Florentino López & Ilena Saturay

US Drug Wars, Autodefensas & Zapatistas

Florentino López (seen on the left in the picture, next to Massalijn’s Propaganda Officer Ilena Saturay), National Chairperson of the Frente Popular Revolucionario (Revolutionary People’s Front), was in the Netherlands for an ILPS ICC meeting. We asked him to share about the contemporary situation in Mexico, specifically about the Drug Wars, Autodefensas (Self-Defense Forces) and the EZLN (Zapatista National Liberation Army). This piece is a rough translation of the sharing.


Today is the last complete day that I’m here. The help and company each and every one of you has given me has been great. It was a pleasure meeting all of you. I am in your debt, for without your support it would’ve been a lot harder to participate in these activities.

On to the topic at hand:

Mexico is in a very complicated situation due to multiple economic crises, our proximity to the US, and the drug problem, particularly our internal policy related to narcotics. All of these problems are bound up together from our point of view. The US economic crisis affects Mexico a lot more than it does the US.

There’s a popular saying in Mexico; when the US catches a cold, Mexico catches pneumonia. The same is true in economic matters. The 2008 crisis affected the US, but it was three to four times worse for Mexico. Remittances from Mexican migrants in the US counts usually between the second and third most important source of income for individuals in Mexico. With the crisis, remittances dropped sharply.

The drug problem is really important in Mexico due to its proximity to the US. Statistically, the US is the world’s largest consumer of illegal narcotics. Mexico is the principal gateway to the US when it comes to drugs. Due to the economic crisis the US came up with the drug myth so it could send millions of arms to Mexico, practically engineering a war in Mexico.

The reasoning due to drugs is a myth because drug cartels have always existed here, but for about ten years now a war has come about. In the last seven years there have been over 300 thousand deaths. As of now there are close to 45 thousand people disappeared, all numbers surpassing those of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Most of those affected are the youth from the poorest parts of the country.

The government says it fights narcotraffickers, but the majority of deaths have been in the civilian population, people that have no ties to drug trafficking. We believe this is a way to create terror in the population because the pretext of drug trafficking has militarized the country. Martial law style curfews have been instituted in the principal industrial zones. Places with a major presence of social mass movements have been “coincidentally” deemed by the government to have major narcotrafficking activities going on. The objective is to neutralize workers’ and people’s movements.

This supposed war against narcotrafficking hasn’t been developed just by the Mexican government: it’s part of the US plan to control drug trafficking worldwide. The war on drugs is supported and financed by a US project called Plan Mérida. It’s a copy of Plan Colombia that looks toward military support from the US to Mexico. It’s important to point out that since around 1930 Mexico has had a policy of neutrality when it comes to global conflicts. Plan Mérida is an initiative to break with this policy. The US wants Mexican soldiers to be provided for fighting wars they get into with the peoples of the world.

This situation is aggravated by the economic crisis. At the policy level, practically all the recommendations from international organizations have been implemented. In the two years since this government took power all the reforms that imperialism wants in order to restrain the Mexican economy have been imposed: energy policy reform, fiscal reform, education reform. Land reform is being planned for this year.

The primary objective of these reforms is, on the one hand, to hand over all resources to multinational corporations. For example, in the past ten years mining concessions have been granted for nearly thirty percent of the Mexican territory, which haven’t all completely gone into effect due to opposition and resistance from local peoples. There are talks of handing over oil reserves to US imperialism.

Narcotrafficking is intimately related with creating terror in order to impose these reforms, but also with using narcotraffickers as paramilitary groups. Drug cartels are basically functioning as protectors of the the big multinational corporations’ investments. Therefore, there is no real war on narcotrafficking; the war is one of favoring some narcotraffickers instead of others and fuel confrontations in order to sell more arms.

Given the situation, the Mexican people do not see a solution in the increasing militarization. This is the reason self-defense groups have emerged. The last ten years have seen the country militarized, murder, disappearances, and kidnappings. Petty crime is on the rise. The people have said “Enough,” if the government can’t guarantee the safety of the people, the people will defend themselves. The emergence of the self-defense groups has happened in two ways:

1) Over fifteen years ago, an entire region of indigenous peoples that suffered from the insecurity brought on by narcotrafficking decided to organize community guards. They supplied the money for their own arms and established security brigades within all communities and roads. They would not let the public authorities (police and army) into their communities, but they did hand over criminals to them so they could be dealt with under the law.

Still, they quickly saw that in a matter of days the criminals would be out and about due to government corruption. The ones with money would pay off the police and the judges. The indigenous people decided to create their own justice system; they also created a system of readaptation and reeducation after deciding not to cooperate anymore with the government. This is what is known as the Communitarian Police (“Policía comunitaria”) in the state of Guerrero. The presence of these self-defense and popular militias keeps increasing.

2) The other self-defense story is more contemporary: in the state of Michoacan, a sizable landowning class exports lemons and avocadoes. Due to the same narcotrafficking problem, the landowners created their own self-defense forces. Without government consent they armed various groups that patrolled the zones encompassing their lands. The narcotraffickers, who had acted as the de facto defense forces of the landowners while extracting “taxes” from them, didn’t like the fact that the landowners were financing their own defense groups.

Confrontations ensued and the need for more self-defense forces increased. The government took notice of the fact that these self-defense groups started growing much faster than the communitarian police forces. They started intervening by militarizing the zones, but this quickly became a political problem, so they changed tactics. They’re looking for ways to come to an agreement with the landowners to legalize their self-defense forces, but the real objective is to coopt them and convert them to paramilitary forces in the same way Colombia did in a similar situation.

A debate has ensued between the self-defense forces. Some want to become legal government forces, but others don’t agree to having to register themselves and their arms, a prerequisite for legalization. They believe it makes them vulnerable to at any point having to surrender their arms.

It should be noted that these self-defense forces, created by the landowners, were in no way consented to by the people, in contrast to the democratic process that founded the popular militias. The fact that they were called for and instituted by popular assemblies is what legitimized them in the eyes of the people.

The self-defense forces play an important role in two Pacific states: Oaxaca and Guerrero. Other small groups are emerging in other parts of the country, though. The emergence of these self-defense groups has been an important topic for us: it has shown the people that they have the capability to defend themselves. It has also legitimized the need for armed struggle and that armed popular groups can exist in the country without the need to be a clandestine movement. There clandestine groups, guerrillas, working inside these self-defense zones. They existed before the self-defense forces.

There’s no contradiction between clandestine work and mass movements and popular militias: they complement each other. This has legitimized armed struggle. Traditionally, mass movements have rejected the guerrillas and armed struggle.

The topic of the self-defense forces has changed the situation: the entire mass movement supports the self-defense forces. It’s a favorable environment since the mass movement is growing in the country. The end of 2013 developed into a strong movement with the teacher’s movement storming through the country, unseen in the past twenty to thirty years. There’s a mass movement unification process looking forward to 2015.

The self-defense movement is quickly embedding itself into the mass popular movement. Our organization has a presence in all of these movements. We do work in some of the communities with self-defense forces and we have a good political relationship with all the self-defense forces. We have comrades in the leadership of the teachers movement at the national level. Even though our organization is not big enough yet we have accomplished an important presence among the movements and have gained their respect. This has let us help out in building movement unity.

We still have problems with some parts of the movement, though: the movement represented by a presidential candidate, a reformist, pacifist, and electoral movement; on the other hand there’s the radical left, the EZLN (Zapatista National Liberation Army) and subcomandante Marcos. After being the most important movement in the country since 1994, they have isolated themselves from the national movement.

We have made overtures towards them to rejoin the national movement, but they have aligned themselves with anarchism and have a sectarian attitude toward the movement. The government is taking advantage of this. After years of respecting their zones of influence, as of a month ago a paramilitary group engaged the EZLN and an important commander was assassinated (comandante Galiano).

We have expressed the need for solidarity with the EZLN, but we’ve also expressed the fact that if they don’t come out of their self-imposed isolation they will remain targets of government intervention. It’s complicated because they have no political aspiration beyond the constitutional recognition of indigenous peoples’ rights. They don’t speak of overthrowing the current regime. They’ve spoken a little about self-administration. That’s as far as the topic goes with the EZLN.

With this I close…