A line of young women holding a banner, their mouths open in protest. They are wearing bandanas on their faces, and many of them have their hair braided.

What Obama’s silence on Ayotzinapa says about the War on Drugs

Last week Obama announced an executive order that offers temporary legal status for over 4 million undocumented people living in the United States. This has been a long time coming, and though the order leaves out 6 million other undocumented people, it is a step in the right direction, and a pretty big deal. 

Yet Obama has remained completely silent on the massive protests taking place in Mexico, the country so often implicated when we speak of undocumented migration to the US. He has yet to acknowledge a movement to hold the Mexican government — and by association the US government — accountable for the murders and forced displacement of tens of thousands of people.  

On September 26, 43 students from a rural teaching college of Ayotzinapa were “forcibly disappeared” by local police in Iguala, Mexico. It’s unclear who exactly ordered the attacks, but Iguala Mayor Jose Luis Abarca and his wife have been arrested in connection with the disappearance. Since the attacks, protests have taken place across the country, and solidarity actions have sprung up around the world, with women playing an important role in the movement and putting themselves as risk to speak out.

Why might these protests be relevant to US policy? Because they are speaking out against violence that stems from the War on Drugs, violence which often targets women, indigenous, low-income and other marginalized communities. The tragedy in Ayotzinapa and events like it are why there are 11 million undocumented people living in the US today.

Five brown women lay on the ground in a "die in" protest. Under them is a pink sign that says "No femicide, no violence, enough!"

Violence against women has increased significantly since the beginning of the War on Drugs. These women are protesting for their lives, with a sign that reads “No femicide, no violence, enough!” (Image Credit)

Over at CIP Americas, Laura Carlsen makes a compelling argument that the War on Drugs is used as a tool to repress social unrest and keep power in the hands of the wealthy. In the US, that has meant the criminalization and mass incarceration of black and brown people, supporting a police force that kills with impunity and leading to an explosion of our prison population. Mexico does not have the infrastructure to incarcerate so many people and instead has created a militarized police state. If you read one article about Ayotzinapa, I suggest this be it.

“The militarization of the country has brought the sad consequences that are now visible: over 100,000 dead, some 30,000 missing, human rights violations, an increase in gender-based crimes, forced displacement, abuse of migrants, corruption and collusion and deterioration of the rule of law. Because of the disastrous results of the drug war in Mexico, as a candidate [Mexican President] Pena Nieto disavowed the strategy. As president, Peña Nieto has done everything possible not to mention the violence and with the assistance of the media, has even sought to suppress the news of incidents of violence, change the discourse and hide the reality.”

Carlsen goes on to argue that the War on Drugs has lead to unprecedented US intervention in Mexico, so much that the Mexican state is committed to protecting US access to resources and labor through police force, all funded with $2 billion in equipment and services from the US. Considering the correlation between police presence and increases in violence, it’s clear that the Mexican state has a vested interest in fueling conflict in areas where business interests are at stake. This is a strategy we see in other parts of Central America like Guatemala, where the government imposed a “state of prevention” on an indigenous community that has spent years protesting the construction of a cement factory in their city.

The events in Ayotzinapa call attention to the fact that US foreign policy in Mexico kills. It displaces indigenous and rural communities. It increases femicides and violence against women.

In the Mexican War on Drugs, “security forces” exist to protect the powerful, among them the United States of America.

I want to hear Obama talk about that.

(Header Image Credit)

What you need to know about the 43 disappeared students in Mexico
How US policy contributes to gendered violence in Mexico

Bay Area, California

Juliana is a digital storyteller for social change. As a writer at Feministing since 2013, her work has focused on women's movements throughout the Americas for environmental justice, immigrant rights, and reproductive justice. In addition to her writing, Juliana is a Senior Campaigner at Change.org, where she works to close the gap between the powerful and everyone else by supporting people from across the country to launch, escalate and win their campaigns for justice.

Juliana is a Latina feminist writer and campaigner based in the Bay Area.

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