Amidst the State and the Illegal Drug Trade: The Divided Loyalty of Counterinsurgency Agents in Cold War Mexico

Saturday, January 5, 2019: 11:30 AM
Salon 12 (Palmer House Hilton)
Adela Cedillo, University of WisconsinMadison
During the 1970s, Mexico experienced an overlapping of a dirty war and a drug war that closely resembled the Southeast Asian cases from the previous decade, although at a much lower scale. The sites of these secret wars were the state of Guerrero and the so-called Golden Quadrilateral, a region comprised by the states of Chihuahua, Sonora, Sinaloa, and Durango. From the mid-sixties to the early eighties the state launched several counterinsurgency campaigns as well as the operations Canador, Trizo, and Condor to combat the illegal drug trade. In both conflicts, state agents used torture, extrajudicial executions, enforced disappearance, forced displacement, and scorched earth tactics to terrorize communities. Paradoxically, some of the most active counterinsurgency agents belonging to both military and police corporations became participants in the illegal drug trade. The Mexican government pretended to comply with the U.S. drug war policies while at the same time it allowed complicity between security forces and drug traffickers. In this paper, I analyze the state agents who, on the one hand, portrayed themselves as guardians of the homeland, the national security, and the legacy of the Mexican Revolution, but on the other hand took part in a illegal business that was detrimental to the values they claimed to protect. I argue that the Mexican government created a payoff system to reward loyal agents who fought to maintain the hegemony of the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), by seizing on the exorbitant profit generated by the drug trade. However, the competitive nature of the unregulated drug trade triggered violent confrontations between stakeholders, and the loyalty of state agents was challenged, as they had to choose between preserving the state interests and protecting drug traffickers. A closer look at individual cases will shed light on how state agents dealt with their divided loyalty.
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