Monday, July 21, 2014

Miami Demonstration in Support of Palestine and Against Israel's Massacres in Gaza


All photos © Michael Deibert

Thanks to all those who came out to support the people of Gaza and greater Palestine in Miami yesterday. Even the pro-Israel fanatic who showed up with a gun and had to be disarmed by the police didn't deter a huge crowd. I have often said that Miami has the social conscience of a flea but yesterday, at least, I was happy to be proved wrong.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Reading at Powell's Books in Portland, Oregon

Reading from In the Shadow of Saint Death: The Gulf Cartel and the Price of America's Drug War in Mexico at the famous Powell's Books in Portland, Oregon.

Photo © James Rexroad

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Imperialism 2.0? Review of Howard French’s ‘China’s Second Continent: How A Million Migrants Are Building A New Empire in Africa’

Imperialism 2.0? Review of Howard French’s ‘China’s Second Continent: How A Million Migrants Are Building A New Empire in Africa’ 

By Michael Deibert  

Posted on July 9, 2014 by AfricanArgumentsEditor

(Read the original article here)

When, midway through the American journalist Howard French’s new book, a Zambian politician tells him dejectedly that “we are not a poor people but we have crowned ourselves with poverty,” the phrase resonates with the experience of many countries is modern-day Africa. Resource rich but often misgoverned by autocrats who refuse to leave office – and whose depredations have been bankrolled by Western governments – Africa, despite some bright spots, remains a continent of unrealised hopes and unfulfilled potential. It is that potential, French demonstrates in his new book, that the Chinese have arrived to tap.

Between 2003 and 2013, China’s investment in Africa grew from $77 million to $2.9 billion, and the ostensible “million migrants” from China (a figure that, after reading the book, seems wildly conservative) arrived in Africa with their government’s blessing to continue their country’s transformation, in French’s words “from being a vessel” of globalization “to becoming an increasingly transformative actor in its own right.”
French, a former New York Times bureau chief in both West Africa and China, brings a nuanced and familiar understanding of both regions to this tale. The book is scrupulously even-handed to its subjects and steers well-clear of anything smacking of jingoism.
The author meets many people, including a foul-mouthed farmer from Henan dreaming of building an empire in Mozambique, a factory owner from the ancient city of Chengdu in Senegal, and a Francophile construction company official in Mali. Almost all appear casually racist about the inhabitants of their new homes in a way that one might have thought had largely disappeared from public discourse (if not private thought).
With a middle class larger than that of India, the African continent is not simply a repository for much-needed natural resources to fuel Chinese economic expansion, but also as a market for the country’s exports. Africa’s population is expected to double over the next 40 years, taking us to just about the time that newly-discovered mineral reserves are expected to run out.
As French writes, “the continent’s rapidly rising population means lots of new mouths to feed, lots more people to be clothed, devices and appliances and goods of all kinds to be sold.”
The Chinese were aided in their quest to expand in Africa by a US government which, during the critical juncture in the early-mid first decade of the millennium, was led by George W. Bush, a man completely uncurious about the world except in the most broad terms, and whose diplomats seemed equally taken by surprise by the rapid expansion that many on the ground had seen coming for some time.
In truth, for nearly a decade before Bush – at least since the Black Hawk Down incident in Somalia during which 18 US servicemen were killed by Somali militias – America had put Africa on the back burner. This has changed somewhat during the presidency of Barack Obama, but not dramatically so.
The picture that French paints of China venturing forth into Africa is not a pretty one, and despite banal slogans of a “win-win” relationship, the Chinese he meets seem surprisingly unaware of how often the ground they have entered has been trod before.
The reader is treated to a vivid account of a short-sighted policy of non-transparent deal-making in Guinea, the rebuffing or insulting of civil society in various countries (generating no small reservoir of ill will) and engagement in the payment of starvation (and often illegally low) wages and non-existent workplace safety.
For the government of China, Africa is just one backdrop among many where new opportunities lie and where much money can be made. But by the end of the book it is hard to argue with French’s conclusion that “here [are] the beginnings of an empire, a haphazard empire, perhaps, but an empire nonetheless”
There are a few unexplored strands of this story that one wishes French had also included. The Chinese presence in the Democratic Republic of Congo, one of Africa’s most iconic and tragic countries (and one that French knows well, having devoted a large part of his 2005 book to it) goes unexamined. But perhaps this was a conscious decision on the author’s part to highlight some of the rather less-known corners of the continent, such as the aforementioned Zambia, Mozambique and Namibia.
Towards the end of his book, French quotes the historian Peter Duus’ history of Japan’s colonial project in Korea: “[imperialism] requires an available victim – a weaker, less organized or advanced society or state unable to defend itself against outside intrusion.”
Africa, bedeviled as it may be by misrule, today has a more vibrant civil society than at any time in its history. One that robustly confronts the excesses of local governments and also the intrigues of outsiders of many nationalities and political persuasions – all linked by their desire to profit from the continent’s wealth.
Who will prevail in this David versus Goliath battle is unclear, as is whether the democratic gains made in countries like Ghana and Senegal will create the space needed for this side of the debate to succeed. As French clearly recognises, this remains one of the more pressing questions in Africa today.
Michael Deibert is the author of In the Shadow of Saint Death: The Gulf Cartel and the Price of America’s Drug War in Mexico (Lyons Press), The Democratic Republic of Congo: Between Hope and Despair (Zed Books) and Notes from the Last Testament: The Struggle for Haiti (Seven Stories Press).

Friday, July 04, 2014

The Gulf Cartel and the Price of America's Drug War in Mexico on Portland's KBOO

In advance of my appearance at Powell's next week, I spoke with Portland's KBOO yesterday on the Gulf Cartel, Los Zetas and the price of America's drug war in Mexico. You can listen to the full interview here.

Thursday, July 03, 2014

Interview with This is Hell! on Chicago's WNUR

I was interviewed about the Gulf Cartel, Los Zetas and America's drug war in Mexico by Chuck Mertz on This is Hell! on Chicago's WNUR. During the interview, I suggest that if Americans want to know what a narco-state looks like, they step out the front door and have a look around. The segment can be heard here.

Tuesday, July 01, 2014

Tamaulipas, Cradle of Mexico's Drug War, Erupts

Posted: 06/26/2014 12:59 pm

Tamaulipas, Cradle of Mexico's Drug War, Erupts 
By Michael Deibert

The Huffington Post

(Read the original article here)

The Mexican state of Tamaulipas, birthplace of the country's oldest criminal organization, the Gulf Cartel, is again awash in blood. Just across the Rio Grande from Texas and abutting the Gulf of Mexico, neither a change of presidents, seemingly endless battles within the cartel and with their former allies turned deadly enemies Los Zetas, years of high-profile killings and arrests of cartel leaders, or the United States' own seemingly endless war on drugs have made a dent in the violence.

While some U.S. publications have myopically lauded the government of Mexican president Enrique Peña Nieto as "saving Mexico" since he took over from his predecessor Felipe Calderón's militarized battle with the country's narcos, the reality on the ground tells a different story.

In the space of a few days in May, gun battles in the city of Reynosa killed at least 23 people, 16 bullet-riddled corpses were found in abandoned vehicles around the state, and the chief bodyguard for Tamaulipas governor Egidio Torre Cantú was arrested for involvement in the murder of state intelligence chief Salvador Haro Muñoz. Just south of Tamaulipas in the tropical port city of Veracruz, nine presumed cartel gunmen were slain in a shootout with Mexican armed forces, and earlier this month more than 30 bodies were found in a mass grave there, a grave it took the state's governor days to secure.

As I detail in my new book, In the Shadow of Saint Death: The Gulf Cartel and the Price of America's Drug War in Mexico, (Lyons Press), the Gulf Cartel was a regional anomaly among Mexico's drug trafficking organizations, most of whose lineage harkens back to the Pacific Coast state of Sinaloa. The organization traces its roots back to the failed U.S. policy of prohibition of alcohol, a time when millions of Americans were turned into criminals because of a substance they chose to put into their own bodies, and during when the power and reach of organized crime in the United States grew exponentially, much as it has in Mexico in recent decades.

The criminal band that would grow into the Gulf Cartel was founded by a Tamaulipas farm boy named Juan Nepomuceno Guerra, born in 1915, and who for years ran the organization from behind the doors of the Piedras Negras Restaurant in the city of Matamoros, its walls adorned with pictures of horses from his 500-acre ranch, El Tlahuachal.

In his dotage, by the mid 1980s Guerra had turned over the running of the organization to his nephew, Juan García Ábrego, who ran it until his arrest in January 1996. García Ábrego was eventually succeeded by Osiel Cárdenas, who, in a highly significant move for drug trafficking and for Mexico, around 1997 succeeding in getting a clique of Mexican special forces soldiers to defect and form a group of enforces, Los Zetas (the Z's). Eventually, many more Mexican (and Guatemalan) special forces soldiers, and ambitious common criminals, would follow.

The expansion of the Gulf Cartel, its allies and its rivals was helped invaluably by economic pressures north of the border.

According to a report by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, with a population of 310 million, the United States consumes around $37 billion of cocaine a year, while Europe as a whole, with a population of 830 million, consumed $34 billion. Much of that money is laundered through the U.S. banking system, with financial institutions such as Bank of America, HSBC and Wachovia (now part of Wells Fargo) found by U.S. investigators to have laundered billions of dollars of drug profits for groups like the Gulf Cartel and Los Zetas.

Despite the United States having the highest rate of incarceration in the world (between 1989 and 2009, the private prison industry in the United States grew by an astonishing 1,600 percent), and despite more than half of America's federal inmates being in prison for drug-related offenses, no one ever went to jail for the banks' role in facilitating the cartels' bloody business. Meanwhile, border states with liberal gun laws such as Texas and Arizona have long served as a one-stop shop for Mexican drug cartels.

Osiel Cárdenas was arrested in Mexico in March 2003, yet more or less continued running the organization for behind bars until his extradition to the United States in January 2007. Both García Ábrego and Cárdenas are now held at the super maximum-security prison in Florence, Colorado, along with such inmates as the "Unabomber" Ted Kaczynski and the Al-Qaeda terrorist Zacarias Moussaoui.

Eventually, the Gulf Cartel and Los Zetas would violently rupture, with ever more micronized versions fighting battles with heavy-weapons such as grenade launchers over specific towns and even individual streets. This past December, on a sunny Saturday afternoon, the author of this article ran headlong into a heavily-armed Gulf Cartel roadblock set up in the border city of Reynosa, only a few minutes from the U.S. border.

Tamaulipas remains a bastion of the Partido Revolucionario Institucional (Institutional Revolutionary Party or PRI), the party that ruled Mexico for decades until 2000, and to which current president, Enrique Peña Nieto, who recaptured the presidency after it rested for 12 years in the hands of the opposition Partido Acción Nacional (National Action Party or PAN), belongs.

Historically, residents of Tamaulipas, long a PRI bastion, would be unwise to look to officialdom for protection. In addition to Torre (who ran for governor only after his own brother, Rodolfo Torre Cantú, was murdered while campaigning in June 2010 in what many believe was a cartel-sanctioned hit), the previous governors of Tamaulipas have an interesting history.

Torre's immediate predecessor, Eugenio Hernández Flores, saw fit to entrust his personal security to a well-known Gulf Cartel hitman during his 2005-2011 tenure, and fled to Europe at the end of his mandate. Hernández's own predecessor, Tomás Yarrington, was publicly praised by Texas governor Rick Perry during his time in office, but his 1999 to 2005 reign saw an extraordinary expansion of drug trafficking in the state. Yarrington eventually disappeared entirely shortly before being indicted both in Mexico and the United States for aiding the Gulf Cartel. His whereabouts are currently unknown.

During Mexico's 2012 election - the one that brought the PRI back to the presidency - some residents of Tamaulipas claimed to receive anonymous calls claiming to be from the Gulf Cartel ordering them to cast their ballots for the PRI under penalty of death for failing to do so. This strategy did not work in Matamoros itself, where voters elected the PAN candidate for mayor, breaking the PRI's long domination of the city.

As a result both of Mexico's own institutional failings but, also, those of the United States -- where drug money is laundered in U.S. banks, the private prison industry spends millions of dollars lobbying for mandatory minimum sentencing statutes for drug offenses, and firearms manufacturers gleefully supply cartels with weapons -- Tamaulipas has been almost completely lawless for years, although it has received scant attention compared with Ciudad Juarez, over 800 miles to the west.
Until the United States is willing to face up to its own role in Mexico's drug war, both as the world's largest consumer of narcotics and a bonanza for cartels seeking firepower, it is unlikely that the long-suffering citizens of Tamaulipas can expect anything like peace.

Sunday, June 22, 2014

An Inside Look at Mexico's Drug War

An Inside Look at Mexico's Drug War

The Takeaway 

(Please listen to the full interview with The Takeaway's John Hockenberry here)

As a country, we've become accustomed to the gruesome headlines out of Mexico. Things like "26,121 Missing During Mexico's Drug War" or "Mass Beheading Rocks Mexico City" regularly flash across screens and are printed across newspapers in bold fonts. We're in close proximity to a raging drug war, yet most of us couldn't be more removed from the realities occurring just over the border.

In his new book, "In The Shadow of Saint Death," author Michael Deibert chronicles the history and evolution of the warring cartels. Their influence, fueled by America's own drug policies and addictions, now permeates nearly every part of society, from the government to business owners to the military.

"What had been somewhat isolated now is violence that's affecting everywhere in Mexico practically, including places like Acapulco and places like Cuernavaca, which is very close to the capital," says Deibert. "So there has been, I'd say, a general disintegration of law and order in the country as a whole."

Beheadings are a preferred form of cruelty used by drug cartels. They are frequently video taped and are designed as a symbol used to instill terror in the hearts of Mexican citizens.

"They learned that basically by watching insurgent videos from Iraq," says Deibert. "The mass graves are a great testimony to the complete absence of the state in huge parts of Mexico."

Deibert says that is important to be very skeptical of about the number of people dead and wounded in the drug war.

"The number of people that we have dead now, which including the missing is somewhere around 70,000 to 75,000, but I think it could be much, much more than that," Deibert continues. "And that makes the drug war in Mexico since 2006 the most deadly conflict in Latin America aside from Guatemala's civil war, which was 30 years long and killed 200,000 people. But in the modern era, that's the most deadly."

Since the violence began there has also been a cultural shift in Mexico, says Deibert, spurring a controversial folk-music genre called narcocorridos, which romanticize drugs, guns, and violence.
The government of President Enrique Peña Nieto are unable to get the situation under control, though they often project a contradictory image.

"They have a great PR machine and they're trying to project this image that the country is turning the corner, when in fact in Tamaulipas last year the murder rate went up 90 percent," he says. "If you talk to your average Mexican, they don't feel any safer now than they did four years ago."

Deibert says that Americans must accept responsibility for some of the conflict in Mexico. In 2012, an estimated 23.9 million Americans aged 12 or older—or 9.2 percent of the population—had used an illicit drug or abused a psychotherapeutic medication (such as a pain reliever, stimulant, or tranquilizer) in the past month.

"Felipe Calderón, who was Peña Nieto's predecessor, had something interesting to say once: 'It's not easy living next door to the world's biggest and richest drug addict,' which is the United States," says Deibert. "I think that's accurate, and something for us to ponder for us as Americans."

But it's not just America's demand for drugs that is fueling the Mexican drug war. Guns flow in the opposite direction from the United States and south of the border.

"So many of these guns come from the United States, and that's something that people have to understand," says Deibert. "There was one guy that I write about in the book who, over the period of a couple months, bought over 100 assault rifles in Houston, many of which were found in different crime scenes around Mexico, including an attack on the state prosecutor's office in Acapulco that killed seven people."

While most of the drug cartel violence is contained to Mexico, the U.S. is not impervious.

"There's piles of dead bodies in Chicago, in New Orleans, in Baltimore, and in Miami," says Deibert.
"The death and destruction that has been caused by the criminalization of narcotics in the United States, and the perfect market environment that's been created for criminals by that criminalization, is really what has to end, along with a more restrictive gun policy."

Deibert suggests that the United States adopt a model that is similar to that of Portugal. In the year 2000, he says that Portugal decriminalized small amounts of drugs. He says that in 14 years there hasn't been an increase in drug use or abuse—in fact, among usage among those age 13 to 19 actually decreased.

"I don't think Americans can eternally watch Mexico go up in flames and claim they don't have a responsibility for it," he says.