Hollywood’s biggest blockbusters don’t take long to come out in Mexico. I imagine that the Sonys and the Warner Brothers pay the dubbing companies a pretty peso, ‘cause they get right to the task. So this summer, on screen after screen south of the border, the San Andreas fault has already shattered the earth and downed buildings, the Avengers have put Ultron’s army to the test, and Jurassic World’s Indominus has ravaged pretty much everything in its path.
And yet tragically, terror and destruction are not confined to the big screen. Consider the last three weeks. In just this period, here’s some of what’s gone down in Mexico: About 120 migrants passing through Sonora were reportedly attacked by men dressed in military garb, who started shooting at them. Three were killed, at least thirteen escaped, and most are still missing. Amnesty International and migrant rights groups had to demand a formal investigation of the case.
Meanwhile, the government’s official version of what happened to the 43 disappeared students of Ayotzinapa came crashing down. Of course, over the past nine months civil society organizations and family members have been calling out the Mexican government for coverup and manipulation, as well as its reliance on testimonies obtained under torture in order to make its case. But just last week a magistrate judge who was working in the police station the night of the massacre (whose family has been threatened and who is in the U.S. seeking asylum) spoke out quite convincingly that the students were never brought to the local police station. This confirms widespread suspicions that the government has attempted to hide the federal and state police’s – and even possibly the army’s – involvement in the students’ disappearance, trying to lay blame entirely on municipal police.
Then last week, a Navy helicopter reportedly shot at civilians in Durango, killing one and injuring several.
As if that weren’t enough, June 7th was election day, which was mired by state violence and repression. The balance sheet: one extrajudicial killing and 127 detained on election day. A majority of the latter took place in Oaxaca, where 25 protestors were taken maximum security prison. They reported torture and multiple human rights abuses, and were charged with terrorism. 56 NGO’s in Oaxaca urgently came together and declared: ”The large presence of police and military in Oaxaca…with the arrival of thousands of federal police officers, members of the gendarmerie, soldiers, and marines to ‘safeguard’ the federal midterm elections…do not contribute to generate a climate of trust and freedom needed for such a democratic exercise. The militarization of a social conflict shows an alarming return to authoritarianism.” Unfortunately, the election-time repression was no less fierce in Guerrero state, and there was also heavy deployment of security forces in Michoacan and Chiapas. Free and fair? Not exactly.
North of the border, of course, the election cycle is just beginning. At his campaign launch last week, Donald Trump wasted no time decrying Mexicans in the U.S. “When Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending the best…,” he said. “They’re sending people that have lots of problems and they’re bringing those problems.” Now perhaps the latest ludicrous comments from a “Birther” who once claimed President Obama was “Israel’s worst enemy” don’t deserve much attention. But the opposite claim, however, probably does: that the U.S. sends problems to Mexico.
First, there’s the money: over 2.4 billion dollars spent on the Merida Initiative, which Congress has allotted funds for every year since 2007, and which Obama supports. What form has this money taken? Mostly it’s been used to militarize Mexico: providing Blackhawk helicopters, surveillance cameras, sophisticated arms and equipment. Additionally it’s been used to train Mexican security forces whose human rights record – far beyond the forced disappearances of Ayotzinapa – has been abysmal over this same eight year period. And who – as described above – are not only called upon to fight drug cartels, but also to quell social movements.
Then there’s the private sales of arms. Lax U.S. laws around arms sales – even in the wake of the Newtowns, the Isla Vistas, the Fort Hoods, the Charlestons – facilitate this movement. In Mexico, although there is a constitutional right to possess of firearms, there are more restrictions and only one legal gun shop in the entire country. Compare that to the more than 54,000 federally licensed firearm dealers in the U.S., about 6,700 of which are along the border. According to a 2013 study by University of San Diego’s Transborder Institute with Brazil’s Igarape Institute, approximately 253,000 U.S. guns end up n Mexico every year, which is about 2.2 percent of the yearly U.S. sales and about 70% of the firearms in Mexico. Unfortunately, there’s no evidence that this number has gone down since the Supreme Court’s June 2014 decision to ban straw purchases (purchases made on another’s behalf). This issue of arms sales isn’t just a story of cartels. As highlighted in a recent Washington Post piece, the Mexican government is eager to buy more and more arms. This year’s orders represent a hundred-fold increase from previous years, in fact. So while private weapons companies seem happy to respond to the demand, Congress seems happy keep funding the Merida Initiative, and as evidenced this week with the passage of Fast Track for the extremely corporate-friendly Trans-Pacific Partnership, it’s becoming harder and harder to tell the difference between the government sector and the corporate sector.