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Dispossession by militarization Forced displacements and the neoliberal “Drug War” for energy in Mexico

Oswaldo Zavala

México’s unprecedented wave of violence continues to shock the nation in the context of the “war against drugs,” an antidrug militarization strategy that officially began under president Felipe Calderón (2006-2012) and was prolonged in the government of Enrique Peña Nieto (2012-2018). By the end of Peña Nieto's term, homicides reached a total of more than 250 thousand murders and nearly 40 thousand forced disappearances (Bermúdez). Widely reported by mainstream media during those years, México’s homicide rate had more than double to 26 per 100 thousand inhabitants, 5 times the US murder rate. Elected in 2018 in landslide, leftist president Andrés Manuel López Obrador (also known as AMLO) proposed to end anti-drug militarization and to reconsider the violent prohibitionist policy seeking to pacify the county. But as his government suspended a proposal to decriminalize most illegal drugs, and despite the passing of a recent law of amnesty for non-aggravated drug offenders, the militarization of the country has increased and violence is not diminishing. According to official data, 2019, the first year of the López Obrador government, closed with the highest number of homicides in record, with a total of 34,582 killings (Nájar).

It is in this extraordinary context that our work as scholars must carefully comprehend the geopolitical significance of the violence attributed to México’s “drug war.” As official discourse is now clearly in tension between a violent neoliberal state of exception and López Obrador’s proposal to deescalate antidrug military operations and undo prohibitionist laws, I explore the question of “national security” from a multidisciplinary perspective revising preconceived notions on “organized crime” and “narco-culture” as they connect to conventional conceptualizations of migration, displacement, and residual life in the global economy. In what follows, I argue how México’s “war on drugs” has been instrumentalized as a biopolitical mechanism of forced displacements to facilitate, among other objectives, the appropriation of natural resources in communal lands of numerous regions in neoliberal México. Through David Harvey’s concept of “accumulation by dispossession,” I analyze México’s strategy of militarization as a discursive and an operative complement of energy reform policies to legitimize the plundering of oil, natural gas, and mining in the zones with the highest levels of violence misleadingly attributed to drug trafficking organizations. I will focus on the particular case of the recent wave of violence in the northeastern state of Tamaulipas,

Dispossession by militarization 225 where extractivist interests converge with the militarization, antidmg policies and one of the highest murder rates in the country. I will continue with a reflection on the concept of forced displacements and I will finally argue for a paradigm shift in our current understanding of "drug-related violence" in the context of neoliberal governance and Mexico’s “national security” discourse. Against hegemonic narratives explaining migration as the result of the violence caused by “organized crime” and its “narcoculture,” I will discuss how the circulation of transnational capital depends on binational geopolitics of militarization deliberately creating extreme conditions of insecurity with the complicity of México’s political and business class.

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