Chiapas and Organized Crime

By Raúl Romero

During the second half of Mexico’s 20th century, the entrepreneurs of organized crime gained a significant role in the country’s economy, in the administrative structure of the State, and also in society. It was not merely a local phenomenon, but one of global reach, and one that, seen at this magnitude, warrants the category of transnational organized crime.

Organized crime entrepreneurs manage a diversity of businesses that include the sale of arms, kidnapping, extorsion, human trafficking, migrant smuggling, smuggling of natural resources, money laundering, drug trafficking and a score of other crimes. To carry out all of these businesses requires a broad  and complex web of corruption that encompasses different structures of the State apparatus and banking and business networks. The information that has come to light with the Panama Papers and the Pandora Papers is barely a trace of the problem which stars political elites, businessmen and celebrities.

The military and combat strategy adopted by the government of  Felipe Calderón in 2006 meant expanding a bloody war to the entire Mexican territory and to all the social sectors. With the war came not only tragedy and pain for millions of families, but also profits for the criminal business class: they drafted impoverished youth into the criminal industry and grew the business of illegal weapons, thousands of campesinos abandoned the planting of traditional crops and began to sow marijuana and poppy, this at the same time that the drug market demanded more merchandise, and the money continued being laundered to increase the profits of the transnational bourgeoisie.

The arrival of a new government to Mexico in 2018, inspired hope in many that the situation would change. However, despite the implementation of some financial intelligence and anti-corruption measures, both entrepreneurs of organized crime and the war scenarios and situations have continued to spread with their assassinations, displacement and forced disappearances. What is happening today in Chiapas is proof of that, but also in Guerrero, Michoacán, Sonora, Guanajuato…

The expansion of the criminal business sector found in the shifting of borders an incentive to strengthen its presence in Chiapas: to turn Mexico into a country for containment of migrants, Chiapas, the state through which thousands of people enter, on their way to the United States, became a key point for human trafficking.

Cartel Jalisco nueva generación, the Gulf Cartel, and the Sinaloa Cartel, the three groups that, according to the Financial Intelligence Unit, have a presence in Chiapas, found important allies in local cartels and powerful regional groups protected by political parties and official government structures. Likewise, organized crime entrepreneurs found fertile ground for their interests in a state in which the Mexican Army financed, trained and gave weapons to paramilitary groups to combat and encircle the Zapatista rebellion and  communities in solidarity and resistance. In addition to these paramilitary groups are others like ORCAO, a group that with complete impunity kidnaps, burns houses and fires at Zapatista support base communities. Narco-paramilitary violence today seems to be the continuation of the same war of the past, but reinforced with new actors. 

This tangled amalgam between legal and illegal businessmen and the State apparatus, which has been present throughout the country and which today has Chiapas on the brink of civil war, is combined with other elements such as the crisis of the real and formal structures of government, the repressive acts committed by the government of Rutilio Escandón, as well as the anticipated contest for the governorship of the state in 2024.

To this complicated scenario we must add that Chiapas is one of the states with the largest presence of Army and National Guard troops, which has not translated into a decrease in organized crime, but quite the contrary: criminal entrepreneurs are now able to send their armies of underemployed and exploited youth to parade shooting in the air in cities like San Cristobal de las Casas, thus exhibiting their mobilization capacity and firepower.

Militarization, paramilitarization, organized crime, repression, impunity and complicity are some of the problems that have Chiapas on the verge of war. Meanwhile, the people and their organizations are now intensifying their processes to survive as individuals, as peoples and as organizations, even to the point of organizing self-defense groups — their lives are at risk and they will not hesitate to defend them in the face of complicit abandonment by the governments.

Chiapas is on the brink of war and hopefully, as Mercedes Sosa sang, we will not be indifferent1.

This article was published in La Jornada on October 20th, 2021. English translation re-published by Schools for Chiapas.

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  1. Referring to the lyrics of Mercedes Sosa,  Sólo le Pido a Dios, which speak of not becoming numb or indifferent to the injustices of the world.
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