or that of past governments, “hugs or bullets,” as the President himself puts it. The problem is that, so far, the hugs are not stopping the bullets.

An initial challenge is to understand the complex, comprehensive and structural nature of the problem. Some currents observe the phenomenon of organized crime as a security problem. This reading, which is the dominant one, has prioritized militarization policies and international cooperation in security to confront an enemy that is at once internal, regional and global. This is the argument behind the logic of war.

Other currents, which tend to complement the previous one, look at corruption problems and observe organized crime as a market anomaly. Rule of law, transparency, financial intelligence or “follow the money” are some of the measures proposed by these approaches. Like the previous currents, they do not question the role of the criminal industry in the current system of accumulation of power and wealth.

The critical approaches, on the other hand, review the links and relationships of the criminal industry with re-colonization strategies. Organized crime is seen more as an industry that operates through corporations and facilitates processes of accumulation by dispossession, militarized or paramilitarized, guaranteeing for the metropolises or imperial centers the supply of natural resources, raw materials – even for drugs, including opening markets and routes for legal or illegal trade, or depopulating territories. The effects of the criminal industry are also often observed as mechanisms of biopolitics, necropolitics or “gore capitalism,” as the philosopher Sayak Valencia has called it.

The phenomenon of violence in Mexico cannot and should not be addressed only as a security problem, and this involves observing the impacts of the criminal industry and its violence on multiple levels: on health, labor, economic, cultural, spiritual?

Mexico, and Central America in general, play an important role in the production and export of raw materials, cheap labor, warehouses and accessible routes for the criminal industry. Meanwhile, the metropolises or centers experience the effects differently from countries on the periphery: in Mexico the drama translates into more than 300,000 people murdered and more than 100,000 disappeared, in the United States 100,000 people die from drug overdoses, 75,600 of them from opioids.

A similar dynamic is experienced within this country. Although the criminal industry has an impact from Tijuana to Tapachula, the indigenous, peasant and poor populations play a different role than the middle and upper class populations in the cities. A detailed study in this regard would be important to build real solutions. In a way, this is the premise held by those who propose challenging the social roots of organized crime through social programs. The problem is also the starting point: the 2,000 pesos that can be delivered through scholarships or support are little compared to the profits and the immediacy offered by criminal industries in certain regions. Worse still, the individualized nature or the means by which these supports are delivered have also put them into contention by the criminal corporations and their operators in the regions.

The complex, structural and comprehensive nature of the problem is no reason for discouragement, but rather a call to rethink solutions and alternatives. Of course, there are urgent and immediate tasks to be addressed, without losing sight of the short, medium and long term. Implementing a profound agrarian reform to return land to those from whom it has been taken would be a good solution, as would be protecting and caring for the communities and collectivities that have self-managed to prevent or expel criminal corporations from their territories. The recovery of community and social productive hubs would also help. Organizing society not as electoral machinery, but in order to dismantle organized violence. I fear, however, that there are those who still refuse to accept that something is very wrong.

* Sociologist

This article was published in La Jornada on July 2nd, 2022. https://www.jornada.com.mx/2022/07/02/opinion/013a2pol English interpretation by Schools for Chiapas.

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  1. The week prior to June 22nd, two Jesuit priests, Javier Campos and Joaquin Mora, and a tour guide, Pedro Palma, who sought refuge in their church in Cerocahui, Chihuahua were killed by a local drug trafficker, José Noriel Portillo Gil, “El Chueco” who is also wanted for the 2018 murder of an American tourist.
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