In Mexico, a war involving rival drug gangs, law enforcement agencies and the national army has officially claimed 23,000 lives since 2006.
This figure does not include the many thousands of innocent people who have been “disappeared” by police and army units.
The violence can be directly attributed to the corrosive impact of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA).
NAFTA was signed on January 1, 1994 between the United States, Canada and Mexico with the aim of removing trade and investment barriers between these nations.
NAFTA was sold to the Mexican people as “a ticket out of Third World poverty”, but its underlying aim was conquest by stealth.
Over the past 16 years, NAFTA has helped worsen grotesque wealth disparities, rampant corruption and environmental destruction across Mexico. It has helped create millions of internal economic refugees.
Within a year of NAFTA’s implementation, millions of small farmers in Mexico lost their livelihoods due to the rise in agricultural imports from north of the border.
Unable to compete with the dumping of heavily-subsidised US agribusiness grain, Mexico’s rural economy collapsed and rural poverty rates soared above 80%.
This disaster was no accident, but part of the game plan to turn the general population into a cheap source of labour for North American corporations.
To complete the liquidation of Mexico’s traditional rural base, crucial land rights provisions in the constitution were overturned at the insistence of US negotiators.
The loss of traditional communal estates (ejidos) allowed huge swathes of territory to be taken over by profit-hungry multinational corporations seeking access to timber, oil, minerals and hydroelectricity.
Driven off their lands by mislabelled “free market forces”, displaced farmers fled to the northern border zone.
There, they joined hundreds of thousands of Mexico’s urban unemployed, themselves the victims of “restructuring” and the International Monetary Fund-dictated privatisation of state assets that accompanied NAFTA.
The expanded network of frontier sweat shop factories (maquiladoras) serviced the needs of the US market. Low wages, no unions and intensive exploitation fuelled the so-called Mexican boom of the 1990s.
However, many of these jobs evaporated when China entered the World Trade Organisation offering corporations even cheaper labour costs than Mexico.
In recent years, the Mexican unemployment rate has risen even higher under the impact of the global financial crisis and the US recession.
NAFTA has had bad consequences for workers in all three participating countries, but it is in Mexico that NAFTA has caused the most devastation.
Meaningful investment in public services has become almost non-existent. The economy is locked into a pattern of subsistence wages for the majority and obscene profits for the corporate ruling elite and foreign interests.
Workers’ share of the gross domestic product is lower than at any time in modern Mexican history — a statistic that reveals the true nature of the NAFTA project.
By undermining the Mexican economy, NAFTA has greatly strengthened the drug cartels, which thrive on social instability.
Bruce Livesey, a US investigative journalist who has written extensively about Mexico’s crisis, told Real news on September 1 that the “displaced population in northern Mexico ... couldn’t go back to the land to make a living”.
He said, “increasingly their only economic opportunity was the drug trade … Now you have a significant portion of the Mexican population that is involved.”
Livesey noted: “The second biggest export and industry in Mexico is the drug trade, after oil production.”
Supplied with a limitless pool of desperate, unemployed recruits, the cartels have taken advantage of increased truck flows through the US border to make Mexico the main smuggling conduit for Andean cocaine. The trade is worth at least US$50 billion a year.
With huge profits at stake, competing factions such as the Sinaloa and Zeta cartels have engaged in an all-out war for control of the drug corridors around the border city of Juarez since the early 2000s.
On orders from Washington, the government of Mexican President Felipe Calderon has sent in soldiers in the name of fighting the “war on drugs”. The reality is very different.
There have been allegations made that the national army favours the well-established Sinaloa group, whose corrupt links extend all the way to the top.
Investigative journalist Diego Enrique Osorno told Al Jazeera on February 21: “There are no important detentions of Sinaloa cartel members. But the government is hunting down adversary groups, new players in the world of drug trafficking.”
Charles Bowden, the US author of this year’s Murder City: Ciudad Juarez and the Global Economy’s New Killing Fields, told Democracy Now! on April 14 that it was not a war on drugs, but a “war for drugs”.
He said this war was being funded by the US government to the tune of $500 million a year.
As in Colombia, the so-called drug war not only lines the pockets of a corrupt regime, it also provides a useful pretext to clamp down on any form of dissent. Bowden said: “What we’ve done is what we’ve done historically: we’ve gotten on the wrong side.
“We’re not siding with the Mexican people. We’re siding with the people that own the country and terrorise them.”
The Mexican government and its Washington masters have failed to acknowledge the direct connection between NAFTA policies and Mexico’s slide into chaos.
Opting instead for a discredited military solution to the problem of narco-trafficking, Washington’s real intention is to consolidate its grip on the Mexican state.
In an April 26 GlobalResearch.ca article, Mike Whitney said: “The drug war is the mask behind which the real policy is concealed. The United States is using all the implements in its national security toolbox to integrate Mexico into a North America Uberstate …
“That means the killing in Juarez will continue until Washington's objectives are achieved.”
It’s not a war on drugs, but a war on the poor.
Last year was the worst year for drug violence in Mexico on record. There were more than 9600 recorded victims, most of them innocent bystanders.
This year looks set to surpass this grim tally — and more drugs than ever before are pouring across the Mexican border. This includes hundreds of millions of dollars worth of Sinaloa-supplied cocaine intended for the Australian market.