They behead people by the hundreds. They heap headless, handless bodies along roadsides as warnings to those who would resist their power. They have penetrated the local, state, and national governments and control entire sections of the country. They provide employment and services to an impoverished public, which distrusts their actual government with its bitter record of corruption, repression, and torture. They seduce young people from several countries, including the United States, into their murderous activities.
Is this a description of the heinous practices of the Islamic State (IS) in Iraq and Syria? It could be, but as a matter of fact it’s not. These particular thugs exist a lot closer to home. They are part of the multi-billion-dollar industry known as the drug cartels of Mexico. Like the Islamic State, the cartels’ power has increased as the result of disastrous policies born in the U.S.A.
There are other parallels between IS and groups like Mexico’s Zetas and its Sinaloa cartel. Just as the U.S. wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Libyafertilized the field for IS, another U.S. war, the so-called War on Drugs, opened new horizons for the drug cartels. Just as Washington has worked hand-in-hand with and also behind the backs of corrupt rulers in Central Asia, the Middle East, and North Africa, so it has done with the Mexican government. Both kinds of war have resulted in blowback — violent consequences felt in our own cities, whether at the finish line of the Boston Marathon or in communities of color across the country.
In Mexico, the U.S. military is directly involved in the War on Drugs. In this country, that “war” has provided the pretext for the militarization of local police forces and increased routine surveillance of ordinary people going about their ordinary lives.
And just as both the national security state and the right wing have used the specter of IS to create an atmosphere of panic and hysteria in this country, so both have used the drug cartels’ grotesque theater of violence to justify their demonization of immigrants from Latin America and themassive militarization of America’s borderlands.