Daily life in the time of drug trafficking

In Mexico, the war against drug trafficking left nearly 300,000 dead and 100,000 missing between 2006 and 2021. going against the grain of romanticized stories about drug trafficking and its barons, Adle Blazquez depicts the conditions of life in a rural community plagued by gun violence.

Taken from an anthropology thesis defended in 2019 and now published in the new collection Logics of disorder of CNRS editions, the work by Adle Blazquez delivers a look as original as it is necessary on the other side of drug trafficking and armed violence in Mexico.

The researcher chose to explore this theme based on living conditions and self-protection strategies in contexts marked by deep uncertainty. To do this, she takes the case of Badiraguato, a rural commune in northern Mexico, presented by the media, political circles and the cultural industry as the cradle of drug trafficking. In songs, films and series including the famous Narcosbroadcast on Netflix the story of Badiraguato is anchored in that of local drug trafficking personalities, often presented as social bandits pursued by the US Anti-Drug Agency (DEA) and the head of cartels competing for the entire territory and its inhabitantses. going against this myth, the anthropologist analyzes violence not as capricious, disruptive or used in the service of a war between cartels, but as deeply anchored in its local society. Violence is studied through the prism of the stories told by the investigatorses, particularly when they mobilize their relationships to trace the family trees and friendships of victims and aggressors. From these conversations, popular maxims, situations and nuances obtained thanks to a close and demanding ethnography of 18 months in the capital and certain hamlets of the commune, Adle Blazquez shows how the norms and social positions of each person come to nourish an understanding of violence and shape protection strategies.

Living on the margins criminalizes

The work follows various inhabitantspeople of Badiraguato in their daily activities (to travel, be there, make it out), their perceptions of acts committed (steal a woman, kill) or their work at the town hall (administer). From the first chapter, Adle Blazquez highlights the constraints that weigh on the inhabitants in their travel between the capital and the different hamlets. Knowing how to move and not show yourself exhibitions then comes not only to identify the conflicts which mesh the different places of the Sierrabut above all to know people who can provide protection or act as guarantors for a journey. Make connections And be careful these therefore become a condition sine qua non to exist and be there. Standardized predation relationships are reflected in the ratio of inhabitantsare the state, whose presence remains above all materialized by the army and the repression of poppy cultivation. The author studies the economic and social structuring that results from this monoculture. A historical detour shows how certain families in the town were able to take advantage of the region's isolation to position themselves at the crossroads of commercial and political activities from half of the XXe century. These intermediaries, commonly called weighed (literally those who play a role in people's lives), today derive added value from the poppy trade and processing. For their part, the farmers are content to precariously cultivate the flowers and extract the latex to resell it immediately, under the risk of having it extorted by the police or the army. From the 1980s, an increased use of violence in response to the repression of drug trafficking superimposed these relations of domination linked to the drug economy.

From the drug trade to that of women

Land grabbing, trade, use of political networks and violence are therefore part of strategies of predatory accumulation which extend to women's bodies. THE theft of women consists of a man coming to seek, willingly or by force and with weapons in hand, the woman he is courting and with whom he may (or may not) have had a relationship in the past. From this practice presented as a local culture by certain surveyors results from a representation of the woman who must necessarily belong to or be caught up in competitive relationships between men; a subjugation that is sealed by the recurrent use of violence, which exacerbates the (already) difficult intervention of public authorities in domestic affairs.

The author then shows how killing is also part of a logic of social reproduction. Illegitimate and judged irrational when exercised by destitute (p. 224), people of hamlets (p. 232), without culture (p. 232), murder finds meaning in local society when it is used by the powerful to punish behavior deemed deviant. Faced with this inertia, the action of the town hall is rules like music paper in a village full of uncertainty (p. 290). Murders and domestic violence are evaded in favor of grand inaugurations, urban works and putting solvable problems, such as road safety, on the agenda. Paradoxically, by acting as if nothing had happened and attributing the violence to a phenomenon largely external to politics, local elected officials enjoy strong national visibility.

Myth of cartels and politicization of violence

In conclusion, Adle Blazquez reminds us that this story is neither more nor less that of liberal capitalism. The infrastructural and commercial isolation of the region during the XXe century has contributed to an economic specialization geared towards the drug trade, which has been seized by a political and commercial elite who subcontract the production of small farmers. The social hierarchy that results today is not so different from that found in other contexts, except Badiraguato, the use of violence, generated by the repression of war on drugs, helps cement this social order. The result is strong economic and social disparities reproduced and hidden by extortion and predation.

In this sense, the anthropologist's work hits the mark in its ability to debunk the myths about Narcos that the cultural industry conveys and that the Mexican media often take up, not without a certain romance. Through a meticulous analysis of the division of labor in the drug trafficking economy, Adle Blazquez undoes the abusive uses of the notion of cartels, showing that they control neither territories nor populations. As for the major figures in drug trafficking such as El Chapo or Rafael Caro Quintero, regularly featured in the national headlines for their arrests, escapes or escapes, they essentially owe their fame not to their modest origins, as we like to present them, but to their belonging to the most endowed families, enriched precisely thanks to the isolation of the region (p. 309). The use of violence thus seals this social hierarchy and annihilates all protest. In this, the work invites a politicization of the issue of violence by undermining local social and political hierarchies, which it would be wrong to deprive ourselves of in order to understand other case studies.

This invitation, however, comes up against an implacable observation made by the author: to protect yourself from the unpredictability of violence, the best protection of yourself and your loved ones is to condemn yourself to accept your situation or, according to the investigatorsare, of Behave (p. 250) or don't stick your nose in other people's business (p.75). Also if we understand that protection does not rhyme with emancipation, the latter issue remains an unexploited extension of the work. Reading the work shows that the response will not come from institutional actors, such as the town hall or the National System for integral development for families (DIF), or the Party of Institutional Revolution (PRI), long hegemonic in Mexico (1946-2000) and Badiraguato (until 2021). To what extent does this apply to the protest movements that have marked the rest of the country in recent years?? In this, the representations and possible reappropriations of the inhabitantsThe mobilizations against the violence which have marked the Mexican national scene (against killings, disappearances, femicides and other violence against women) remain a blind spot in the work.

A plea for ethnographies on illicit activities and violence

The fact remains that the story draws great strength from this bias consisting of adopting the point of view of the inhabitants. As the story progresses, we gradually grasp the different issues that arise for eache according to their geographic, social position and gender. The analysis is, however, far from obvious, first of all because of the difficulties and inherent danger of working in such terrain as a foreign investigator. To deal with this, the anthropologist formed strong ties with certain families and people who offered him friendship, opened access to information, but who also protected him thanks to their position when others did not understand the issues or the necessity. In this sense, certain passages on the role of informants and resource persons deserve to be read by everyone.e ethnographer in the making (p. 79-87; p. 97-99).

Then, it is difficult to imagine the extent to which the analytical work must have been tested by the numerous colorful comments that the interviewees make all day long (you know why the turtle lives a hundred years? Because she doesn't stick her nose in other people's business! p. 75; as the river is nearby, we can't leave you alone, p. 111; during the holidays, we kill a lot, p. 113; you can't give soup to one and refuse it to the other, p. 179) however registered in contradiction with here, it's very quiet (p. 118). The author takes care to dissect each of these expressions thanks to a detailed knowledge of the social environment studied, a putting into historical perspective of the situations and activities (although sometimes uneven, particularly on theft of women) and above all a story admirably constructed around simple and methodical questions. One day, the boundaries of the sayable and the unspeakable fall under the author's pen to reveal the dominations underlying predation, extortion, killings and domestic violence. Thus, it is by means of a perilous ethnography keeping all these promises that Adle Blazquez signs an exemplary contribution to the studies of illicit activities and violence.