Academic journal article Environment and Planning D: Society and Space

Borders, One-Dimensionality, and Illusion in the War on Drugs

Academic journal article Environment and Planning D: Society and Space

Borders, One-Dimensionality, and Illusion in the War on Drugs

Article excerpt

Abstract. In this paper I argue for the necessity and value of using critical theory to review tripartite politics across North and South America in the war on drugs. In particular, Herbert Marcuse's concept of one-dimensionality--a description of social structures and behaviors incapable of perceiving alternatives to existing realities--is elaborated. Using a Marcusian lens, I unpack key policy documents within the Merida II Initiative, and the United States Northern Command and the United States Southern Command. The paper examines the mechanisms through which particular 'realities' emerge as prominent. In doing so, discursive and material tactics, embedded in political strategies which construct tangible problems to be solved, are highlighted. In the course of prescriptive policy measures, three regulating fictions materialize. First, Merida II is cast in terms of a paradigm shift. Second, unilateral policies become bilateral agreements. And third, the hemispheric scale unfolds into regional divisions. All are tied in with a historical legacy of enacting symbolic illusion and a pattern of thought and behavior reduced to the given system. There are at least two significant outcomes. The first is the rendering of oppositional alternatives as utopian or illusory. The second is the deployment of difference which continuously reproduces North-South divisions and upholds the status quo.

Keywords: borders, Herbert Marcuse, Latin America, critical theory, war on drugs

Introduction

In April 2010 the governments of Mexico and the United States issued a Declaration of the 21st Century Border, reflected in Pillar 111 of the Merida II initiative--an extension and amplification of the Merida Initiative enacted by Congress in 2008. Since the 1990s, and exacerbated by the events of 9/11, border fortification has emerged as a critical policy issue (Amoore and Hall, 2010; Andreas, 2000; Bialasiewicz et al, 2007). In the current geopolitical climate, Mexico's southern border has an increasingly complicated relationship with the United States, partly because of the porous nature of a boundary that stretches from the Pacific to the Caribbean. Under pressure from the US, Mexico has recently begun to reinforce its southern border with Guatemala. A vivid example is Mexico's Talisman checkpoint, where the relatively new immigration and customs control infrastructure juts out from a lush tropical setting. Over $14.5 million worth of biometric equipment has been installed and is in use at three checkpoints along the southern border. At these sites, biographic and biometric information is collected and stored in a database. This formal apparatus exists just yards away from the Suchiate River where large-scale illegal commerce and crossings continue undisturbed. Makeshift ferries constructed from tires and wooden planks crisscross the waterway, transporting cases of soda, sundries, contraband, and agricultural workers and families who have generally regarded the region as a unified economic zone (personal interviews; Cortez Ruiz, 2009).

The juxtaposition of the formal and informal is stark, metaphorical, and more complicated than appearances suggest. There are spatiolegal nuances, quasi-legalities, and plural systems of regulation along the Mexico-Guatemala border. These processes entail benign dismissal and "the differential gaze of states" where movement is targeted in specific ways (Sur, 2013, page 86). At these sites, regulation is difficult and subject to contextual factors (Heyman, 1999). For example, the Mexican military and police search Guatemalan agricultural workers working on coffee plantations in Southern Chiapas under the guise of controlling criminal activity, although no evidence exists linking illicit activities and migrants. Control of temporary movement tends to spike if there is a crisis in the international coffee market (Castillo, 2008). What are we to make then of these massive concrete deterrents and their attendant officials? …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.