Los Cárteles No Existen— “Cartels Don’t Exist”

This piece originally appeared in Narco.news

“You can’t really wipe out the dreaded drug business for three simple reasons. People need the jobs. The government needs the money. And in the end the police and soldiers all join the business.”

—Charles Bowden, June, 2011 talk at the Commonwealth Club

PICTURE, FOR A MOMENT, the image of a drug trafficker:

His bristling mustache, his shadow-darkened eyes, his demure-looking harem of scantily-clad lovers. Imagine, for a moment, his studded leather boots, and the sharp glint of sunlight off his immaculate gold rings. His expression lies hidden. He contemplates the world from within a blue halo of cigar smoke. If the myths are true, he lives in a sprawling, walled-off mansion, replete with animals and ringed with armed guards. His gunmen can square off with the toughest of militaries, and anyone can be killed when he so desires. No politician lays beyond the temptation of his bribes. The immiseration of entire societies in Latin America is attributable to him, and him alone. He looms above them like a specter: an evil narco-squid whose vast tentacular reach leaves nothing—no person, place, nor institution—uncorrupted.

The above narrative, fanciful, flamboyant, almost cartoonish in nature, can be found on ample display in decades-old cultural industry of drug-themed books, movies, and TV-shows. But that same narrative is reflected with mirror-like precision in sober government discourses justifying drug wars. Despite yielding little asides from increased drug usage and bloodshed of unprecedented scale, Oswaldo Zavala notes with suspicion, governments continue advocating for those wars with that same narrative. With the narrative of the Cartels, the Drug Wars—and vast cultural industry sustained by mythologizing them—continue amassing profits with no end in sight.

A Guatemalan Journalist Was Targeted, Beaten, Arrested, and Left Unprotected by the State

This originally appeared in El Faro

NOT LONG BEFORE NOON ON THE DAY he was imprisoned, Francisco Chox, an indigenous GuatemalanTV journalist, was covering a protest in the Sololá department. Three weeks earlier, on May 25th, the government of Alejandro Giammattei dispatched the military to impose a state of emergency over two neighboring municipalities in the department, Santa Catarina Ixtahuacán and Nahualá. Decades-old territorial disputes between the indigenous communities had erupted the previous day, with a clash that left one dead and several wounded. Dozens of people in the area have been killed in armed confrontations in recent years from an intercommunal conflict rooted in economic disparities and inequities in land ownership between the municipalities. 

On June 11th, protests over the federal military occupation broke out in the town of Alaska in Santa Catarina Ixtahuacán, the poorer of the two municipalities. The disturbances, according to one report, began after a group residents of Nahualá ascended the hillside towards land disputed with Santa Catarina Ixtahuacán to clean their crops and replace piped water services, a move seen as a provocation by many in the latter community. Catching wind of the protest, Chox—who works for department-wide station Canal Nim, goes by the nickname “Chivo” and, according to multiple interviews, is highly recognizable for wearing indigenous garb—jumped on his motorcycle and headed to Alaska. Once he got to the scene, where a roadblock had been set up on the highway, a group of protesters recognized him as a journalist from Nahualá and promptly zeroed in on him as a target.