June 1, 2020 by Alan Iturriaga
One of the more bizarre pandemic related occurrences is a story from Mexico. Everyone has a different image in our heads about what cartels are like – drug making, beheadings, kidnappings, brutal violence, or unforgiving kingpins. The last things we associate these groups with are charity or humanitarianism. However, various cartels are allegedly distributing resources in Mexico, where the pandemic is ripping apart government legitimacy and tearing down any illusionary safety nets that are supposed to exist in the Mexican social contract.
There were images that surfaced in various Latin American news sources, such as Infobae, an Argentinian news outlet. In Infobae’s report, the images were sourced to be native to Twitter. The Twitter account they came from, “La Voz del Pueblo” or “The People’s Voice”, is an anonymous amateur media outlet focused on “exposing” narcos, bourgeois families, and government officials. “The People’s Voice” is surprisingly effective at gathering information, whilst also keeping their sources anonymous. The quality of the content in the account varies from tabloid-style tweets to reports from dubious sources, which all obviously promote an impressionist agenda. It is simultaneously troubling and fascinating that this twitter account has gotten hold of so many primary sources– from smuggled audio clips to videos. Because the sources are mainly anonymous, the legitimacy of the images and videos is at risk. The images became extremely popular on Twitter, yet, we must ask ourselves whether these images are genuine or possibly staged. We must remember that the cartels work under the guise of vigilantes – paladins of the Mexican lower class with a Robin Hood-esque mythos crafted around them.
Let’s consider two possibilities that have been explored. Some people have argued that these cartels are, in a sense, more charitable than the government. This understanding, however, relies on a false equivalence. The cartels are not responsible for the entire nation. Rather, they operate in a tribal system where each group controls a different area of the country. More realistically, the whole operation is an elaborate PR stunt. As far as we are concerned, many of the people featured receiving groceries in the videos and pictures may have been the cartel’s own people posing as civilians. Furthermore, even if the people featured in the videos were genuine civilians to whom the cartels were providing groceries, we can be almost certain that through these actions the cartels are attempting to advance an underlying agenda. The cartels employ strikingly similar tactics to that of the demagogic populist politicians that they lash out against: they appeal to an impoverished majority that has been abandoned and antagonized by the morally depraved upper class, and chronically screwed over by barely distinguishable corrupt political regimes that rotate every couple of years. They give away food, resources, money – the bare essentials – in order to polish their image and keep the people around them on a tight leash.
Politicians buy votes, cartels buy loyalty.
The only difference is that when politicians give away groceries in a rally, they have giant logos with their name in lights. Whereas cartels say: “This is from our leader, el señor something or other; for the people”... and the people know they better be grateful.
Sadly, many of them actually are.
Alan Iturriaga ('20) is a Senior Editor at SPR, he also runs the Muse Collective on Instagram.