Evolution of the Mexican State
by Dan La Botz
THE MEXICAN state appears to be changing, leading a number of Mexican
intellectuals to speculate on the nature of the change. This is not
simply a question of Mexico becoming a "failed state," about which
there has been much speculation, but rather an attempt to theorize the
evolution of the Mexican state at this moment. Mexicans have been
struck by a number of new phenomena: the increasing militarization of
the state, the ties between the state and drug dealers, and the
greater U.S. involvement in the Mexican state threatening Mexican
sovereignty. What, ask these intellectuals, does all of this add up
to? What is the Mexican state today?1
Militarization and The State of Exception
First, there is President Felipe Calderón's mobilization of the
military to deal with the drug wars, which has led some to wonder if
this development constitutes a kind of "state of exception," that is,
something like what we call "martial law," some countries call "a
state of emergency," or what Latin Americans call a "state of siege."
Governments usually declare a state of exception during extreme
emergencies such as war, riot, or natural disaster. The state of
exception often involves the deployment of the military and the police
and the civilians' loss of civil and sometimes political rights for a
limited period of time. Has Mexico gradually and informally moved
into a permanent state of exception?
Luis Hernández Navarro, Assistant Editor of the Mexico City daily La
Jornada, writes in an article entitled "The Militarization of
Felipe Calderón has made the war against the drug dealers the axis
of his government. The fight against organized crime has lent his
administration a form of legitimation that the [2006 presidential]
election denied him. The militarization of politics has given him the
tools for administering the country with exceptional measures. The
politicization of public security has allowed him to recompose the
chain of command and obedience.
Mexico, writes Hernández, is now experiencing "a situation very
similar to a state of exception but one not decreed by Congress."
According to Hernández, this state of quasi-martial law had resulted
in "the criminalization of [social] protest which advances every day."
At the same time Calderón's National Action Party (PAN) has begun to
go after several gubernatorial candidates of the Institutional
Revolutionary Party (PRI), accusing them of being involved in drug
dealing. "Whether or not these accusations are true, more than really
fighting organized crime, they show the desire of the PAN to use the
anti-drug offensive to hit its electoral rivals." Hernández points
out that Calderón's electoral strategy of de-legitimizing the PRI
candidates may succeed but it will leave him politically isolated
without a majority in Congress. On the other hand if he does not use
this strategy he will lose the coming Congressional and state
Magdalena Gómez, a former Mexico City prosecutor and now a human
rights activist with the Miguel Agustín Pro Juárez Human Rights Center
(Centro Prodh), writes:
The gradual militarization which the country is experiencing in
the context of the fight against organized crime is advancing
significantly, especially in some regions, with high costs in terms of
respect for human rights, raising questions and posing constitutional
contradictions, for example, that, without the Calderón government
having declared the suspension of guarantees [that is, a state of
exception], in practice it has generated a discourse which prioritizes
and justifies ominous actions with the logic that the end justifies
One of these constitutional contradictions involves the issue of the
Mexican Army becoming involved in tasks of public security issues.
For example, the Army has undertaken criminal investigations usually
reserved for the civilian authorities. This despite the fact that the
Mexican Supreme Court of Justice has indicated that, in all cases
where they undertake such action, they should be under civilian
authorities' orders, which had not been the case.3
Whatever the short-term results, however, the significant thing is the
change in the state, this new militarization and quasi-martial law
character. Italian philosopher Giorgio Agamben, author of The State
of Exception, says in a recent interview, ". . . the state of
exception or state of emergency has become a paradigm of government
today. Originally understood as something extraordinary, an
exception, which had validity only for a limited period of time, but a
historical transformation has made it the normal form of governance."4
One wonders if Mexico today is undergoing that "historical
transformation" to such a state of exception, a permanent state of
emergency? If so, however, what is the relationship between the state
of exception and other tendencies, such as the growing role of drug
dealers in government and the increasing penetration of the Mexican
state by the U.S. government?
The Relationship between the State and the Drug Dealers
While the government takes emergency measures against the drug
dealers, it is well known that the drug dealers have been at the same
time well ensconced in government. For at least 10 years, there have
been cases of high military and civilian officials being found to be
involved with the drug lords, among the most famous that of the drug
general in the Mexican White House. (That man was Division General
Jesús Gutiérrez Rebollo, the so-called "Narco-General.")5
Some even suggest that it was governmental power which helped to
create the drug dealers. In a recent interview with La Jornada,
Guillermo Garduño Valero, an authority on national security at the
Autonomous Metropolitan University (UAM), said:
The drug business arises from power and it is power that
maintains, protects, and foments it. . . . This phenomenon surges
from power, and the political class, who had in a certain sense
engendered it, end up losing control of it; on the other hand, [the
drug dealers] then turn against the political class.
The drug dealers, says Garduño, actually have no interest in governing
a municipality or a state, since their vision is limited to the drug
market, and the government officials have an interest in the drug
dealers only insofar as they serve as a source of funds. The drug
dealers only want the state to act as accomplices in their dealings.
"The problem is that this has already reached the levels of the
state's very capacity of control," Garduño says.6 The question then
is: What happens when the state loses its historic definition: the
monopoly of violence within its borders?7 Is it at this point that it
becomes a drug state? Or a failed state?
U.S. Government Penetration of the Mexican State
At the same time, something else is happening as well, that is, the
growing U.S. penetration of the Mexican States. Carlos Fazio in a
recent article, "The Marines Have Already Landed," writes that since
the era of William Perry, U.S. Secretary of Defense from 1994-1997,
the United States has wanted to join the two countries together not
only economically and politically, but also militarily. The adoption
of the Mérida Initiative, or Plan Mexico as it is also known,
providing billions of dollars in military aid represents another
important step along the path toward joint military action in Mexico.
But, says Fazio, this has also been propitiated by other ideological
theories, concepts and slogans from the theory of "limited
sovereignty" to the notion of humanitarian "good interventionism," a
revamped doctrine of counter-insurgency aimed at the enemy within,
originally the Zapatista rebellion in Chiapas. The Mexican government
attempted to promote the illusion that it faced "narco-guerrillas,"
but that having failed, writes Fazio, they turned to "a 'war' against
the drug cartels, as the right piece for the social construction of
chaos and fear." He writes:
Fourth generation asymmetric war is decentralized, dispersed and
utilizes combined scenarios throughout a territory. In its
development it erases boundaries between the soldiers and the
civilians, between the battlefields and the secure urban areas, and it
takes the form of extreme social violence without any apparent order
or continuity. The elements are already present in today's Mexico,
one day in Ciudad Juárez [opposite El Paso, Texas], another in Uruapan
[Michoacán on the Western Coast], or Reynosa [opposite McAllen,
Texas], another time in Cancún or in La Marquesa [a park outside of
With the planned use of propaganda and the use of tactics and
strategies of social control by way of manipulation of information and
psychological action which are inseparable from it, in this type of
war the means of mass communication are the new armies of conquest.
Military bombardment has been replaced by media bombardment. Slogans
and images substitute for the weapons of mass destruction.
Calderón's call for a "crusade" against the drug dealers is
accompanied by television images of naked, decapitated bodies, and by
calls to "clean up" government and get rid of "the bad guys." The
purpose of it all, writes Fazio, is to "eliminate the capacity to
think." Meanwhile, the Marines have landed and established a
beachhead in the Mexican government.8
John Saxe-Fernández, a professor of political science at the National
Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM), suggests in his article "Chaos
and Intervention" that the United States creates chaos in Mexico
intentionally. "The U.S. security apparatus's manipulation of the
dynamic of arms, business, and drugs is central to the promotion of
chaos and instability in [various Latin American] countries, which
then lays the basis and provides the excuse for intervention and
military occupation." The U.S. does this in Colombia or Mexico, he
argues, to promote its "hegemonic and corporate domination." This
process of creating chaos leading to intervention and occupation, he
writes, carries "grave risks for the sovereignty and integrity of
[Mexico] and its vast natural resources."9
The State and the State-in-Waiting
We should add another question to these various views of the Mexican
state: whether the "Legitimate Government" of Mexico is
a-state-in-waiting. Andrés Manuel López Obrador, the candidate of the
left-of-center Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD), refused to
accept the results of the 2006 election. He argued that the National
Action Party (PAN) with the complicity of the Institutional
Revolutionary Party (PRI) stole the election which he had won.
Refusing to accept the fraud, he proclaimed himself the "Legitimate
President of the Legitimate Government of Mexico."
The Legitimate Government did not, however, signify the arrival of a
political crisis of dual power as some speculated at the time. López
Obrador did not create a revolutionary provisional government, but
rather a kind of shadow cabinet. Since 2006, López Obrador has been
touring Mexico, visiting every single municipality in the country,
speaking against the Calderón "usurper" government and often calling
for its overthrow. Three years later, López Obrador remains capable
of mobilizing tens of thousands to rallies in the national plaza and
thousands in smaller cities and towns. While denying the legitimacy
of the existing government, he has not prepared a revolution,
preferring to lay the foundation for the 2012 election campaign.
López Obrador's rhetoric regarding the government remains ambivalent,
vacillating between reform and revolution, and even though it is in
reality a radical rhetoric laid over reformist politics, still the
presence of a significant political force within the country which
says that it does not accept the legitimacy of the government and
calls for its overthrow also tends to undermine the legitimacy of that
Nor is López Obrador alone. Subcomandante Marcos and the other
leaders of the Zapatista Army of National Liberation (EZLN), who
attempted a revolutionary coup in January of 1996, remain active in
the southern state of Chiapas where they, too, reject the legitimacy
of the government and actively organize communities to withdraw from
it. The Zapatista strategy of gradual secession from the state
demonstrates all of the problems of utopian anarchist pacifism -- laid
over a history of an initial guerrilla uprising -- even as it, too,
contributes to the ideological undermining of the state. And, in
addition to the Zapatistas, there are a dozen other small guerrilla
organizations operating in the central states, some defining
themselves as Marxist-Leninist and some as nationalists, which seek
the violent overthrow of the Mexican government.
All of these movements, large and small, represent persistent threats
to the state's claim of legitimacy and some of them represent
potential alternatives to the present state of affairs. Perhaps what
we can say is that all of these various tendencies exist and that we
are at a crucial moment in the history of the Mexican state where one
or another of them or some combination will in the end succeed in
becoming the dominant force that transforms Mexico into something
quite different. That is, unless some wing of the Mexican elite
proves capable of reinvigorating itself and recreating a functioning
capitalist democracy -- that seems to be López Obrador's potential
alternative -- or the working people prove capable of building a
radical movement that could raise the possibility of a socialist
alternative, something far from likely at the moment.
1 An earlier version of this article appeared in Mexican Labor News
and Analysis, March 2009, at .
2 Luis Hernández Navarro, "La Militarización de la política," La
Jornada, March 24, 2009.
3 Magdalena Gómez, "Ejército: ¿quién los regresará a los cuarteles?"
La Jornada, March 17, 2009.
4 Ulrich Raulff, "An Interview with Giorgio Agamben," German Law
Journal, Vol. 5, No. 5, pp. 609-614.
5 Carlos Fazio, "Mexico: The Narco General Case," Transnational
Institute, December 1997.
6 Alfred Méndez, "El narco se le mantiene y protege desde el poder,
asegura especialista en seguridad," La Jornada, March 2, 2009.
7 Both academics and leftist intellectuals hold this view of the
state. Max Weber writes, ". . . a state is a human community that
(successfully) claims the monopoly of the legitimate use of physical
force within a given territory." And ". . . the modern state is a
compulsory association which organizes domination. . . ." Max Weber,
"Politics as a Vocation," in: H.H. Gerth and C. Wright Mills, eds.,
>From Max Weber: Essays in Sociology (New York: Oxford, 1958), pp. 78
and 82. Similarly Vladimir Lenin writes of a "special apparatus for
the systematic application of force and the subjugation of people by
force. It is such an apparatus that is called the state." Vladimiar
Lenin, "The State: A Lecture Delivered at the Sverdlov University,
July 11, 1919," Collected Works, Vol. 29, pp. 470-488.
8 Carlos Fazio, "Los marines llegaron ya," La Jornada, March 9, 2009.
9 John Saxe-Fernández, "Caos e intervención," La Jornada, March 26, 2009.
10 Andrés Manuel López Obrador, La mafia nos robó la Presidencia
(Mexico: Grijalbo, 2007). Also see the Legitimate Government website
at and López Obrador's letter to Hillary Clinton on
the occasion of her visit to Mexico, which is also interesting in this
Dan La Botz is a Cincinnati-based teacher, writer and activist.
Contact him through his home page: .