Mexico held the biggest election in its history. It was preceded by a bloody battle for votes. And in the end, some election workers had a tough day. which Mexico’s President Andrés Manuel López Obrador would later call a “triumph of democracy”, election workers made a terrible find in the northern Mexican border town of Tijuana. When they unlocked their polling station, they discovered the head of a decapitated citizen. Elsewhere, a severed head was placed in a box in front of a polling station. Other election workers also found other parts of the body. Who the victims were remained unclear. The perpetrators, that much is certain, belong to the criminal gangs that were responsible for a bloody election campaign. Almost a hundred politicians were killed during the campaign, including numerous candidates.
The violence is the result of conflicts of interest between rival criminal organizations fighting for control of local institutions and politics. The election of more than 20,000 local, regional and national representatives went down not only as a bloody but also as the biggest election in the history of Mexico to date. The Mexican government of the left-wing nationalist President López Obrador and his party “Movement of National Renewal” (Morena) have so far not been able to keep their promise to pacify the country. Criticism of the government has also grown in recent months on other issues such as economic policy and how to deal with the pandemic. speaks for a certain disappointment that has spread among Mexican voters. According to projections, the Morena party has lost the majority in the House of Representatives and is only likely to have 190 to 203 of the total of 500 seats. The conservative opposition parties were able to gain ground. Together with her allies, however, Morena still holds the majority of the seats.
However, together they do not make it to a two-thirds majority. That makes it difficult for the president to make constitutional changes. The popularity of López Obrador and his charisma were still sufficient to help several candidates of the Morena party and its allies to break through in the gouverneur elections in 15 states at the regional level. According to the projections and previous results, at least ten governor posts should go to the candidates supported by López Obrador, whereby Morena is further expanding her influence at the regional level. In the mayoral elections in various major cities in the country, however, Morena’s success was limited. The participation of Mexicans in the elections is much more important than the parties they vote for, said López Obrador. The result confirms the course of his government. A “triumph of democracy”, as he said. He did not mention the severed heads.
In her article „Mexico-A country in a state of emergency”before the election Sandra Weber in the German magazine Jungle World”, Sandra Weber analyzes the situation in Mexico and warns of he danger that Obrador mght establish an authoritarian regime, maybe Venezulanian style:
“A country in a state of emergency
Mexico is about to have important mid-term elections. These will decide whether President López Obrador will gain more freedom of action for the social and economic transformation he is striving for, the »Fourth Transformation«.
The hot phase of the election campaign is currently underway in Mexico. On June 6, 500 federal deputies, 1,027 regional deputies, 15 governors and 1,923 local councils will be elected. In the middle of his six-year term as president, there is a lot going on for the left-wing populist Andrés Manuel López Obrador. His Morena party currently holds a majority in both chambers of parliament. 93 million eligible voters decide whether he can push ahead with the social and economic transformation he advocates („fourth transformation“).
Even before Sars-CoV-2 reached Mexico in spring 2020, the country was in a difficult situation. The economy stagnated and the security situation was disastrous. Neither the overburdened public health system nor the welfare state were prepared for the pandemic. With around 221,000 deaths, Mexico has the fourth highest number of Covid-19 victims worldwide – the number of unreported cases is likely to be much higher. Not only political opponents accuse López Obrador of playing down the virus and reacting too late and wrongly. When the WHO had already warned of the pandemic, he presented images of saints as protection against Covid-19 and ignored the common rules of conduct for protection against infection. The government now wants to shine when it comes to vaccine production: Patria (fatherland) is to be the name of a vaccine developed by a Mexican pharmaceutical company subsidized with around six million euros and which is to be approved this year. So far, around nine percent of Mexicans have been fully vaccinated, and another 5 percent have been vaccinated once.
But the people of Mexico also suffer from other deadly threats. Rival drug cartels are holding larger and larger parts of the country hostage. López Obrador’s peace strategy “Abrazos no balazos” (hugs instead of gunshots) has not improved the situation. The number of homicides fell slightly last year to 34,515 – 0.4 percent compared to the record year 2019. Over 87,000 people are missing. More than 300,000 people have been killed since the drug war began in 2006, with almost 100 being killed every day. Mexico remains a country in a state of fear and emergency, even more so in this election year. Since the election campaign began eight months ago, 79 politicians, including 21 candidates, have been murdered. Organized crime is about political influence: it gets involved in the election campaign through intimidation, financing, kidnapping and murder – some candidates can be bought or blackmailed. According to Mexican journalist Anabel Hernández, who had to leave the country because of the threat of organized crime, cartels like Jalisco, Sinaloa and Juárez even went so far as to sponsor individual candidates.
In the corona crisis, the government of the second largest economy in Latin America tried to cut expenses in some places. For example, salaries in the public sector have been cut. The government wants to prevent the increase in national debt as much as possible. Emergency loans of around one billion euros were only given to small businesses, half of them in the informal sector. The government only appealed to larger companies to avoid layoffs – but one million Mexicans lost their jobs in the first five months of the crisis. But social programs introduced under López Obrador will continue. Investments are also being made in infrastructure projects: the Tren Maya railway line on the Yucatán peninsula is intended to attract more tourists to the country; The heavily indebted state oil company Pemex has invested billions in the Dos Bocas oil refinery, which is currently under construction. Entrepreneurs who had to get by without emergency aid criticized the prioritization of such large-scale projects.
Both nationally and internationally, however, concerns about López Obrador’s increasingly authoritarian government are growing. The President justifies his regular rhetorical attacks against the opposition, the judiciary, NGOs, journalists and entrepreneurs with their actual or supposed connections to the »neoliberal predecessor governments«. In addition, the National Guard is gaining ever greater powers – in securing borders, in the fight against cartels, but also in civilian tasks such as building a state banking network or distributing Covid-19 vaccines. Many see a frontal attack on the rule of law in a judicial reform recently approved by the Chamber of Deputies, which includes an extension of the term of office of the Chairman of the Supreme Court, Arturo Zaldívar. The Mexican constitution actually limited the term of office to four years, then the judges in the Supreme Court have to elect one of their own as their new chairman.
With the reform, López Obrador wanted to control the judiciary, so the opposition accused, because Zaldívar always made reliable decisions in López Obrador’s favor. The president replied that Zaldívar was the right man to reform the partially corrupted judiciary. Nevertheless, López Obrador and his party Movimiento de Regeneración Nacional (Morena) are popular, especially among the poor in Mexico. Although the president’s popularity ratings have fallen from more than 80 percent to 60 percent since he began his term in 2018, he is still more popular than almost any Mexican head of state before him – which may come as a surprise in view of the country’s enormous problems.
Especially during the crisis, the rhetoric of the left-wing populist (»primero el pueblo«, the people first) speaks to many. In addition, his campaign promises followed: he raised the minimum wage year after year, in 2021 by 15 percent to 141.70 pesos (around 5.86 euros) per day. He quickly introduced new social programs: Mexicans over 68 years of age now receive a basic pension, pupils and students in need receive scholarships, and young unemployed people receive unemployment benefits for up to twelve months. Smallholders and agricultural workers are subsidized for the cultivation of fruit trees and vegetables – direct aid that was partly vital in the corona crisis.
Many Mexicans also credit their president’s determination to fight corruption: Some former officials and supporters of the previous government under President Enrique Peña Nieto (PRI) have been charged with corruption, for example Emilio Lozoya, the former head of the state-owned oil company Pemex arrested in Spain last year and extradited to Mexico. The historically deeply rooted involvement of organized crime and the Mexican state is also gradually coming to light, which in Mexico is attributed to López Obrador. For example, the former security minister García Luna is currently on trial in the United States for allegedly protecting the Sinaloa cartel and receiving bribes for it.
The opposition attacks López Obrador as amateurish and lying, as the gravedigger of the market economy, as the Mexican Hugo Chávez. With his social projects he only wanted to buy political approval, his politics were authoritarian and clientistic. Of course, this describes the political style that the former ruling party PRI itself practiced for decades. The supporters of the president speak of fake news spread by conservative political and economic forces who see their privileges dwindling and fear criminal investigations. López Obrador polarizes Mexican society.
In order to have a chance against the popular ruling party Morena in the midterm elections, the opposition parties PRI, PAN and PRD have formed an alliance called »Va por México«. Upper-class civil society organizations, many of them business-oriented, support this. So far, the opposition has not been able to address the poor population, around half of all Mexicans. Morena and her allies see prognoses with 52 percent of the vote, ahead of “Va por México” with 40 percent. Shortly before the elections there is little enthusiasm for a change of government and even less enthusiasm for elections. Confidence in the political class has been shaken, not least because of the previous governments‘ disclosed involvement in criminal, sometimes mafia-like activities. López Obrador could benefit from his role as an anti-corruption fighter. There are some indications that he will increase his power in the elections.”
This election prognosis was wrong, as Morena didn´t have a landslide victory, but however Obrador has now a stable majority. The fears of the conservative, neoliberal capiitalist opposition that Obrador might follow the Venezuelanian model and become the new Chavez with his “Forth Transformation” might be exaggerated at the moment as Obrador didn´t manage it to have a 2/3 majority which allows him to change the constitution. Beyond that Obrador might not be so ideological as Chavez´s and Maduro´s “Socialism of the 21st Century” and it remains to be seen what the “4th Transformtion”policy will actually bring.
The idea of a “socialism of the 21st Century originated from Heinz Dieterich. In Dieterich’s book “Socialism in the 21st Century. Economy, society and democracy after global capitalism ”is the basic thesis of the sustainable and worldwide exhaustion of all essential bourgeois institutions and the necessity of a post-capitalist development path. His theses on socialism of the 21st century were discussed in Venezuela among the supporters of President Hugo Chávez, who died in March 2013, in connection with the Bolivarian revolution. Dieterich was at least temporarily regarded as an (informal) advisor to the “Bolivarian” development process represented by the Venezuelan President Chávez. After Heinz Dieterich’s friend, the former Defense Minister Raúl Baduel, fell out of favor with the Venezuelan President because he rejected the planned constitutional reform, Dieterich’s relationship with Hugo Chavez also cooled. Dieterich’s programmatic work on the political situation after the collapse of communism in Eastern Europe was enthusiastically recommended for reading by the late Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez
However Dietrich claimed that Chavez and Maduro only used the catchphrase “ Socialsm in the 21st Centuryst, but implemented a planned economy instead of a mixed economy Dietrich originally proposed. Dietrich is now at The University of Mexico City, warns of the Venezulanian way and tiies to convince Obrador and other Morena politicians not to repeat Chavez´s policy. Beyond that, Obrador´s power different to Chavez is not so deeply rooted in the military and the security apparatus, even when he tries to build the National Guard as his new pillar of power.
Another big problem is organized crime and the drug cartells. The German Latinamerica expert Timo Dorsch has just written a book on it, but puts this in a broader theoretical framework:Recommended:
Timo Dorsch: “Necropolitics. Neoliberalism, the State and Organized Crime in Mexico ”. Mandelbaum Verlag, Vienna, 286 pages, 19 euros.
Timo Dorsch describes how the Mexican cartels are staged in the state of Michoacán. Six of the ten most dangerous cities in the world are in Mexico. One of them is in the state of Michoa¬cán. In this region, criminals from two cartels are currently engaged in bloody battles for supremacy. The governor is watching and the federal government is sending troops to calm the situation. However, their success is limited: videos on social media show armored vehicles of the army and the national guard fleeing the small town of Aguililla in early April, members of the Jalisco cartel attacking soldiers with explosive drones. It is difficult to answer who supports whom in the community. With Michoacán, author Timo Dorsch has undoubtedly set his sights on the right state to use for his book “Nekropolicy. Neoliberalism, the State and Organized Crime in Mexico “to describe the complicated structures of violence in the country.
Similar conditions prevail in some regions, but here many factors come together that escalate the situation in particular: Several large mafia organizations, a traditionally corrupt political class, strong economic interests at local to international level and, last but not least, many citizens. who arm themselves so as not to be helpless at the mercy of this madness. Cartels as self-appointed protectors of the locals The author rightly writes that on-site research is required “to understand the conditions to which so many people are subjected”. Because even if the rough lines appear similar, outbreaks of violence often result from a mixture of current economic interests and power structures that have been inscribed in society for many years.
In Michoacán, Dorsch meets an avocado producer who tells him how a criminal organization was increasingly taking control of the business and a company was set on fire for not paying protection money. He explains how the “Familia Michoacana” acts as the protector of the locals against the intruders of the competing “Zetas”. And how the „Knights Templar“, a split from the „family“, used excessive force to get the population to vote for the corrupt PRI party, and then demand a quota of the public budget from the PRI mayors after the elections. The author describes in detail how cartels blackmail international companies, control mining and send iron ore to China via the Pacific port of Lázaro Cárdenas. Not infrequently with active support from the military or high-ranking politicians. Such partners also helped the region to become the world’s largest amphetamine kitchen in the 2000s, thanks to the ingredients supplied from China via the port.
But not only politicians, including governors, cooperate with the cartels. Leading members of so-called self-defense groups also work with the mafia, although the groups were set up to ward off violence. This is not surprising: If you want to defend your community in a society in which legal and illegal economies are closely interwoven and the rule of law is a foreign concept, you have to live with these structures in view of the balance of power. Anyone who wants to protect a village that lives from the cultivation of opium poppies for opium production cannot avoid dealing with the mafia. Time and again, self-organized armed groups in Mexico that successfully fought against one cartel have acted on behalf of another. “In contexts of hubris”, as Dorsch calls the complex network, “the lines between good and evil are blurred”.
As the title of the book suggests, the author summarizes these conditions under the term “necropolitics” coined by the post-colonial theorist Achille Mbembe. He identifies new techniques and mechanisms for exercising power in Mexico, „which in the 21st century increasingly understand the body as the territory of war“. The network of state and non-state actors, the unbounded violence, the lack of the rule of law, this “hubris”, is an expression of necropolitics, which, quoting Mbembe, is “the current form of subjection of life to the power of death”. A country in a State of emergency since the beginning of the 21st century
Killing without impunity, the right of the fittest „in search of the best possible capitalist accumulation“ or the use of force to mark territorial claims to power – for the author these circumstances characterize the state of emergency in Mexico since the beginning of the 21st century. This expression of global neoliberalism, so Dorsch, „could finally be given a name and an explanation“: necropolitics. Certainly some phenomena can be viewed from Mbembbe’s perspective of sovereignty over life or death. And yes, cartels brutally publicly stage dead, disfigured bodies – similar to the approach of the “Islamic State” – in order to symbolize their power and to mark out territories. However, it is difficult to understand why, as the author writes, they should become a commodity, the “source of capital accumulation”.
Neither violence per se nor the blurring of the lines between legal and illegal economies and corrupt politicians are historically new phenomena. Rooms of exceptional and normal conditions, which exist in parallel and are mutually dependent, run through the entire new history of Mexico. The author himself describes in detail the development of the PRI, which ruled the country for over 70 years after the revolution. Criminals, trade unions, entrepreneurs, the military and the government all pulled together, with the party at the top. Those who opposed this conglomerate, such as the radical left in the 1970s, were persecuted and murdered. Like indigenous communities, they were in a lawless state of emergency.
With economic liberalization, which began in the 1980s, the competition arose in the legal and illegal economy, which, together with the corruption that is deeply inscribed in society, forms the background for today’s bloody conditions. It is also important to ask what positive functionality violence has in terms of social control and the reproduction of domination, writes the author. He refers to the Mexican post-colonial theorist Mario Rufer. It is doubtful whether this neoliberal dynamic actually created conditions that are conducive to capital accumulation. Sure, for the corrupt political class, some corporations and cartels, that may be true.
For companies that produce jeans, grow tomatoes or manufacture Volkswagen, however, the “hybridization of state-criminal structures” is an obstacle. They neither want to pay protection money nor constantly take into account that their goods will be stolen on the way to the next port. For tourism, one of Mexico’s most important sources of income, the brutal conditions become an obstacle when the killing reaches the beaches. It is not clear whether the Mexican reality represents a permanently functioning symbiosis between a modern capitalist production center and the “rooms of the state of emergency”. Nor is it whether the violent conditions, as Mbembe writes, express „the last expression of sovereignty“. Dorsch’s book is definitely a readable basis for discussing these questions.