The images of a casino assault in Monterey that killed at least 50 people are the last link of a large chain of violent news covered everyday by the mass media. The repetition of these cruelties is only making feelings such as insecurity, helplessness and despair grow stronger for most of the population, and they increase an emotional weariness frequently turning into apathy. Nevertheless, to go further than the distorted image displayed by these media through the exaggerated promotion of violence, it can’t be denied that criminality has an effect on people and social life.
Far from being keen on the obituary sections covering most of the communicative space and being really close to the state of nausea that violence provokes in me, I think it is essential to throw light on the root causes from which most criminal activities come from today.
This is precisely with a non-violence view that we’ll be able to approach this matter from a clarifying perspective allowing an optimistic way out without including the boring and repetitive list of repressive measures. A repertory which recurrently proved its absolute inefficiency to release people from criminal physical threat and its multiple collateral effects.
The organized crime phenomenon currently expresses itself through two main variants, the most sinister of them being the large-scale crime rings which manage huge sums of money, operate at an international level and include narcotraffic, gunrunning, human trafficking and smuggling amongst their most important activities. The benefits coming from these activities are usually included in the system again under the form of legal investments through the well-known process of “money laundering”.
The second structured expression of criminality are the gangs (or “maras” in Spanish) , which operate at a more local level but are already a part of the scenery in many countries. They are often related to the international organized crime that use them to establish and usually let them manage the last phase of its merchandising process: retail trade. But they also act around these fringes which are more difficult to perceive for the common citizen: robbery, extortion, kidnapping and so on.
What are the real root causes of this phenomenon ?
Criminality, clearly endemic and structural, is an inherent characteristic of capitalism development in the last decades. The mother of crime is war and its father is neoliberal capitalism.
Let’s review a few examples. The protagonists of the assault mentioned in the beginning of the note belong to Los Zetas Cartel. This organization, seen as the major threat to public peace and consequently a target of the Mexican state’s repressive authority, is precisely arising from the heart of the state’s war strategy when facing the Zapatista uprising in the state of Chiapas in 1994. Its creation goes back to the desertion of a group of soldiers from the army special forces, trained by the CIA to neutralize the rebellion. Former Guatemalan military men joined the ranks as well. Initially serving the Gulf Cartel which they parted from in march 2010, they turned into a rival and a territorial enemy.
It’s very significant to recall that the rural uprising of the Zapatista Army of national Liberation (EZLN in Spanish initials) started on the 1st of January 1994, the day when Mexico entered into the sphere of the free trade agreement known as NAFTA (North American Free Trade Agreement).
This perverse combination of war and neo-liberalism will have the same disastrous result on the neighboring countries , consequently giving rise to this absolutely structural situation.
In Guatemala, 32 years of state terrorism against the guerrilla and the rural indigenous population have cost approximately 200 000 lives. Numerous ex-military men and soldiers have found in criminality a way to survive using their acquired “knowledge”. The “scorched earth” policy carried out by evangelist general criminal Rios Montt (amongst others) would continue with the destructions carried out by the state in the 90’s, product of the implementation of Guatemala in CAFTA (a Central American version of the so called ALCA). With this treaty Guatemala and other countries of the area were invaded by “maquiladoras”. These twin models of Asian low cost factories still supplying the most famous clothing and sport brands, were the best choice compared to many other worst options for the extremely poor population. The second option was emigration. The third one, chosen by many of them, was to commit crimes.
In Salvador, after the Chapultepec Accords put an end to more than 10 years of civil war, the right wing paramilitaries as well as FLMN fighters were demobilized. Many of these contingents , with very little instruction, wouldn’t find their place either in a society with very little possibilities. Many of them when into exile looking for better opportunities abroad. Another significant contingent filled the ranks of the new gangs, imitating the very distant Bronx.
Honduras had the same luck. We were mentioning the following in the book “Memorias del futuro” (Memories from the future): “ Honduras has been a star pupil of the US, and we could say that its reward was well-deserved. It is one of the poorest country of the continent, with the least technological development, its institutions are far from being examples of transparency, as crimes and murders connected to the traffic of narcotics have extended in massive proportions.” At the end of the 90’s, officials numbers revealed that around 100 000 young people belonged to one of the two major illegal organizations of the moment: Mara 18 and Mara Salvatrucha.
The same thing happened in Nicaragua, torn by the war between Sandinistas and Contras (rebels groups opposing them) after the triumph of the Sandinista National Liberation Front (FSLN in Spanish initials) in 1979.
As for Columbia, what could be said of a country which mention doesn’t need more explanation than the fact that in this place criminality doesn’t even bother to take off the uniform.
On a conceptual level, the process that leads to structural criminality can be described like this : War and armies provide an occupation to millions of declassed. Once military actions are over, social insertion isn’t easy for the belligerent forces, for the same reasons than before but usually worsen by the damages occasioned. Furthermore, war in particular and armament generally provide the instruments that will be used later on for criminal purposes. Adding up the destruction caused by armed conflicts to the elimination of state protections and dignified local job sources through the well known free trade programs, we get all the clues to understand the way criminality is settling as a “job opportunity” for thousands of young people.
Consequently, anyone honestly willing to stop the criminal wave will have to stop to shout empty phrases such as “ zero tolerance”, which only reveals ignorance, hypocrisy or sometimes open complicity with criminals. The repressive policy doesn’t manage to reduce criminality, it is only enlarging the prison population.
The populations will only manage to diminish criminality by choosing to fight war and militarism under any aspect, opting at the same time to refuse cooperation with these forces that, with fake neo-liberal promises of freedom and economic development, are only willing to augment their own incomes.
Javier Tolcachier is a researcher belonging to the World Center of Humanist Studies , an organism of the Humanist Movement.
*Translated from Spanish by Pauline Goetghebeur*