The “Low-Intensity War” Against Autonomy (Part One)

By Daniel Arellano Chávez, Neri Martinez Hernandez and Ricardo Trujillo Gonzalez
November 29, 2010
Translated by Scott Campbell

Long ago the government and transnational corporations declared war on the peoples of Mexico, and yet from 1810 to 1910 to 2010 the peoples’ struggle has not been defeated and has shown itself to be a long-lasting breath of unwavering, permanent resistance.

Now this war has been officially titled the “war against organized crime,” a declaration which becomes more shameless with each passing day; advanced by a federal executive who came to power through electoral fraud, deploying the army and security forces to every corner of Mexico to prey day in and day out not just on social movements, unions, popular struggles, human rights defenders, peoples and communities, but also on a population that has committed no other crime than crossing the streets, going to a meeting hall, attending school, or driving on the highway.

(Part One) | (Part Two) | (Part Three) | (Part Four)

Today human rights violations, intimidation, harassment, censorship, torture, secret detention centers, forced disappearances, arbitrary arrests, executions, and massacres are common occurrences in a Mexico where 77 people are murdered daily. [1]

Two high school students riddled with bullets by soldiers in San Luis Potosí, two children murdered by soldiers in Tamaulipas at a checkpoint while on vacation [2], families gunned down by soldiers in Sinaloa [3] and Nuevo León [4], the massacres of teenagers in Ciudad Juárez and Durango – which the government justifies by saying they were gunmen and drug dealers.

A shooting attack by Federal Police on a march demanding an end to military and police abuses in Ciudad Juárez resulted in a seriously wounded student.  Out of control violence that has reached those who “should not be affected,” including the murder of students from the Monterrey Technological Institute (one of the most expensive private schools in the country), which has led to protests by those who previously complained about the protests of the “poor and inferior.”

Industrial murder, official cover-ups and repression in Pasta de Conchos, Coahuila in order to protect Grupo Mexico; a daycare center in Hermosillo, Sonora, set on fire with 49 babies and children inside, a crime of negligence pardoned by the government; the explosion of a toxic fertilizer factory in Izucar de Matamoros, Puebla, releasing its carcinogenic contents on the population, as happened ten years ago in Córdoba, Veracruz; in both places covered-up by the Dragón corporation.

This setting repeats itself daily, from Baja California to Campeche.  In such a manner, one day the government decides to suspend the catch of white sea bass in an area declared as a nature reserve on the land of the Cucapá people of Baja California, indigenous territory that for millennia was sustained by this resources; however, as the indigenous note, “the reserve’s director, José Campoy Favela, is the owner of twenty fishing boats and gives preference to Sonoran fishers, who have nearly 1,000 boats and extract up to 30,000 tons of fish, as opposed to the 500 tons on average that the Cucapá catch each season.” [5]

With this same logic of extermination and exclusion, then-Governor of Campeche, Jorge Carlos Hurtado Valdez, with the help of paramilitary and state police, cleared out the San Antonio Ebulá land parcel, inhabited by Mayan peasants and adherents to the Other Campaign, denying entire families the right to housing, just to protect the interests of businessman Eduardo Escalante, father-in-law of the former Interior Minister, Juan Camillo Mouriño, and who has various contracts to build highways throughout the state. [6]

Around the country the Federal Preventive Police (called the Federal Police under this administration), have no time to rest: one day they remove teachers from the National Education Workers Coordinating Committee in Mexico City, during one of dozens of protests in front of the Interior Ministry; two days later they kick out electrical workers in Cuernavaca, Morelos; the repressive work offers no rest, a few days later in Lázaro Cárdenas they attack protesting miners.

The violence of the state shows itself against “dissatisfied troublemakers,” while the daily violence of exploitation and death continue at the same time, whose victims are the thousands of men and women who try to cross into the United States for various reasons, though with one objective – to escape; while the indigenous peoples of Oaxaca, Chiapas, Yucatán and Central America break rocks from sun up to sun down for Spanish buildings, as if it were the colonial era, but this is 2010, and the stones they break are not to build temples for the Church in honor of a triumphant Crown, now it is for the great hotels and tourist corridors of corporations coming from the other side of the ocean.  The slavery remains even though much time has passed since it was declared that the chains must be broken. [7]

While peoples join together to fight in defense of the land, territory, water, wind, forests and jungles, plants and animals, in defense of their natural environment, of their ancestral heritage as communities and peoples; the government and transnationals defy and spurn the “ignorant who reject progress and development” and threaten to use their machinery of repression to defend the benefits of capital offered up in hundreds of projects and megaprojects which treat Oaxaca like a mass of energy to be used for dams, wind farms, mines, hydroelectricity, and if necessary to dig a canal, splitting it in two, to allow for the free circulation of capital and goods, while at the same time impeding the passage of people on the painful route of northward migration.

Municipal and state preventive police; special operations units; banking, industrial and commercial auxiliary police; the State Investigation Agency; agents from the State and Federal Attorney General’s Office; the Special Operations Group of the Federal Preventive Police; the Federal Investigation Agency; Federal Support Forces; the Army’s Special Forces; the Marines; and the Air Force, have not been enough the crush the peoples’ struggle, so one more element of repression is deployed: paramilitaries, murderers-for-hire, like in previous eras.

“The label ‘paramilitary’ – in legal terms – alludes to direct connections between these armed groups and state forces, through the provisioning or sale of armaments, the training of its members or the participation in operations or control efforts.” [8]

The paramilitaries in Oaxaca besiege communities, close highways, assassinate defenders of the land, occupy towns, attack humanitarian caravans, threaten and make political statements with guns in hand, and form part of a new era of “low-intensity warfare” against autonomy.  For a long time they have acted with impunity, carrying out massacres that are finished off with a coup de grâce by the Supreme Court, which gives them impunity by setting free the few who have been detained for these crimes.

Paramilitaries: From the classic French anti-subversion doctrine to the mountains of Oaxaca

It was after two in the afternoon on Tuesday, April 27, 2010, when a humanitarian caravan on its way to the Autonomous Municipality of San Juan Copala entered the town of La Sabana, on whose town hall an announcement proclaims “La Sabana: Birthplace of UBISORT.”  The vehicles continued on their way – San Juan Copala, the town besieged by paramilitaries since the end of November 2009, was a few minutes away.  However, they came across stones blocking the road and a few seconds after stopping and trying to turn around, a hail of bullets from high-caliber weapons enveloped all the vehicles, taking the lives of Bety Cariño Trujillo and Jyri Antero Jaakkola, an act which turned the eyes of the world on the Triqui region and gave international visibility to the existence of paramilitaries in Oaxaca.

What links the French experts of pain and suffering, veterans of World War II, and the paramilitaries in the mountains of western Oaxaca?

Presented in the official history or Hollywood films as a fight for democracy and freedom, and not as the war between capitalist powers that it really was, a war for the natural resources and wealth of a large portion of the world, especially the European colonies in Africa and Asia, and in which Soviet-British and Soviet-U.S. meetings at the end of 1944, the end of World War II led to Roosevelt, Churchill and Stalin dividing up the world.

Even so, several European countries remained at war, one of them being France, which continued its efforts at spreading “liberty, equality and fraternity” through the world, first in Indochina and then in Algeria.  Their tools included the 1st Foreign Parachute Regiment, a regiment of the Foreign Legion which fought in the Battle of Algiers, bringing together old enemies, as it was made up primarily of former Nazis and Hungarian fascists conscripted the day after World War II.

Trained at the École Supérieure de Guerre in Paris, French officials developed the idea that there existed a danger inside their territory of “hidden and subversive forces…potentially wicked and deadly – to be referred to as the ‘internal enemy,’” which “is an object of study and multiple conferences at the end of the 1940s.”

From their “schools” and barracks, but above all, the battlefield, this group of officials gave shape to what would become known as the “French Doctrine,” which, in the words of one of its advocates, Colonel Lacheroy, director of the Center of Asian and African Studies in the Lourcine barracks, which trained young lieutenants and captains heading to Indochina and Algeria, said, “We are facing a new kind of war, new it its conception and execution.  It is a kind of war we call ‘revolutionary war.’…The main problem is control of the population, which supports this war and in the midst of which it develops.  Who controls it and who retains it has won.”  This interpretation changed the French officers’ way of seeing the enemy, no long identified as “the uniformed soldier, brandishing a rifle and flag from the other side of the border; from now on the enemy can be anyone, since it is present in the very heart of civil society.” “From the moment in which the Dutch agreed to the independence of Indonesia, followed by the emancipation of the Philippines, India, Pakistan, Ceylon, and Burma from their colonial tutelage, France has been definitively plunged into a war that has become the frontline of the Cold War.”

For the military high command – always keenly attentive as to the particulars of their victories and failures – the defeat of the French army during the re-conquest of Indochina in 1945 generated a serious sense of the need to reconfigure the basic principles of confrontation and to avoid the kind of humiliation to which they’d borne witness.

According to French veterans who had fought the Viet Minh in 1945, their experiences pointed to an internal enemy which knew how to use the people, indoctrinating them, and that given the knowledge they had of their own surroundings were able to dissipate into the most well-hidden spaces. Given this new confrontational dynamic, which they called modern warfare, it did not make sense to speak about regular armies, perfectly grouped in identifiable rows: “They don’t wear an identifying uniform. On the contrary, they dress like their countrymen, like the common man, the man on the street.  They are everywhere.  Managing a shop, attending classes at the university, teaching as professors.  They could be a lawyer, an engineer, a doctor, a worker.” [9]

After the defeat of the colonial French army in Vietnam, its officers called on General Massu, of the Second Bureau of the General Staff in Algeria, to be part of this new “race of officers” which, to use General Bigeard’s blunt expression, “has balls.”

For the Algerian War of Liberation (1945-1962), the French army, taking into account its observations from the battlefield, organized itself territorially and innovated technically.  The army was deployed into each of the areas which Algeria had been divided into: the objective was that through carrying out police work they would be able to penetrate into each region and in this way take total control of the country.  These police bodies were under the control of General Bigeard, who described the operations carried out in Algiers plainly: “we did rapid police work in a paramilitary style.” [10]

From Algeria to the hills of western Oaxaca.

The French Doctrine showed that paramilitary-style police work meant that in trying to annihilate an enemy which, according to them, does not show itself solely through violent actions, it was necessary to carry out heavy surveillance at all times and in all spaces, but also guided by intelligence techniques which included groups specialized in detention, interrogation and possible elimination (death squads).

In this military-paramilitary action plan, the interrogation is seen as the most efficient means of acquiring information that aids in the dismantling of an enemy organization.  But its efficiency evidently consists of the use of torture.  A good apprentice would say, “How can you get information if you don’t press for it, if you don’t torture?”

It’s clear that the clandestine nature of these official-paramilitary armies allows them to hide themselves in a space where the exceptional becomes the everyday and where the most atrocious becomes the absolutely possible or even necessary.  Secrecy becomes the executioner’s sphere of protection, re-signified alongside official denial and constantly fed by impunity.  The hood stops being just a descriptive symbol of the paramilitary and turns into the terrorizing uncertainty of its victims.  For a complicit officialdom, if there is no identity there is no responsibility…however, on the ruined bodies the encrusted threat of return lingers.

The above shows the importance of psychological warfare in the new doctrine. It is used to demonstrate that a potentially subversive enemy can be co-opted as a result of government actions, to conclude that in reality everyone is the other: “the enemy could be the kind of guy you would drink whiskey with.”

Consequently, such warfare requires, considering their suspicious nature, the consistent education of social groups.  For that reason, psychological war, far from being reduced to the use of propaganda, expresses itself through the demonstration of state force and its impact on the victims of massacres, torture, sexual violation, forced disappearance, or raids – a widely-sent message which between the lines screams: “this is what happens to those who mess with me.”

This technical-military innovation would be broadly promoted by the French through their war institutes, and the first consumers were the Argentinean and U.S. armies. The French Doctrine provided on-the-ground resources for the counter-insurgency project that the United States designed in the context of the Cold War as a means to eliminate the political participation of the popular classes and to consolidate the hegemony of capitalism.

In this way, the France’s lessons, experimented with in Indochina and Algeria, arrived at Fort Benning, Georgia (infantry and Rangers); Fort Bragg, North Carolina (psychological warfare and Special Ops); Fort Bliss; Fort Knox; Fort Leavenworth, Kansas (Command and General Staff College); Inter-American Defense College (Washington); Fort Belvoir, Virginia; and, Fort Gulick, or “The School of the Americas,” based in the Panama Canal Zone, where they were learned and perfected, and deployed in the war against the people of Vietnam.

In the words of U.S. Colonel Carl Bernard, France’s military influence “arrived at a historic and opportune moment: when the United States was reformulating its national security doctrine in order to relay it to the Latin American countries which had become a primary strategic challenge following the Cuban revolution.”

“Our primary objective in Latin America is to help where necessary in the continued development of local military and paramilitary forces so that they are capable of providing, together with the police and other security forces, the internal security necessary,” stated Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara to Congress in 1967.

To confirm the link between a country’s level of development and the risk of a “rebellion,” strategists from the White House and Pentagon decided to jointly promote military, paramilitary, political, economic, psychological and civic policies in order to prevent any popular insurrectionary tendency in Latin America.  This translated itself into economic aid to allied governments in the southern hemisphere and in U.S. military academies the molding of a uniformed elite, capable of assuming political control of a country should a social crisis threaten to turn into a revolutionary situation.

That is to say, the “French anti-subversion doctrine” which came about during France’s wars against Indochinese and Algerian independence, forms the basis of the U.S.’s national security doctrine, which the Pentagon teaches to the armed forces of the American continent (including Mexico).  Through years of permeating these armies with advisors and military missions, they have absorbed the idea of an internal enemy, allowing them to reject constitutional regimes and carry out coups, to take control of government and impose bloody dictatorships, incorporating into these military uprisings old French advisors, such as General Aussaresses, who served as military attaché in Brazil in October 1973 during the height of the dictatorship.

This style of war “would be the Bible for numerous French officers during the war in Algeria – and would be broadly exported afterward, primarily to North and South America.”  And so began the theorization of the use of criminal tactics by the armed forces, which military advisors would then spread around the world.

The School of the Americas

The “School of the Americas” is a military school that has trained more than 60,000 Latin American soldiers, “who have been taught using anti-guerrilla, extortion, physical and psychological torture, and military intelligence manuals, among others; with courses on commando operations, sharpshooting, interrogation techniques, terrorism, urban guerillas, counter-insurgency, low-intensity warfare, irregular warfare, jungle operations, counter-intelligence, internal defense, psychological operations, and anti-drug operations, among others.” [11]

The consequences of this “molding” of Latin American army officers have been devastating for their peoples. More than 10 military dictatorships arose, headed by graduates of the School of the Americas, who in turn filled their staff with more than 100 graduates occupying positions of command in the dictatorial regimes.

In the cases of Central American countries such as Guatemala or El Salvador, their populations were subjected to extremely brutal repression in the 1980s.  The United Nations’ Truth Commission confirmed that in the majority of cases it was former students from the School of the Americas who during this time were the heads of governments, such as General Efraín Ríos Mont in Guatemala, or far-right paramilitary groups, such as Roberto d’Aubuisson in El Salvador.

These results are not events now in the past. The officers molded at the school remain in positions of command in Latin American armies.  Meanwhile, the school moved from Panama to Fort Benning in 1984, rechristening itself as the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation.

The emergence of dictatorships, authoritarian regimes, or “democracies” maintained by force of arms and tools such as paramilitaries, does not represent a deviation by a group of lunatics who betrayed their “unbreakable loyalty to these institutions,” but in reality a reproduction of the knowledge learned in the world’s most “influential” schools of war.

Using that same logic, paramilitary armies who carry out police work in our communities and towns are not uncontrollable actors who emerge from a monstrous mix of deviant soldiers, caciques and drug traffickers; these groups are financed and trained by official forces and turned into a hidden arm of the state and large transnational corporations trying to appropriate territory.  The violence they practice, their methods, is not the excess of government: it is the most concrete manifestation of its long tradition of extermination.

Thus, although military concepts have mutated and have been redesigned, the methods practiced by governments in order to maintain their hegemony have survived; plans for anti-subversive warfare turned into counter-insurgency and became low-intensity warfare.  That face of terror which is the common policy of governments has not ceased to show itself from Algiers to South America, passing through Guatemala, El Salvador, Nicaragua, arriving in the Andean region and coming up through Peru, Bolivia, and Colombia; relocating itself in Mexico and penetrating Chiapas, Guerrero, Oaxaca…


[1] On Friday, June 11, 2010, 77 people were murdered in the states of Chihuahua, Tamaulipas, Guerrero, Sinaloa, Durango, San Luis Potosí, Jalisco, Michoacán and Querétaro. La Jornada, Saturday, June 12, 2010, p.2.

[2] On April 6, 2010, upon passing a checkpoint on the Ribereña highway, members of the Mexican army fired shots and threw fragmentation grenades at a SUV in which two families traveled on their way to the beach in Matamoros.  Martín and Bryan Almanza Salazar, nine and five years old, died, and two adults were wounded.

[3] In June 2007 in Culiacán, Sinaloa.  On a Saturday morning, members of the army killed six people, among them two children, and left three seriously injured at a checkpoint in the community of Los Alamillos, in the municipality of Sinaloa, according to sources from the State Attorney General’s Office.

[4] September 6, 2010. On Sunday evening, members of the Seventh Military Zone killed Vicente de León Ramírez, 45, and his son, Alejandro Gabriel, 15, on the Monterrey-Nuevo Laredo highway, in the municipality of Apodaca. Five more members of the same family were wounded in the incident, which occurred when they were returning to their homes in San Nicolás de los Garza and Escobedo after a party. La Jornada, Tuesday, September 7, 2010, p.3.

[5] La Jornada, April 21, 2005 p.36. It is fitting to mention that also at this moment, Xochilt Gálvez Ruiz noted that: “it’s been detected that the white sea bass has reduced in size. If this continues, there won’t be sea bass for the gulf fishers or the Cucapá.”  He commented that they began monitoring the fishers coming from Santa Clara Gulf and that there were more than 140 illegal vessels; “we want to know who the Cucapá are, because everyone has started calling themselves Cucapá in order to get special rights.” He also proposed to “raise the consciousness” of the Cucapá so that they would recognize the mission of the ecological reserve and train them in other work opportunities, such as eco-tourism. La Jornada, March 30, 2003 p. 33.

[6] Report by the Civil Mission for Peace for a Just Solution in San Antonio Ebulá, Campeche. San Antonio Ebulá: Displaced by Violence. September 16, 2009.

[7] “La nueva esclavitud maya”, Gloria Leticia Díaz, Proceso, December 23, 2007.

[8] Pau Pérez Sales, Cecilia Santiago Vera y Rafael Álvarez Díaz, Ahora apuestan al cansancio. Chiapas: fundamentos psicológicos de una guerra contemporánea, Grupo de Acción Comunitaria-Centro de Derechos Humanos Miguel Agustín Pro Juárez, A. C., México, 2002.

[9] Statement by Diaz Bassone in the documentary by Marie-Monique Robin, Escuadrones de la muerte, la escuela francesa.

[10] Statement by Bigeard. Made before the officer who instructed the Argentinean army, Robert Bentresque.

[11] S.O.A La Escuela de las Américas. Gustavo Castro Soto, November 5, 1999 CIEPAC.

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