Mexico: "The Straw That Broke the Camel's Back"

January 19, 2015 | Revolution Newspaper |


Mexican president Enrique Peña Nieto paid a visit to Barack Obama, his American godfather, in Washington, DC, the first week of January. Their meeting came at a critical time in relations between the two countries, and a time of volcanic upheaval within Mexico that is challenging and shaking the foundations of that highly repressive state and its institutions.

Ayotzinapa: “La gota que derramó el vaso” (The Straw That Broke the Camel’s Back)

Since September 26, Mexico—a country of incalculable strategic importance to the world system of U.S. capitalism-imperialism—has been pulsing with waves of determined struggle aimed at ending the savage murder and torture of thousands of people carried out by police and military forces, and drug cartels, separately or in combination with each other.

Two of the most flagrant massacres this year were the attacks on the students of Ayotzinapa and the June murders of 22 people in the town of Tlatlaya, in the State of Mexico. Army and other government officials have tried to cover up their involvement in the Ayotzinapa massacre. But exposures in the Mexican press have revealed that the army had the students under surveillance from the time they left the school to go to Iguala, and was present during the detainment, initial killings, and disappearances of the students. (For more on the Ayotzinapa disappearances, see "Mexico Burns, U.S. Needs to Feel the Heat" and "Mexico: government's political crisis persists.")

The U.S.-funded Mexican army directly carried out the Tlatlaya massacre. After this was exposed by Mexican journalists, seven soldiers were arrested and charged with carrying out the slaughter. This week Mexico’s National Human Rights Commission released information documenting the brutal torture of witnesses to the massacre by agents of the state’s Attorney General’s Office.

Protests initiated by family members and classmates of the murdered Ayotzinapa students quickly spread throughout the country, especially into Mexico City, the capital. Many sections of people—artists, street vendors, professionals, proletarians, students, peasants, and others—have participated in massive outpourings. Federal highways and international airports have been blocked by protesters demanding justice. On November 8, the ceremonial door of the National Palace in Mexico City was burned by protesting students. Two weeks later, over a hundred thousand people launched a massive, militant protest in the national capital.

The protests have been particularly fierce in the impoverished and brutally repressed southern states of Mexico. The Guerrero offices of the hated ruling PRI party—long associated with horrific violence against the people, big time drug dealing, and flagrant corruption—were burned. So were the city hall in Iguala, and the state government building in Chilpancingo, the capital of Guerrero. People have risen up against years of mass murder, disappearances, and torture.

The killings in Ayotzinapa were not an aberration. Brutal murders, disappearances, and mass torture have been regular occurrences not just in the south but throughout Mexico over the past ten years. A report by Amnesty International described torture by the military and police as “widespread and routine.” But for millions of people, word of the latest murders and disappearances in Guerrero, and the struggle waged by family members and students became “la gota que derramó el vaso,” which in English would correspond to the phrase “the straw that broke the camel’s back.”

A Crisis of Legitimacy Emerges

The protests that spread across the country continued throughout the holiday season and as the New Year began, and have reverberated within the U.S. as well. On December 5, the police chief in Mexico City was forced to resign because of his handling of demonstrations there. On Christmas Eve, family members of dead and missing students and others went to Los Pinos, the presidential palace in Mexico City, where “a long line of riot police and barricades prevented them from entering...” They returned on the 26th and 31st of December, and vowed to continue fighting into the New Year.

Peña Nieto did not announce his first public appearance of 2015, in the southern state of Oaxaca. Still, protesting school teachers who learned he was there “clashed with police in an effort to prevent his entrance, which took place only amid tear gas and stones”. Protesters were outside the White House demanding justice and the resignation of Peña Nieto when he met with Obama, and other actions took place in several U.S. cities.

Coverage in the international press describes Mexico as being “on the brink.” Many polls and political pundits have pointed out that the popularity of the Mexican president has plummeted to an all time low. It is very true that Peña Nieto is deeply despised by tens of millions of people in Mexico. But for many people the anger goes far beyond who is currently in power. A popular slogan in Mexico City and elsewhere in the past month or so has been “Fue el Estado; Es el estado”. (It was the state; it is the state).

A report by the think tank International Crisis Group concluded recently that “Mexico is facing a crisis of legitimacy.” How this situation develops in the weeks and months ahead will have profound consequences on developments in Mexico, in Central America, and within the U.S. imperial monster itself.

A Century of Brutal Imperialist Domination

The U.S. media depicts the staggering amount of violence in Mexico as being caused by rival gangs seeking supremacy in the multi-billion dollar drug trade. It is true that ruthless struggles between and within various gangs have inflicted enormous misery upon tens of thousands of people. It is also true that many of these gangs recruit desperate youths and use them to perpetrate terrible acts.

But pull back the lens a bit further and get a bigger picture. Why has drug trafficking become such a huge source of income in Mexico, a country rich in natural resources, most especially its people? Why do so many young people face a future in which the only outlet they see for their daring, creativity, and ingenuity is to become a narcotraficante? Why are so many millions of people being forced from their rural homes to try to eke out some sort of living in the cities of Mexico or further, into El Norte?

Mexico is in crisis. Millions of people have swollen the population of Mexico City and other large metropolises, forced to find work in the informal economy. Unemployment is soaring. Countless women have been forced into prostitution. A handful of enormously wealthy people, tied into the imperialist dominated economy, have gorged themselves on the riches of the country, and some sectors of the middle class have prospered, while tens of millions live in abject poverty. Groups of heavily armed men rampage throughout the country, leaving headless corpses, streams choked with bodies, and parentless children in their wake.

Massive drug trafficking in Mexico isn’t controlled by barrio and rural youth who have no other way to make a living. It is linked into the overall ruling class of Mexico, economically and politically. It is a source of enormous capital to the ruling class as a whole, and important elements of the ruling class are invested in different drug cartels, and often tied to them politically. Police, military, and judiciary forces in Mexico are often allied with and even indistinguishable from the drug cartels.

An article from A World to Win News Service a few years ago analyzed: “The divisions and fractures within the power structure are intertwined with the clashes between the drug cartels that different parts of the state are allied with, undermining the state’s ability to defend the system’s overall interests.” This convulsive, complex conflict has driven the tidal wave of reactionary violence that has torn at Mexico for years. Further, different elements of these repressive forces are often connected with sectors of the U.S. government, police and espionage agencies whose interests often clash and contend, as was portrayed in the fictional TV drama The Bridge.

Storm Clouds Have Burst

Mexico has been dominated by imperialism for over a century; far and away the foremost imperialist power in Mexico is the U.S. The devastation and human misery within Mexico caused by this domination has intensified in the past several decades. As one prominent example, millions of peasants have been driven from the countryside since the implementation of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and the flooding of Mexico with cheap, subsidized U.S. grain.

Maintaining a semblance of stability in Mexico is a great strategic concern for U.S. imperialism. For one thing, the U.S. has enormous investments in and extracts enormous profits from its penetration of and dominant position within Mexico. Being the imperialist top dog in Mexico is a cornerstone of U.S. preeminence within the entire Western hemisphere, and its worldwide empire.

The U.S. is also dependent on brutal exploitation of Mexican (and Central American) immigrants—both documented and undocumented—within this country for the profitable workings, and in fact the day to day functioning, of the capitalist-imperialist system. Maintaining this section of the people in highly repressive and controlled conditions, under the government’s thumb, is a constant and growing concern of the U.S. ruling class. It also helps provide some semblance of stability or income for the lives of countless people within Mexico, since funds sent to family members in Mexico by people living in the U.S. are Mexico’s second largest source of total income.

The border shared by the U.S. and Mexico is the longest border in the world between an imperialist country and a country oppressed by imperialism. It is both a barrier—a monstrously militarized and decidedly one-directional barrier (allowing unfettered U.S. domination)—and a potential transmission belt of crisis, turmoil, and even revolutionary possibilities.

The rulers of the U.S. understand that upheaval within Mexico and Central America would have tremendous influence on political developments in the U.S., and would put great, perhaps unbearable stress on the border itself. History—including very recent history—is full of examples of this. Containing the “contagion” of rebellion and possible revolution south of the Río Grande through violent means is a deep and essential problem for this country’s rulers.

Different sections of the U.S. ruling class disagree strongly over how best to “secure” the border—but they all agree that their ability to control their southern flank is of the utmost strategic concern to the functioning of their entire imperialist structure. And they all agree that they must continue with deepening the militarization of the border, and with extending their ability to use whatever force they think is needed to try to maintain their control.

Storm clouds have begun to burst in Mexico, and a defiant, courageous struggle has sprung onto the world stage. Tens of thousands of people have stood up, challenged the murderous status quo, and opened up whole new vistas for the struggle of the people to erupt and impact all of society.

Where all this will lead is uncertain.

But it is certain that with this great upheaval in Mexico come great challenges and responsibilities to revolutionaries and other people struggling for fundamental change in this country. People must be tense to the possibilities; poised to do everything possible to politically support the people of Mexico who have risen in brave struggle, and to do that as part of building the overall movement for revolution in this country—a movement that contributes to preparing the ground, the people, and the vanguard for an actual revolution—a revolution to put an end to the system that causes such limitless suffering as the people in Mexico have endured—as soon as possible.

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