Days of Rage in Baltimore and Mexico*
By Greg Grandin
Yesterday, as Baltimore restaged the intifada, protesters in Mexico, in Chilpancingo, the capital of the state of Guerrero, rammed a flaming truck into the glass-fronted congressional building, and set fire to at least six other vehicles. They had taken to the streets to mark the seven-month anniversary of the disappearances of the 43 students, who have come to represent the hundreds of thousands of dead as a result of US-Mexico’s drug, immigration, and trade policies (a number of the relatives of the disappeared are currently in New York, where they are appealing to the United Nations to end Washington’s so-called Merida Initiative, or Plan Mexico, which sends billions of dollars to Mexico to supposedly fight drugs but which the relatives of the 43 say goes to “suppress dissent”).
Elsewhere this week, in Oaxaca, protesters did damage to the building of the governing Partido Revolucionario Institucional. Videos of the Chilpancingo protest are here, here, here. In Mexico City, demonstrators erected an “anti-monument,” a large red 43 in the middle of the business center.
Obviously, the right way to think about the murder of Freddie Gray and the protests that followed is to think deeply about slavery and post-Abolition racism in the United States. Immediately after the trouble began yesterday, historians and critics on social media were broadcasting information about Baltimore’s history as a slave port, its long history of police brutality, its equally long history of resisting race terror. Apparently, Spiro Agnew’s law-and-order response to a protest that turned violent in 1968 bought him his spot on Nixon’s ticket.
One can also, without diluting the power of that deep history, think about the repression and reaction laterally, as an effect of the same transnational policing and trade policies responsible for the disappearance of the 43 student-activists in Mexico. Since the August murder of Michael Brown and the September abduction of the 43 Mexican students, #BlackLivesMatter and #TodosSomosAyotzinapa are just two of the hashtags that have captured distinct heterodox protest movements that are converging.
I was at an event the other night at CUNY, a “Citizen’s Tribunal,” part of a “caravan” that is bringing the parents and advocates of the 43 disappeared to over 40 US cities (Roberto Lovato writes about it here in The Nation). At the CUNY event, a lawyer for the parents said that the two principal obstacles to “neo-liberalism”—and hence the two principal targets of neo-liberalism’s enforcers—were the ejidos, that is, peasant communities who still hold and work their land in common, and the rural teacher-training institutes (like the one where the 43 were enrolled), which for decades has taken the lead in protesting the dispossession generated by “free trade.” In the wake of Baltimore, that observation put me to think that Mexican peasant communities and African-American urban communities are broadly structurally analogous in their relation to “free trade” capitalism.
On both sides of the border, the absence of any sane, humane, industrial or rural policy has created concentrations of dispensable peoples. On both sides of the border, children of these dispensable people are most vulnerable.
“In 2007, Baltimore City African American infants were almost nine times more likely to die before age 1 than White infants residing in Baltimore City.”
In Mexico, the southern agrarian states, including Guerrero, that have suffered under NAFTA have similarly stunningly high rates of infant mortality. On both sides of the border, these people, the victims of failed government policy, are then blamed for the failure of government policy, their culture, their attitude, their “values,” and their music (rap, hip-hop, and the narcocorrido). On both sides of the border, rolling protests, days of rage and frustration like those seen in Baltimore and Chilpancingo have difficulty coalescing into a national movement, building a coalition with elites or national-level political parties due to the fragmentation of politics, itself an effect of government economic policy.
On both sides of the border, US federal money funds the over-policing of the crisis.
“The weapons that are given to Mexico [by Washington] are used to kill us, not help us,” said Blanca Luz Nava Velez, whose 19-year-old son, Jorge, is among the missing.
And on both side of the border, the crisis is generated by federal policies (enacted by both Washington and Mexico City) that are designed to keep pay low and jobs precarious: What demands can a segregated labor force divided by a garrisoned border make on capital that can go anywhere it wants, anytime it wants?
Advocates of the North American Free Trade Agreement did say that economic liberalization would bring about a convergence. They were right. Just wait to see what the TPP brings.