When the Resistance Makes a Call of Solidarity to Narcos
“If Mexico stops sending cocaine and marijuana for two months to the United States, they alone will tear down the wall.”
-Popular meme circulated in social networks after Trump signed the executive order to build the border wall.
In the early 1990s, I was a first grader living in the southern Tejas border — times when any plan to build a border wall was still far reaching. Every October, the K-12 institution celebrated its Red Ribbon Week Campaign with the goal of preventing the consumption of alcohol, tobacco, and other drugs as well as preventing violence. Police officers gave their usual presentation about the death of DEA agent Enrique “Kiki” Camarena, who allegedly died under the clutches of Mexican drug traffickers after being kidnapped and tortured to death. At age five, I had already found myself within all the propaganda of the war on drugs and for the first time, I began to develop visceral feelings of internalized oppression — hatred toward my roots, my people, and myself.
However, those same officers never contextualized why the DEA and CIA were acting in México. Nor did they explain the overdependence of Americans on drugs or why the U.S. extensively criminalized non-violent drug offenses. They withheld information about the aftermath of Camarena’s death, specifically that the DEA kidnapped from México an alleged participant in the torture of agent Camarena, Dr. Álvarez-Machaín. The U.S. government achieved this somewhat similarly to how it held having personal jurisdiction over blacks under fugitive slave laws when it faced contradictory Pennsylvania state law. Here, the U.S. government once again proclaimed having personal jurisdiction, although extraterritorial, over a foreign citizen when faced with contradictory international extradition laws. Clearly, the U.S. also failed to mention Dr. Álvarez-Machaín’s exoneration for lack of evidence and the claims he was not whom the DEA really sought.
Narcos and Human Rights
On January 2017, however, we found ourselves amidst the news of Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzmán Loera’s  extradition— a day of mourning not only for narcoculture but also for some human rights advocates. Under international law, a nation state’s role is in providing protections to its individual subjects. One of the greatest threats to human rights arises when individuals are not protected as subjects of their country. In turn, an increased risk of human rights violations occurs during situations such as extraterritorial abductions, extraditions, displacement, and political exile. The fact the Mexican government continues to extradite subjects to a government that has not respected extradition treaties in the past makes the extradition of a person, even that of a narco, much more aberrant. Therefore, the Mexican state is not a protector of human rights when it passes its jurisdiction to the United States.
It is no coincidence the extradition of narcos carries some similarities with the capture of blacks under fugitive slave laws. Both groups had the courage to oppose an oppressive economic system benefiting from their bodies. They refused to negotiate with the nation state in order to achieve a more complete, although temporarily short, freedom. Both also took risks the majority may not be prepared to take. They preferred to take a stand for the belief that individuals are far more important than the interests of nation states.
However, there are also clear differences, primarily in regards to violence and hidden economies. Narcos have found a way to remain a relevant force in a hidden economy that pleases the addictive demands of the U.S. This economy does not follow the rules of capitalist corporations, which benefit the traditionally oppressive classes. The cost narcos pay, though, is a heart-wrenching violence that until recently did not go beyond conflicts between cartels.
Although narcos do not operate as liberators of the marginalized, such as revolutionary heroes, they leave the oppressed with a bittersweet sensation of what a socio-economic rebellion could look like in a time when governments have learned to micro-control the masses. It should be noted too that historically, many marginalized people, especially the working class, have developed not only a culture relating to “crime”, illicit drug consumerism, and violence, but also a desire to promote such culture. For Mexicans, this rebellious culture is narcoculture.
Narcoculture: Capos, Corridos, and Saints
Mexican narcoculture is a life style that does not necessitate consuming drugs or validating the violence narcos practice. Or in the words of Boris Mann, writer for Los Angeles Review, “Meanwhile, the admiration will continue towards the capos’ will as examples of successful overcoming and of the antagonism against a system that is so negligent of the poor.” Given their lack of economic mobility, the Mexican people — within and out of México — have created a culture where capos are the heroes, not because of their illicit domination and much less because of their violent force, but simply because they come from poverty. Capos are glorified for their ability of becoming wealthy by their own means and not through old money, which is vastly associated in México with the oppressive class.
Within México, people are reacting in opposition to a system that has kept the majority in poverty and misery, a factor contributing to the emigration patterns from México to the United States. The gap between the poor and wealthy continues to widen in México, where the minimum wage “is not nearly enough to buy basic grocery needs providing them with the minimum nutrients they need to lead a healthy life,” according to a study conducted by OXFAM México.
There may be less cognitive dissonance within Mexicans living in México, though, than those living in the United States. This is especially true for those who have been victims or witnesses of narco violence. Narcocorridos, northern Mexican songs narrating drug trafficker adventures, were born in the United States and not in México, contrary to what many believe. According to Professor Juan Carlos Ramirez-Pimienta, the narcocorrido comes from an ethnic conflict between Mexicans and Americans, mainly due to the oppressive condition Mexicans live in the U.S. The fact the narcocorrido serves as a means of communication the government has not been able to control or censor also serves to increase its popularity.
Nonetheless, narcoculture in both countries share motives and manifestations. Through music, people declare their distrust towards the government, their disdain for corruption, and their irreconciliation with impunity. To understand the characterization of narcos as benefactors, allies, and leaders when helping a few in their home villages, turn to examples within the Young Lords Party. When that group of boricuas (Puerto Ricans living in the U.S. mainland) occupied or, as they describe, liberated a tuberculosis x-ray truck from the city, they contrasted the government’s inefficiency and neglect: while the city served 300 people a week, they examined 300 people in one day. If the alleged benevolence of narco-aid — medicines to the poor, consignments of drinking water to storm-affected villages, among others — is true, then the approval of narcoculture is also rooted in how narcos showcase the government’s negligence towards the poor. Here, the communities that benefit from narco-aid idolize the benefactors, mainly because they have shown a genuine interest in the welfare of the poor. Therefore, narcos do not cause the same mistrust the government does. Any argument quantifying the low impact narco-aid has in a broader scale is thus irrelevant in the eyes of the people. For this reason, we should also not be surprised narcoculture even has a saint of the narcos.
Narcos and immigrants: connections between legalized corruption and hidden economies
At the heart of Milton Friedman’s arguments on the free market, there is an over-reliance on the creation and exploitation of hidden economies — a commonality between drug traffickers and narcoculture followers, particularly those who are undocumented immigrants. While drug traffickers are involved in the hidden economies of drug trafficking, arms trafficking, and money laundering, undocumented immigrants give rise to the unauthorized labor economy in the United States. Likewise, both are similarly situated in that their hidden economies are dependent on legalized corruption.
Friedman directly argues the only way immigration in the United States can work is if it operates illegally (i.e., as a hidden economy), which on its face can be logically extended to support the separation of socioeconomic classes and the privatization of public services. Meanwhile, the United States has not shied away from hiring undocumented workers in exchange of paying lower wages, and it has gaslighted unemployed authorized workers into believing the affluent and powerful are not complicit in their ruin. As such, the legalization of corruption in the United States has concealed human rights violations for both undocumented immigrants and United States Persons.
Although unauthorized immigration from México has plateaued in recent years, the hidden economy of unauthorized workers in the U.S. remains a large economic force. According the Pew Research Center, the “U.S. civilian workforce included 8 million unauthorized immigrants in 2014, accounting for 5% of those who were working or were unemployed and looking for work.” Although undocumented immigrants earn lower wages than their documented counterparts, undocumented immigrants pay billions in taxes and help make our food affordable.
The legalization of corruption is convenient because it deters people from claiming corrupted actions done by government officials are met with impunity. If there is no legal punishment available, then there is no impunity at play. The United States has proved proficient in this regard and has created ways in which it further exploits the bodies of undocumented immigrants. Besides paying unauthorized workers lower wages, employers expose unauthorized workers to higher occupational hazards, at times illegal, such as exposure to certain chemicals or pesticides, lack of protective equipment, among others. Likewise, the U.S. also allows wage theft, which occurs to most unauthorized workers. In the U.S., $50 billion in wages are stolen annually, for both authorized and unauthorized employees.
Another example of legalized corruption is how we have safeguarded employers when they hire unauthorized workers. For instance, when Donald Trump hired undocumented workers, he did not do so directly, rather the contractor hired subcontractors who hired undocumented workers. The legalized corruption at play here has created a situation in which hiring independent contractors distances the real estate developer enough to prevent the developer from facing legal consequences. If an unauthorized worker seeks self-help in demanding back pay for wage theft, the U.S. has created a legal system of turning in undocumented workers, punishing them, and eventually deporting them. While this occurs, private detention centers profit from the detention and deportation of undocumented immigrants.
The effects legalized corruption has on the hidden economies drug traffickers participate in, though, is more difficult to unmask. A good starting point is to see how Janet Napolitano changed the Customs and Border Patrol definition of corruption to downplay the breadth of problems within the agency. Furthermore, the involvement of the CIA in trafficking drugs is linked to increasing the drug dependence and mass incarceration of communities of color. The key point is that a scapegoat has been created to blame it for the social ills associated with drugs. When narcos are the scapegoats, we fail to critically question what forces, other than narcos, benefit from certain hidden economies, including those of arm trafficking and money laundering.
The participation of undocumented immigrants and narcos in hidden economies is not an option at all. A young man asked Milton Friedman if participating in a hidden economy is a choice at all or if the capitalist American is holding a gun to the heads of undocumented immigrants. Friedman replied by arguing we should not deny from immigrants the only weapon they have (i.e., their ability to offer low wage unauthorized labor). Yet his over reliance on abuse, corruption, and underground economies undermines his argument and supports the idea that capitalism is holding a gun to the head of the human rights of undocumented immigrants and narcos.
Recall narcos are seen as heroes who have taken poverty by its reins and have, to some degree, brought governments to their knees. Here lies a lesson the resistance can learn from narcoculture. Apart from disrupting the flow of drugs to the U.S. to win the trade war and knock down a physical wall, one must find solidarity with marginalized groups outside the U.S. borders. That is, if we seek the progress of human rights over the self-interest of nation states. We must also not fall prey into believing we have nothing in common with narcoculture. By standing in solidarity with communities we do not expect, we not only escape our sub-condition as U.S. beneficiaries of an international system of oppression, but we also begin to tear down other, non-physical walls dividing us. And, thus, this is how it absolutely makes sense to stand in solidarity with narcoculture.
 For arguments against the American version on the death of Enrique Camarena See, e.g., CIA habría participado en el asesinato de Camarena y no Caro Quintero, Univisión Noticias (Oct.12, 2013, 10:10 PM), http://www.univision.com/noticias/narcotrafico/cia-habria-participado-en-el-asesinato-de-camarena-y-no-caro-quintero#axzz2hbfjP3ZI (indicating a DEA former agent reported members of the CIA were involved in the kidnapping and murder of anti-drug police Enrique Camarena); Luis Chaparro y J. Jesús de Esquivel, A Camarena lo ejecutó la CIA, no Caro Quintero, Proceso (Oct.12, 2013),
http://www.proceso.com.mx/355283; Duncan Tucker, Was the CIA involved in the murder of DEA agent Kiki Camarena?, Latin Correspondent (February 6, 2015), http://latincorrespondent.com/2015/02/thirty-years-on-serious-questions-remain-over-murder-of-dea-agent-kiki-camarena-in-mexico/ (Detailing the death of agent Enrique Camarena); Diego Badillo,
La CIA traicionó a Enrique Camarena, El Economista (Jul. 9, 2015, 10:25 PM) http://eleconomista.com.mx/sociedad/2015/07/09/cia-traiciono-enrique-camarena (Noting the decision to kidnap Agent Camarena was because the narcos and officials wanted to know if Camarena had discovered the plan to raise money for the Nicaraguan cons).
 See J. Jesús Esquivel, El secuestro de Álvarez Machain, ordenado por la Casa Blanca, Proceso (Mar. 29, 2014),
Http://www.proceso.com.mx/368406/el-secuestro-de-alvarez-machain-commandado-por-la-casa-blanca (translating: “In 1990 the Mexican doctor Humberto Álvarez Machain was kidnapped in Guadalajara and taken to the United States, in an operation ordered directly by President George H.W. Bush, to try the doctor as an accomplice to the crime.”).
 See Prigg v. The Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, 41 U.S. 539 (1842) (holding that the Fugitive Slave Act prevented a Pennsylvania state law from prohibiting blacks from being taken out of Pennsylvania into slavery.)
 The US Supreme Court based its decision on the Ker-Frisbie Doctrine, which applies in the context of extradition and generally contends that criminal defendants may be prosecuted in US courts regardless of whether their presence has been obtained through the use of applicable extradition treaties. Álvarez Machaín, a Mexican citizen, was abducted and taken to the United States under the direction of the DEA. The Court rejected the argument that such abductions undermined the usefulness of the extradition treaties and refused to read the general principles of international law against such abductions in the Mexican extradition treaty. See United States v. Alvarez-Machain, 504 U.S. 655 (1992).
 See Alfred Paul LeBlanc Jr., United States v. Alvarez-Machain and the Status of International Law in American Courts, 53 La. L. Rev. (1993), http://digitalcommons.law.lsu.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=5455&context=lalrev (“The evidence against Doctor Machain was always somewhat sketchy. The Attorney General of Mexico, Enrique Alvarez del Castillo, had acknowledged that Dr. Alvarez laundered money for Rafael Caro-Quintero, who was convicted in Mexico last year of Agent Camarena’s murder….According to an affidavit filed over three years ago in federal court, Dr. Alvarez told investigators he had seen Agent Camarena at the house where he was tortured, but that another doctor, Juan Mejia Monge, was attending to Camarena. Dr. Alvarez reported Camarena ‘was in a bad state.’ Investigators insisted, however, they had extensive physical and testimonial evidence Dr. Alvarez personally assisted in the torture by administering revitalizing drugs to Camarena….The government’s evidence was apparently not extensive enough.”)
 See México: extraditan al narcotraficante mexicano y exlíder del cartel de Sinaloa Joaquín “Chapo” Guzmán a Estados Unidos, BBC Mundo (Jan. 20, 2016), http://www.bbc.com/mundo/noticias-america-latina-38672801.
 See Boris Mann, ¿Cómo se explica la idolatría por “El Chapo”?, La Opinión (Ju. 20, 2016),
http://laopinion.com/2015/07/20/como-se-explica-la-idolatria-por-el-chapo/; Elizabeth Marina, Narcocultura en México, un tabú, Aquí Noticias (Nov. 7, 2017) http://aquinoticias.mx/narcocultura-mexico-tabu/;
Narcocultura y el reflejo en la sociedad, Excelsior (May 5, 2015), Juliana Fregoso http://www.excelsior.com.mx/expresiones/2015/05/05/1022534; México idolatró a “El Chapo” por la falta de Estado de Derecho: estudioso de la narcocultura, Sin Embargo (Jan. 27, 2016, 12:03 AM) http://www.sinembargo.mx/27-01-2016/1604465.
 See, e.g, Jack Donnelly, State Sovereignty and Human Rights, http://mysite.du.edu/~jdonnell/papers/hrsov%20v4a.htm; Duke University, Human Rights and the Sovereign State, The Huffington Post (Jul. 19, 2016, 3:12 PM), http://www.huffingtonpost.com/duke-university/human-rights-and-the-sove_b_5353441.html.
 See note 8.
 See note 4.
 This is an important detail because the violence against ordinary citizens was not really seen until Felipe Calderón declared the war on drug trafficking in 2006 when he began his presidential term. “The year before his declaration, the homicide rate in Mexico was 9.5 per 100,000 inhabitants. The figure doubled and then the official version denied that there were civilian victims: the dead resulting from the War Against Drugs were only the villains (narco traffickers) or the heroes (police and military that fought against them). A decade later, this war has crossed the lives of too many anonymous people. It is estimated to have caused 150,000 deaths and about 28,000 missing people. Calderon’s promise was grandiloquent; its strategy, simplistic.” See José Luis Pardo Veiras, México cumple una década de duelo por el fracaso de la Guerra contra el Narco, The New York Times ES (Sept. 7, 2016)
By 2007, the Gulf Cartel incorporated Los Zetas as its armed wing, a group that by 2010 became independent and would become known as the most violent cartel known to Mexico. The founders of the Zetas Cartel were formerly in the Mexican military and it is rumored the U.S. government trained them. See, e.g., Natasha Bertrand, How 34 commandos created Mexico’s most brutal drug cartel, Business Insider (Mar. 5, 2015); Eduardo Guerrero Gutiérrez, La raíz de la violencia, Nexos (Jul. 1, 2011), http://www.nexos.com.mx/?p=14318; El origen de ‘Los Zetas”: Brazo armado del Cártel del Golfo, Nacional (Jul. 5, 2011), http://expansion.mx/nacional/2011/07/05/el-origen-de-los-zetas-brazo-armado-del-cartel-del-golfo?internal_source=PLAYLIST; Los Zetas: grupo criminal más violento, afirma Ricardo Ravelo, Terra (Feb. 3, 2014), https://noticias.terra.com.mx/mexico/seguridad/los-zetas-grupo-criminal-mas-violento-afirma-ricardo-ravelo,fbe7725bbd8f3410VgnVCM5000009ccceb0aRCRD.html.
 See Boris Mann, ¿Cómo se explica la idolatría por “El Chapo”?, La Opinión (Jul. 20, 2015),
 53.3 million Mexicans live in poverty, of which 23 million cannot buy basic grocery needs even when they receive the minimum wage. See Gerardo Esquivel Hernández, Desigualdad extrema en México, OXFAM México (junio del 2015), http://ep00.epimg.net/descargables/2015/06/24/c6dfc9ebc65b6f3bcadeed3cf3dd8d4f.pdf.
 See Los narcocorridos “nacieron en Estados Unidos”, BBC Mundo (May 14, 2012), http://www.bbc.com/mundo/noticias/2012/05/120512_narcocorridos_nacidos_en_eeuu_vp (translating: “The narcocorrido comes from the tradition of the border corrido and ethnic conflict. It does not come from the tradition of the Mexican Revolutionary corridos, as it is usually believed, but they are corridos of Mexicans in the border dealing with Americans. It is a production that is essentially from the border and whose place of enunciation is in the United States since its origins. Their antecedents are in the so-called corridos tequileros, songs from the late XIX century written about smugglers who brought in tequila from México during the U.S. prohibition period.)
 See Guillermo Jimenez, Narcocorrido: la música narco en la sociedad mexicana, PanAm Post (Feb. 6, 2014, 2:47 PM), https://es.panampost.com/guillermo-jimenez/2014/02/06/narcocorrido-el-impacto-de-la-musica-narco-en-la-sociedad-mexicana/; See Juan Carlos Ramírez Pimienta, De torturaciones, balas y explosiones: Narcocultura, Movimiento Alterado e hiperrealismo en el sexenio de Felipe Calderón, A Contra Corriente, Vol. 10, №3, Spring 2013, 302–334, http://acontracorriente.chass.ncsu.edu/index.php/acontracorriente/article/viewFile/570/1192 (translating: “Adolfo himself admitted in an interview they did not create the movement but they did recognize that a narcocorridísta revolution was taking place on the internet, and they decided to baptize and commercialize it.”)
 See La Leyenda de Jesús Malverde: Santo de los Narcos, Univisión (Jul. 30, 2015), http://www.univision.com/arizona/la-leyenda-de-jesus-malverde-santo-de-los-narcos.
 “Now, that Mexican immigration, over the border, is a good thing. It’s a good thing for the illegal immigrants. It’s a good thing for the United States. It’s a good thing for the citizens of the country. But, it’s only good so long as its illegal.” See Milton Friedman’s Speech on “What is America.” http://web.archive.org/web/20101113035713/http://www.willwilkinson.net/flybottle/2008/06/11/milton-friedmans-argument-for-illegal-immigration/
 “Because tight immigration restrictions hinder pareto-improving mobility, create underground economies that encourage corruption and abuse, and do much more to create invidious structural inequalities than would a formalized guest worker system, Friedman’s own logic clearly leads toward opening up labor markets while restricting welfare eligibility.” http://web.archive.org/web/20101113035713/http://www.willwilkinson.net/flybottle/2008/06/11/milton-friedmans-argument-for-illegal-immigration/
 See Naomi Klein, The Shock Doctrine.
 See definition of United States Person under 22 U.S. Code § 6010:
“As used in this chapter, the term “United States person” means any United States citizen or alien admitted for permanent residence in the United States, and any corporation, partnership, or other organization organized under the laws of the United States.” (Pub. L. 102–484, div. A, title XVII, § 1711, Oct. 23, 1992, 106 Stat. 2581.) https://www.law.cornell.edu/uscode/text/22/6010
 In 2014, there were about 11 million undocumented immigrants in the United States. See Jens Manuel Krogstad, Jeffrey S. Passel and D’vera Cohn, 5 facts about illegal immigration in the U.S., The Pew Research Center (Nov. 3, 2016)
 “Undocumented immigrants contribute significantly to state and local taxes, collectively paying an estimated $11.64 billion a year.” Lisa Christensen, Gee Matthew, and Gardner Meg Wiehe, Undocumented Immigrants’ State & Local Tax Contributions, The Institute on Taxation & Economic Policy, (Feb. 2016), http://www.itep.org/pdf/immigration2016.pdf.
 “The U.S. Department of Agriculture states that, ‘about half of the hired workers employed in U.S. crop agriculture were unauthorized, with the overwhelming majority of these workers coming from Mexico.’ The USDA has also warned that, ‘any potential immigration reform could have significant impacts on the U.S. fruit and vegetable industry.’ From the perspective of National Milk Producers Federation in 2009, retail milk prices would increase by 61 percent if its immigrant labor force were to be eliminated.” See http://thehill.com/blogs/congress-blog/foreign-policy/203984-illegal-immigrants-benefit-the-us-economy
 See Abraham Nuncio, Corrupción legalizada, La Jornada (Jun. 30, 2016)
http://www.jornada.unam.mx/2016/06/30/opinion/020a1pol; See also Jeffrey Toobin, The Supreme Court Gets Ready to Legalize Corruption, The New Yorker (May 4, 2016)
 “The most cited problem facing unauthorized immigrants is wage theft, an illegal practice in which employers withhold workers’ pay. Every year, 6.5 million undocumented workers experience wage theft. Low-wage workers across the nation lose roughly $50 billion annually.” Protect Undocumented Workers Who Fight Abusive Employers, Goldman School of Public Policy University of Berkeley (Jun. 12, 2015) https://gspp.berkeley.edu/news/news-center/protect-undocumented-workers-who-fight-abusive-employers.
 “Corruption and excessive force have also skyrocketed along with the massive hiring surge. In fact, between 2005 and 2012, nearly one CBP officer was arrested for misconduct every single day — part of a pattern that Ronald Hosko, former assistant director of the FBI’s criminal investigation division, calls “shocking.” During Obama’s first term, the sheer number of allegations was so glaring that, according to two CBP officials, DHS under Secretary Janet Napolitano ordered Customs and Border Protection to change its definition of corruption to downplay to Congress the breadth of the problem.” The Green Monster: How the Border Patrol became America’s Most Out-of-Control Law Enforcement Agency. Politico Magazine, http://www.politico.com/magazine/story/2014/10/border-patrol-the-green-monster-112220?o=1 (emphasis added).
Translation: “The key is the flow of drugs, it is not an absolute solution but it is a resource, a weapon with which we count.
The United States is largely addicted to drugs and one of its main suppliers is México. If I were to influence this trade war with our neighboring country, I would do the following with respect to this issue.
Legalize drugs in México and two things would happened immediately, we would have a great economic resource that is destined to combat drug trafficking, and we could use it in concrete works for the benefit of the most vulnerable population.
The other issue is that since it would be a legal activity, it would generate employment, in addition to converting the narcos as businessmen in the formal sense. We could put a high tax on drugs as is done with cigarettes so that its value is so high that would not be easy to access it in our national market. The idea is to create a culture that does not consume such product, a corporate culture. Let’s make money out of this; if the world wants to get drugged, to have drugs, then let’s do business as a country.
The United States wants us to fight drug trafficking in our country and has only brought us death, insecurity and social unrest. Ultimately it is they who consume drugs. It’s time to be clever and take advantage of the market, just educate your own so you do not consume it. That is everyone’s job.
If México stops sending cocaine and marijuana for two months to the United States, they alone will knock down the wall.”