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Painting of FAT supporters with signs for socialjustice & free unions in colorful town
Detail of poster for artistic exchange & the FAT's 13th convention
Artist Beatriz Aurora

Mexican Labor News & Analysis

February , 2016, Vol. 21, No. 2


The Pope in Mexico

By Dan La Botz

Pope Francis, during his six-day visit to Mexico in mid-February, criticized the country’s political and economic elite as well as the Catholic Church hierarchy for their preoccupation with wealth and power, while simultaneously expressing support for the country’s working people and the poor. The Pope’s presence in Mexico constituted an indictment of Mexico’s ruling elite and of the society of inequality, violence, in corruption that they have created. The Pope also criticized Donald Trump and other Republicans who call for building a wall between Mexico and the United States calling their views “not Christian.”

Without mentioning the term, the Pope revived the language and ideas of the Theology of Liberation of the 1960s and 1970s, while he also embraced the indigenous people and implicitly their social movements in Mexico. He was, however, criticized by the left for his failure to discuss the issues of priests’ sexual abuse of children, the issue of femicide (the murder of women), and the 43 Ayotzinapa Rural Teachers College students who were disappeared in September 2014.

The Catholics remain the largest religious group in Mexico, some 83 percent, despite the growth in recent decades of Evangelical churches and other Protestant sects. While the Mexican state is officially secular and historically anti-clerical, in fact the government has reached an accommodation with the Church. During the Pope’s visit some officials, rather than shaking hands, even knelt and kissed the Pope’s ring, a Catholic obeisance.

Criticizing the Government and the Catholic Hierarchy

At a formal reception by Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto, the Pope criticized Mexico’s economic elite and political leaders for the country’s economic inequality, lack of justice, and for creating the conditions that have brought about “corruption, drug dealing, the exclusion of different cultures, violence, human trafficking, kidnapping and death, causing suffering and impeding development.”

Speaking to the country’s Catholic hierarchy—bishops, archbishops, and cardinals, often called the “princes” of the Church—the Pope criticized religious “fundamentalism” and “triumphalism” and called upon the religious leaders to instead emphasize personal relationship to Christ. Many interpreted him as criticizing the hierarchy when he said, “We do not need ‘princes,’ but rather a community of the Lord’s witnesses. Christ is the only light; he is the well-spring of living water; from his breath comes forth the Spirit, who fills the sails of the ecclesial ship.” Speaking in Morelia, Michoacán, he told parish priests that they must not become “bureaucrats of the divine,” most “not become comfortable in the sacristy,” and must not “resign themselves to an apparently unchangeable system.”

Speaking to Workers, Migrants, and the Indigenous

The Pope held mass and spoke to crowds at several cities in Mexico, from the working class city of Ecatepec in central Mexico where he addressed a million people, to Chiapas in the South, one of the country’s most indigenous states, to Ciudad Juárez in the north (across from El Paso, Texas) where he spoke to audiences that included maquiladora workers. In all of his talks the Pope put special emphasis on the exploited, oppressed, and marginalized, whether the indigenous, factory workers, the poor, or migrants. He also spoke out everywhere against drug trafficking, corruption, and violence, as well as on the environmental threat of climate change.

Speaking in Juárez to several thousand, including many factory workers, he said:

“The dominant mentality puts the movement of people at the service of capital, leading in many cases to the exploitation of employees who are treated as if they were objects to be used and thrown away. And we have to do everything possible to make sure that these situations don’t happen any more. The movement of capital cannot determine the movement and the life of people.

“What does Mexico want to leave to its children? Does it want to leave them the memory of exploitation, of inadequate wages? Of bullying in the workplace? Or does it want to leave them a culture of work with dignity, of a decent home, and land to work?”

In Chiapas, Mexico, the Pope asked the indigenous people for forgiveness. “How good it would be for all of us,” said the Pope, “to examine our consciences and to learn to say, forgive us. Today the world, despoiled by the throwaway culture, needs you.” He began his mass in Chiapas with a short reading of a Psalm in the Tzotzil language, spoken by many Mayan people in the region, and he also made mention of the Popol Vuh, of “Book of the Community” of the ancient Mayan Quiché people. While in Chiapas, Pope Francis also signed a decree authorizing the saying of mass in Náhuatl, the most widely spoken indigenous language in Mexico.

Reviving the Theology of Liberation

While in Chiapas, the Pope said a prayer at the tomb of Bishop Samuel Ruiz García, a believer in the Theology of Liberation and best known for his role as a mediator during the Chiapas Rebellion of 1994 led by the Zapatista Army of National Liberation (EZLN). Many conservatives accused him of encouraging and supporting the Zapatistas. The Theology of Liberation, with its “preferential option for the poor,” helped to inspire many progressive social movements in Latin America in the late twentieth century. Former Pope John Paul II and Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger (later Pope Benedict) worked systematically to eradicate the Theology of Liberation by firing professors, punishing priests, and closing down organizations inspired by that emancipatory philosophy.

Still, La Jornada, the Mexico City leftist daily newspaper, editorialized
“Without denying the force and the relevance of the Popes speeches, it’s necessary nevertheless to add that Francis avoided at all costs referring to three tragedies that are emblematic of the national reality today: the sexual buses committed by a number Catholic priests against minors, the scandalous persistence of femicide in the country, and the exasperating failure of the government to clear up the aggression carried out the year before last against the teachers college student from Ayotzinapa where 43 of them were disappeared and whose fate remains unknown to today.”

Despite these critical limitations, the Pope’s visit represented a condemnation of the Mexican political and economic order, a call for greater justice, and a demand that the working people, the poor, migrants, and the indigenous, who are today the last, should come first.

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Twenty Years since the San Andres Accords

By Dan La Botz

Twenty years ago the Mexican government signed the San Andrés Accords Regarding the Rights and Culture of the Indigenous granting autonomy to Indian communities. Yet today, some argue that the indigenous people of Mexico, who represent about 10 to 15 percent of the population of the country, are worse off now than they were then. What happened and where are things now?

The Chiapas Uprising of 1994, led by the Zapatista Army of National Liberation (EZLN), brought about, after a brief period of military conflict, negotiations between the Mexican government and Zapatistas. The government created the Commission for Peace and Pacification (Comisión de Concordia y Pacificación – COCOPA), made up of senators and representatives, to negotiate with the EZLN. The Zapatistas, based in the historically Mayan region of Chiapas, insisted that the negotiation involve not only themselves, but also representatives of indigenous people from all over Mexico as well as experts from civil society, largely university professors and social movement activists. After weeks of negotiation, both sides agreed on a document that recognized the indigenous people, their rights, and granted them considerable autonomy. The accords were signed on February 16, 1996 with the presumption that, the government having signed them, they would become law.

However, when the Accords reached the Mexican legislature they were modified, changing the language in ways that weakened the rights and the autonomy of the indigenous. The Mexican Congress passed the Bartlett-Cevallos Law—named after the senators of the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) and the National Action Party (PAN) who had written it—with the votes as well of the left-of-center Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD). The Zapatistas repudiated the new law, broke off any relations with the government, and refuse to support any of the country’s political parties.

The Accords and the Bartlett-Cevalos law did contribute to the eventual passage of Article 2 of the Constitution, adopted in 2001, that established indigenous rights. While the Bartlett-Cevallos law contained language that has been used by lawyers to defend the interests of indigenous communities, it by no means recognized indigenous rights and their autonomy as the Accords had.

R. Aida Hernández Castillo, a researcher at the Center for Research and Higher Studies in Social Anthropology (CIESAS), who was one of the civil society participants in negotiating the Accords, argues that the situation of indigenous people today is worse than it was then - in two ways in particular: First, there is a new capitalist offensive aimed at appropriating the land and resources of the indigenous. Second, legal reforms have led to the criminalization of social protest. She writes, “The indigenous people through their organizations have resisted the privatization and the commercialization of their resources, based on epistemologies and visions of the world that challenge the utilitarian and individualist capitalist outlook. It is because of this resistance that those in power have described them as being ‘backward and anti-progress’ and in the worst of cases as terrorists and violent. Their territories are being violated by the transnational mining company, by energy mega-projects, by the drug war, and by hydroelectric projects, often leading to displacements that leave their land ‘free’ for capital.” Hernández also argues that one will find a coincidence between the places where the drug war is being fought and the loss of indigenous territory.

So today, twenty years later, the Zapatistas and the many indigenous groups in Mexico—150 different peoples and indigenous barrios and 50 communities of indigenous residents—continue to fight for recognition, rights, and autonomy throughout the country.

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Mexican Economic Situation Leads to Deep Budget Cuts

The Mexican economic situation continues to go from bad to worse with oil prices having declined dramatically, and the peso having fallen from 15 pesos to the dollar last February to almost 19 to the dollar a year later. While the government did increase taxes, it will still be receiving less tax income this year. Enrique Peña Neito’s government and the Mexican Congress have therefore cut the federal budget affecting virtually all government departments.

The budget cuts amount to 135 billion pesos or 8.8 billion U.S. dollars. The Secretary of Finance, Luis Videgaray Caso, has called for a “mega-cut” calls for a 30 percent reduction in administrative personnel, meaning that many white collar workers will have to be laid off. The deepest cuts will be to PEMEX, the Mexican Petroleum Company, and will affect both managers and workers.

The largest cuts, expressed in billions of pesos will be as follows: Secretary of Communications and Transportation, 11,820; Secretary of Public Education, 7,800; Secretary of Agriculture and Food, 7,188; Secretary of Social Development, 6,400; the National Water Commission, 3,750; Secretary of Health, 3,339; Secretary of the Interior, 2,000; Secretary of Finances, 1,900; Institute of Social Security for Unions of Workers of the State, 1,500; and, Secretary of Defense, 1,200.

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U.S., Mexican Unions Accuse Asarco and Subsidiary of Workers Rights' Violations

PITTSBURGH (February 18) – The United Steelworkers (USW) and the National Union of Mine, Metal, Steel and Allied Workers of the Mexican Republic (Los Mineros) today filed a complaint accusing Mexican mining conglomerate Grupo Mexico and its U.S. subsidiary, Asarco, of violating workers’ rights on both sides of the border.
The complaint, filed with the U.S. National Contact Point (NCP) for the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) Guidelines on Multinational Enterprises, asks the NCP to attempt to foster a dialogue between the parties.

While the specific contents of the complaint are confidential, the USW has accused Tucson, Ariz.-based Asarco of multiple unfair labor practices in the United States, including threatening workers, unlawfully implementing changes in workplace conditions, and failing to negotiate with the unions at the company’s five U.S. facilities. The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) has scheduled a hearing on the complaints for March 15.

More than 2,000 workers represented by eight international unions have continued to work at Asarco’s copper mines and processing facilities under the terms and conditions of a labor agreement that originally expired in June 2013 but was extended until June 2015.
“Asarco has used intimidation, manipulation and discrimination to interfere with workers attempting to exercise their rights,” said USW International President Leo W. Gerard.

“Companies like Grupo Mexico, and other multinational conglomerates that attempt to silence workers, are precisely the reason why international solidarity among labor unions is so important.”

The filing by the two unions comes as workers are preparing to mark the 10th anniversary of an explosion at the Grupo Mexico mine at Pasta de Conchos in the state of Coahuila that killed 65 workers. The bodies of 63 miners remain trapped underground. Representatives of the USW joined Los Mineros members for a march in Mexico City to demand recovery of the bodies, compensation for the families of the victims, and prosecution of the responsible company and government officials. The two unions have maintained a strategic alliance since 2005.

In the 10 years since that disaster, Grupo Mexico has been accused of killing workers, breaking strikes, imposing company unions, and creating environmental disasters in Mexico and Peru.

“We are extremely proud of our long-standing partnership with Los Mineros,” said USW District 12 Director Robert LaVenture. “We hope that by working together, we can achieve justice for workers, not only at Grupo Mexico, but all over the world.”

The USW represents 850,000 workers in North America employed in industries including metals, rubber, chemicals, paper, oil refining, and the service and public sectors. For more information:

For information contact: Ben Davis: 412-562-2501,

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Teachers March Against Education Reform

Mexican teachers continued their protests against the Education Reform Law as thousands from throughout the country marched on Feb. 5 to Los Pinos, the home of the president of Mexico. Spokespersons from the National Coordinating Committee (la CNTE), the dissident group in the Mexican Teachers Union (el SNTE), said that teachers from 22 states participated.

Adelfo Alejandro Gómez, general secretary of Local 7 of el SNTE and a leader of la CNTE said that while they are marching at the moment, the group has not ruled out strikes as a way to overturn the education reform.

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Miners Win Back Jobs—then Beaten by Company Union Thugs

Eight years ago, three members of the Miners and Metal Workers Union (SNTMMRM)—Javier Canales, Ramón Juárez, and Noel Méndez--were unjustly fired by the Fresnillo PLC mining company. They finally won their case and the right to return to work—but when they did they were attacked and beaten by more than 100 company union thugs.

The Fresnillo PLC mine, the world’s leading producer of the top primary grade silver, is owned by Alberto Bailleres González. Bailleres has signed a contract with a company union, the FRENTE miners union, headed by Carlos Pavón Campos. It was reportedly Pavón’s union members and hired thugs who attacked the three miners whom the court had returned to work.

“Alberto Bailleres is bothered by free workers from the miners union and that’s why Carlos “the Pig” Pavón and his gangsters attacked, because in Fresnillo PLC they want to impose protection contracts that dismantle the rights of the miners, as they have already done in the La Herradura mine in Sonora, also operated by Fresnillo PLC,” said Méndez.

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CTM Unions Demand Contracts Building New Airport

Various unions affiliated with the Confederation of Mexican Workers (CTM) have filed denunciations with President Enrique Peña Nieto and the Secretary of Labor Alfronso Navarrete Prida demanding that they receive contracts for the excavation, leveling, clearing, and carrying of construction materials for the new international airport to be built in Mexico beginning this year.

The unions complain that the government has given contracts to a Union of Transport and Construction Workers (STTCSCRM) headed by general secretary Laura Angélica Henández Ledezma. CTM leaders have complained that her union has “no contract, no union committee, no workers, and no workplace as the law requires.” That is, Hernández is setting up a union unknown to the workers. Ironically, this is how many CTM unions are formed.

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Mexicana Flight Attendants Protest at U.S. Embassy

Flight attendants of the now defunct Mexicana Airlines protested in early February at the U.S. Embassy, demanding that the U.S. Justice Department intervene to deny asylum to Gastón Azcárraga , the former head of the hotel chain Grupo Posadas, who organized a consortium of investors to buy Mexicana in 2006. A Mexican judge issued an arrest warrant for Azcárraga in February of last year and Interpol located him in the United States. When his visa expired, Azcárraga asked for asylum.

The flight attendants hold him responsible for the bankruptcy and collapse of the airline in 2010 and want him returned to Mexico to face justice. The flight attendants, joined by members of Barzón Popular, a debtors union, also took their protest to the Mexican Secretary of Labor office.

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New Head of the Confederation of Mexican Workers (CTM)

Carlos Aceves del Olmo, who is 75 years old, became head of the Confederation of Mexican Workers (CTM) in January following the death of its previous general secretary Joquín Gamoa Pascoe. Aceves has served the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) as a congressman for three terms and senator for one. He will serve from 2016 to 2022.

Aceves is a great admirer of Fidel Velázquez—the notorious conservative and dictatorial leaders—who, Aceves says, was his “Pope.” He told the press that although it seems as if Mexican workers have “holes in the pockets”, since they have so little money, he thinks “the government is doing as well as it can given the circumstances.”

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Pasta Deconchos: Ten Years of Impunity

By Napoleón Gómez Urrutia, general secretary of the Mexican Miners Union, Translation by Dan La Botz

Ten years ago, on February19 2006, one of the worst tragedies in the history of Mexico mining occurred. The explosion occurred in Mine 8, a coal mine in Pasta de Conchos in the municipality of San Juan de Sabinas, Coahuila in which 65 workers lost their lives and nine others suffered serious burns because they weren’t rescued and attended to as they should have been by the Grupo México company owned by the unfeeling businessman Germán Feliciano Larrea Moto Velasco.

At that time, I called it a case of industrial homicide due to the irresponsibility and criminal negligence of the company, which refused to recover the 65 miners, suspending its rescue work only five days after it began, without knowing whether the miners were alive or dead, the families suffering terribly. With this inhuman decision—not even in war are the fallen left on the battle field—Grupo México and Larrea attempted in a cowardly fashion to avoid facing 65 criminal complaints, and in their arrogance they never corrected the unsafe conditions that prevailed in the mine and which had been repeatedly reported by the members of the Joint Commission of Health and Safety. The Mexican Miners Union repeatedly demanded their immediate correction, but the mining company’s management, headed by Germán Larrea y Xavier García y Quevedo, with its wretched, arrogant attitude, refused to do so.

2006 was the last year of the Vicente Fox administration. Fox and his wife Marta Sahagún, both of whom had well known interests in common with and had been involved with Larrea and his company. Among things all had been involved in the Vamos México Foundation created expressly to collect resources from businessmen in order to increase the “retirement fund” for the future ex-president and his wife. Of course these donations and contributions from Germán Larrea, Alberto Bailleres González, Alonso Ancira Elizondo, Julio Villarreal Gujardo, and many others provided the necessary cover and protection which allowed them to commit all sorts of abuses and violations of the rule of law, without anyone being able to denounce or judge them. Since then they have been completely in a situation of impunity, destructive for the entire society and not only for the workers.

With the arrival of the National Action Party (PAN) and the coming to power of Vicente Fox and then the election of Felipe Calderón to the presidency, as he himself has said, “however it may have happened,” lack of safety, corruption, and influence peddling have accelerated enormously. The businessmen’s contributions, previously mentioned, that were used to finance political campaigns and for the obscure deals and slush funds for personal benefit, were compensated for by granting concessions for mining, gas, electricity, petroleum, tourist developments , and many others, the PAN governments going along with the appointment of public functionaries whose sole function was to safeguard and increase the businessmen’s interests and those of the functionaries themselves.

So we suffered through various PAN cabinet members, legislators, and judges, chosen or imposed, who came from that group of opportunists, mercenaries and influence peddlers in search of personal gain, utterly unscrupulous, without moral qualities or professional ethics of any kind. To mention some of those who had a grave responsibility for the shocking tragedy at the Pasta de Conchos mine, we have Francisco Javier Salazar, former secretary of labor in the Fox cabinet, who was an active supplier of chemicals to Larrea and Grupo México from his personal businesses located in San Luis Potosí. His son-in-law was the Secretary of Labor’s representative in Coahuila when the explosion occurred and the tragic death of 65 Mexican workers took place, 63 of whom still remain permanent buried and abandoned at the bottom of the mine, a depth of only 120 meters. In addition, the son of Salazar, who has the same name as his father, was designated by Fox to be the first president of the National Commission of Energy Regulation, which hands out concession for the exploration of gas, of which Grupo México was a beneficiary and was the principal recipient of concessions in 2006 when the tragedy occurred.

Afterwards, Calderón named the nefarious Javier Lozano Alarcón to be the next secretary of labor, to provide even greater cover for Larrea and Grupo México. Lozano compete with Salazar for the not very honorable title of having been the worst cabinet member in the history of Mexico. Lozano, according to political gossip, was in the pay of Grupo México and was, is, and will be in charge of protecting the criminal irresponsibility of Larrea and of his former leader Felipe Calderón. He was also the campaign coordinator of the latter and collected funds, such as the $205 million from the Chinese Zhenli Yegón (who was known as “the neck”), money that disappeared and nobody knows where it is. In the 2012 federal elections, Lozano was made senator for Puebla covering Calderón’s back and his own.

And the other case of public shame was the designation of Fernando Gómez Mont, Larrea’s criminal lawyer, who continued in that position while also coming to occupy the post of Secretary of the Interior, or as it’s often referred to in political circles, the vice-presidency of Mexico. Gómez Montt did everything he could and continues do so from that position to provide cover for Larrea and to attack all of those who oppose him or represent a challenge to his interests. His base behavior and servility degrade and dirty his profession of law and the application of justice which is so lacking in Mexico. In the same situation are those former states attorneys Eduardo Medina Mora, Daniel Cabeza de Baca, Jesús Murillo Karam, and the current sub-secretary of labor, Rafael Avente, and various others.

Today, ten years later, because of those immoral, makeshift, and perverse individuals, those 63 mine workers bodies remain abandoned, and a serious attempt to recover them was never made, as was done in the case of the 33 Chilean miners, an act that represented a moral, human, and political triumph of the workers, unions, families, the company and the conservative government Sebastián Piñera of that great Latin American country. In Mexico there has never been a professional and independent investigation of the tragedy and of the causes that motivated it, much less any attempt to punish those responsible with all the weight of the law. Neither have the widows and family members been indemnified justly and with dignity, which is an immense social debt owed by Grupo México and by the rulers of the country, a debt that remains due and unpaid.

The question for the current government is when will it fulfill the demand for the recovery of the bodies, a just and dignified compensation for the families, and punishment for those responsible. How many human tragedies have to take place in order for justice to be done and impunity to be ended. It would be magnificent if the Mexican government headed by Enrique Peña Nieto were to provide a definitive resolution to this unjust situation.

And this, in the context of the visit to Mexico of this great man, Pope Francisco, who has made proposals, not only for peace and reconciliation, but also for justice, respect, and dignity for those who have less and are more marginalized. The image of Mexico will grow enormously if it follows and honors the Pope’s call for human betterment. We have had enough impunity.

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Book Review - Drugs, War, and Capitalism

By Dan La Botz

Dawn Paley’s Drug War Capitalism presents an overview of the drug wars in several Latin American countries: Columbia, Mexico, Guatemala, and Honduras. Mexico receives the most attention, and Paley provides a wealth of information from a variety of sources documenting the impact of the war on drugs on Mexican society and on the role of the United States. She focuses especially on the relationship between the drug business, government policies, and the militarization of Latin American societies, elucidating the role of U.S. policies such as Plan Mérida. She demonstrates the nefarious role played by the U.S. government’s overall structuring of both the drug market and the drug war by elaborating on both the military and civilian aspects of U.S policy in an attempt to prove her thesis, which is the war on drugs forms part of a plan—or if not a plan at least a process—that furthers capitalism, especially its expansion “…into new or previously inaccessible territories and social spaces.” (p. 15) Paley’s book contributes to, but does not resolve the debate over the relationship between drug dealers, capitalism, and the state.

In particular, she argues that her book explains the ways that the drug war leads to increased foreign direct investment. She writes, “…in this war, terror is used against the population in cities and rural areas, and how, parallel to this terror and resulting panic, policies that facilitate foreign direct investment and economic growth are implemented. This is drug war capitalism.” (p. 16) In fact, she argues that drug war capitalism represents a possible counter-tendency to capitalist crisis. She writes: “The war on drugs is a long-term fix to capitalism’s woes, combining terror with policymaking in a seasoned neoliberal mix, cracking open social world and territories once unavailable to globalized capitalism.” (p. 16)

Any one interested in Mexico and Latin America more generally or in the international issue of the drug wars will want to read Paley’s book.It is an impressive compendium of information about the drug war in several nations. But, at the same time, it is clear that Paley fails to prove her thesis that the drug wars advance globalization, capitalism, and particularly foreign direct investment. The exact relationship between capitalism, the U.S. and Latin American states, drug dealers and the drug wars remains to be explained to us.

The Case of Mexico

Let’s take the case of Mexico, which forms the largest component of her book and which is at least at the moment the most important case of drug war militarization and violence. One has to ask: Why would American and other foreign capitalist turn to the drug wars to further their interests in Mexico? Was capitalism in trouble in Mexico? Was it facing some obstacle and, if so, how did the drug wars help capitalism overcome them?

In fact, capitalism in Mexico is well established and capitalists had long ago been given the keys to the kingdom. Mexico has been part of the world capitalist market since the 1600s when Spanish gold and silver flowed into Europe, much of it into the hands of German bankers like the Welsers and Fuggers. Spanish America became part of the global slave trade, with 250,000 Africans sold into Mexico between the colonial period and the end of the world slave trade in the mid-nineteenth century. Slaves laboring on plantations produced sugar for the domestic and world market while indigenous laborers collected the nopales the cochinilla beetles to be sold to make red dye in Europe.

During the late nineteenth century, President Porfirio Díaz invited foreign capitalists from the United States, England, and France to invest in Mexico. They invested enormous quantities in railroads, mining, and petroleum and carried off the profits. While Díaz nationalized the railroads and Mexican Revolutionary governments nationalized oil and other industries, much of Mexican industry, agriculture, and services remained in the hands of foreign and domestic investors. U.S. companies—owned by the Rockefellers and the Guggenheims—continued to own mines in Mexico throughout the revolution and after.

During World War II, hundreds of thousands of Mexicans came to work in the United States under the bracero program, a step in the integration of Mexico into the American economy. When the bracero program ended in 1965, the United States and Mexico agreed to the maquiladora program, under which U.S.-owned corporations opened plants in Mexico along the border with the US. By 1975 there were scores of U.S. and other foreign-owned plants and tens of thousands of workers laboring in them.

After the Mexican economic crisis of 1982, the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), which had ruled Mexico for more than fifty years, gave up its nationalist economic program and adopted the complete neoliberal agenda involving deregulation, privatization, foreign investment, cuts in the federal social budget and attacks on PRI’s labor unions. Billions of dollars poured into Mexico into the maquiladoras and other major manufacturing facilities, particularly auto plants. All of this was accomplished before the drug wars began. In almost 500 years capitalism had succeeded in penetrating virtually every pore of Mexico. Why then would the U.S. government or U.S. corporations want the drug wars?

There is no doubt that the drug war has such high degrees of violence that it has disrupted social and economic life and led to displacement that facilitates land- and resource-grabs by the government or by corporations. Yet, compared to the vast investments carried out by Mexican, U.S. and foreign corporations these are largely incidental. The mining companies that want land in Mexico have historically taken it one way or another, legally or violently, whether or not there is a drug war going on.

Paley suggests that the drug wars contributed to the growth of criminal gangs, paramilitary groups, and to the government’s militarization of society which lead to repression of working people. While there is some truth to that the drug wars repression of labor and social movements was incidental and relatively insignificant. The Mexican government has , since the revolution, the power to repress social movements wherever, whenever, and however it wished. The Mexican government suppressed the independent union movement in the late 1940s and early 1950s, in the period of the charrazos, using the police, army, and gangsters to replace independent union leaders with leaders loyal to the government. In 1958 and 59 when the Mexican railroad workers went on strike the government sent in the army to break the strike, killing several workers and convicting and imprisoning a dozen others. When students and many other Mexicans joined in a movement for democracy in 1968, the year of the Mexican Olympics, the army and police killed an estimated 300 to put down the movement. In 1974 and 1975 the government used the police and army to break the Democratic Tendency led by the Electrical Workers (STERM).

When the Zapatista Army of National Liberation (EZLN) led the Chiapas rebellion in 1994, Mexican President Ernesto Zedillo sent in the army to attack the rebels, only restraining the army when there were national protests. In 2006 unknown assassins, the police and the army suppressed the teachers union and the civic uprising in Oaxaca with approximately 20 related deaths. Why in a state such as Mexico why would the government need the drug war to justify or to facilitate repression? Employers, foreign and domestic, have found the state a willing partner and able to maintain order through beatings, imprisoning, rape, and murder.

Drug War Creates Problems for Capitalism

While it is true there is an overlap between the implementation of the neoliberal economic programs of the 1980s and the drug wars beginning in the 2000s, Paley fails to demonstrate that the one caused the other. Her book makes many references to the coincidence of U.S. drug policies and U.S. economic policies, but she makes no persuasive arguments showing an even casual relationship between them. If anything, neoliberalism seems to precede the drug wars and some of its policies, such as greater international trade which facilitated the drug trade, but they were not key to it.

Paley also fails to address the question of how the drug war may actually create problems for capitalism. It is true that U.S. banks and corporations in Mexico have operated with few problems during the drug wars, while many ordinary Mexicans have suffered However, it is hard to believe that the U.S. and Mexican government and U.S. and Mexican corporations are happy to see the proliferation of armed groups in Mexico. In fact, companies have hesitated to invest, for example, in the city of Ciudad Juárez while the drug wars were raging a few years ago. U.S. corporate executives have been kidnapped and held for ransom in Mexico, one recently in Tijuana. There are undoubtedly many cases of kidnapping of executives and extortion of corporations that go unreported. In addition, the drug wars have disrupted transportation, delivery of parts and finished products, and they have kept workers from their jobs. Corporations in Mexico and Central America are forced to spend large amounts of money on security services to protect their plants, machinery, and employees. All of these problems from the drug war are costs, not benefits, to capitalists

Capitalists prefer stability and freedom of movement for capital and goods, unless periods of instability or repression are necessary to battle workers rights movements and union organizing. Yet, this is not what the drug wars are about.

While some in the Mexican government, the army, and the police are engaged with the drug dealers, as well as with the forces fighting them, one has to ask if this is a policy that furthers the government’s interests or those of capital. Aren’t the drug wars a failure of corporate and government policy? If the drug dealers’ criminal gangs become powerful enough they become a threat to the government and whatever party is in power. The criminal gangs engage in murder, kidnapping, extortion and other crimes that work against the long-term interests of capital and of the capitalist state, political parties and politicians. It is why the United States federal, state, and local governments in the 1930s, for example, took action against the mafia and criminal gangs engaged in the illicit alcohol market and in other criminal activities such as gambling and prostitution. These crimimal elements took over or controlled some businesses and labor unions. At some point this became a threat to “legitimate” businesses and the state and, when that happened, the state took legal and police measures to crush it.

Paley’s book contains useful information on the drug wars, but her thesis seems to fly in the face of the reality. I tried to look at this question, not entirely successfully, in a paper I presented at Left Forum last year but there remains much work to be done to explain the role of the drug cartels in Mexico and how they influence political parties, the state, and capitalism.

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Back to Table of Contents of Mexican Labor News & Analysis articles.

Archived MLNA issues.


Arturo Silva Doray


"The relationship that we've had with international organizations
-- thanks to ties with UE   --  is hugely important.

"After each international meeting, we feel more and more encouraged by the knowledge that we're backed by outside organizations as strong as the UE."

-- Arturo Silva Doray
General secretary of municipal workers union in Juarez, Mexico
& of Federation of Municipal Workers for Chihuahua, Mexico



For more Information

For information about submission of articles and all queries contact editor Dan La Botz at the following e-mail address: or call (513) 861-8722. The mailing address is: Dan La Botz, Mexican Labor News and Analysis, 3503 Middleton Ave., Cincinnati, OH 45220.

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"This article was published by Mexican Labor News and Analysis, a monthly collaboration of the Mexico City-based Authentic Labor Front (FAT) and the Pittsburgh-based United Electrical Workers (UE)."


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