In regions wracked by the drug war, the U.S. and Mexico remain hooked on militarization.
THE FAMILIES GATHERED in a plaza on the northern edge of Nogales, Sonora, two blocks south of the border wall. Most were mothers, many with small children, though young men circulated through the crowd as well. Esmerelda waved from under the shade of a tree. We had met the month before at a local migrant shelter, where she relayed story of her family’s two-year odyssey fleeing violence in the state of Guerrero. We chatted for a moment, but the mother of four was clearly busy.
In her hand, Esmerelda carried a printout of the day’s agenda, which included a march through the city streets. Esmerelda would lead the April 30 action, as she had since the “Save Asylum” protests first became a regular event in Nogales late last year.
The last time the demonstrators met was on January 19, the eve of President Joe Biden’s inauguration. After four years of President Donald Trump and the systematic dismantling of asylum at the border, people like Esmerelda had reason to believe that change was coming. One hundred days into the new administration, however, conditions on the ground were largely the same — and in some ways, they were getting worse. Now, instead of targeting the policies of Trump, the protesters were calling on Biden to immediately change course on the border.
This week, Kamala Harris will meet with Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador in her first foreign trip as vice president. Harris will be touching down at a critical time. On Sunday, Mexico held its largest national elections in history. Though political violence has long haunted Mexico, the runup to this year’s contest was particularly bad, with 89 politicians assassinated in a matter of months.
Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador delivers a press conference about the results of Mexico’s midterm elections at the National Palace in Mexico City on June 7, 2021.
Photo: Alfredo Estrella/AE/AFP via Getty Images
The killings add to a broader pattern of violence that followed Mexico’s 2006 deployment of troops into the streets in a self-described war on drug trafficking. In the decade-and-a-half since then, more than 412,500 people have been killed and more than 82,000 others have disappeared, often at the hands of Mexican security forces. Areas in the north of the country have transformed into hunting grounds for criminal groups and security elements that prey on recent deportees and migrants. The United States, as a government and a nation, is entangled in these conditions in innumerable ways: legally and illegally serving as a cash and weapons source for all parties involved; providing key intelligence that helped fracture drug trafficking organizations into smaller, endlessly warring entities with ever-widening criminal portfolios that include migrant kidnapping and extortion; and giving training and a veneer of legitimacy to Mexican security forces with well-documented histories of human rights abuses at the local, state, and federal level.
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