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Saturday, April 03, 2010

Making a Killing by Colm McNaughton

Colm McNaughton

Every few days events on the border between the US and Mexico are hitting the international headlines - usually for some form of untrammeled barbarism.

What is perhaps more disturbing, is how little context English-language media outlets provide about what is happening on this long, thin strip of land known in Spanish as La Frontera.

Mexican journalists who report on the area's systemic corruption and powerful drug cartels are literally dying to make the news.

Nearly 60 journalists have been killed in the past five years, with at least half of these deaths on the US border. To date, no-one has ever been arrested, let alone charged for these murders.

With a little courage and research it becomes quickly apparent that violence in the area is only partly the fault of Mexico and has a lot to do with its powerful northern neighbour - the United States.

Yet with a few notable exceptions, media reports from the region focus on a single issue: such as the macabre killing of women in Juarez or the increased military presence on the border. It seems that the bloodier and more ghastly the situation the better and there is little attempt to explain events.

Despite or perhaps in spite of this, the quality of reporting is very high. Yet very little of this work seems to filter through to English-language media.

Why is so much of the English-language media unwilling or unable to explain accurately what is actually happening on the Mexico/US border?

Increasing levels of poverty (more than 50 per cent of Mexicans live on less than two US dollars a day) and the massive migration northwards that plagues Mexican society, are a direct consequence of widespread job losses and destruction of certain markets and industries.

This in turn is the fault of the North American Free Trade Agreement or NAFTA.

Invariably, when you open up a free trade routes between two nations, you also open new routes for the smuggling of drugs.

Demand for illegal narcotics in the US remains high and the US 'war on drugs' is a public policy failure; unless the aim was to create a police state and keep drug quality high and prices low.

Furthermore, it is widely accepted that more than 90 per cent of the weapons available in Mexico are sourced in the United States.

Plan Merida, the 2008 security agreement between Mexico and the United States was, in essence, an agreement to sell weapons to the Mexican state. Guns are readily available in any quantity you desire - if you have the money - just over the US side of the border.

It is not only the narcos in Mexico who are making a killing on the border. Realising the immense riches that can be made on the border, numerous private military corporations, like Blackwater, are setting up bases in the area.

Another under-reported, under-discussed dynamic is the loophole in US banking law that states that if the crime was not committed in the US then the banks can facilitate the movement and investment of vast sums of 'illegal' money.

Interestingly, on December 13th, 2009, Britain's The Observer newspaper reported that Antonio Maria Costa, head of the UN Drug and crime unit, had seen evidence that capitalism could have collapsed recently if it were not for the money from organised crime propping up numerous banks.

The role of banks in money-laundering for the narco-trade, reputed to be worth $40-50 billion per annum, has rarely been investigated, let alone reported on.

Due to the incredible lack of historical and political acumen demonstrated by the English-speaking media in regards to the Mexico US we might be missing what could turn out to be one of the biggest and most important stories in the first half of the 21st century.

As the US hegemony begins to slip, perhaps we need to pay more attention to the disturbing trends that are beginning to reveal themselves in the underbelly of empire.

Colm McNaughton is a journalist. His radio documentary La Frontera: a journey into the borderlands of Mexico and the United States can be heard here and will be broadcast on Radio National's 360 program tomorrow at 2pm.

Good Friday April 2 2010 The ABC’s Drum Unleashed

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