Americas

Kalashnikovs under the poncho

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When something as rock-solid as a national stereotype changes, something profound is surely going on. The traditional (and stupid) Mexican stereotype had been that of the guy wearing a funny and large hat comfortably sleeping next to a cactus. Nowadays, apart from or instead of that we now hold a Kalashnikov under our poncho, eager to sell drugs. You can see this cultural change in movies from/about Mexico. Sixty or seventy years ago most stories where about the Mexican Revolution or its legacies. Nowadays everything moves around the War on Drugs. From the insider perspective, just see the contrast between the epic utopianism in “Vámonos con Pancho Villa” of Fernando de Fuentes and the dystopian tragedy in Gerardo Naranjo’s “Miss Bala”. From an outsider point of view, just compare our national image in Sergei Eisenstein’s “¡Que viva México!” with that of the Tarantinostyle “Machete” of Robert Rodriguez: virginal authenticity vs. organic corruption.

A discreet political earthquake

When did this changing perception of the world on Mexico – from the naive good-fellows to the ruthless bad guys – start? In December 2006 the then new President Felipe Calderón declared the “War on Drugs”. The ministry of the interior at the time, Francisco Ramírez Acuña, explained the launch of the “Joint Operation Michoacán” as an effort to “finish the impunity of the criminals that are risking the tranquillity of all the Mexicans and, especially, our families.”1 Since then, the word “security” turned into one of the most important political discourse in Mexico. Again, why? In that election, the two leading candidates finished with a slight difference of less than 1%, with the defeated candidate denouncing electoral fraud, hence, leaving the winner severely weakened. His lack of an unquestioned legitimacy led him to search for means to gain political stature rapidly. His choice: launch a selective and strenuous attack on drug cartels (epitome of the “criminals”) in order to successfully present himself as the incarnation of the national interests of all Mexicans. Even worse, Calderón’s decision also meant an alignment to U.S. foreign policy. Not surprisingly, Washington immediately backed the Mexican government and hastily institutionalised this public support through the “Mérida Initiative”, a military partnership signed in 2008 to jointly undertake the “war on drugs.”

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Published in Political Reflection Magazine Vol. 4 No. 1

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