Deconstructing the Camarena Affair and the Militarized United States-Mexico Border

By Benjamin Schenk
Cornell International Affairs Review
2012, Vol. 5 No. 2 | pg. 2/2 |

Legislative Fallout

Harnessing the memory of the Camarena Affair into concrete, legislative terms, the Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1986 became law on October 27th, 1986. Among other statutes, Title II: International Narcotics Control serves as the manifestation of the speech acts leveled against Mexico immediately following Camarena's kidnap. Title II effectively created a conditional aid-leveraging program for both illicit drug producing and transporting countries.

Further, it established the drug certification system, which requires the Executive Branch to annually report to Congress the extent to which drug sourcing and transiting governments comply with United States narcotics policies.39 By restricting aid to source governments, the United States government successfully shifted the focus of the drug threat toward foreign governments, Mexico chief among them, who can barely compete with the forces of supply and demand fueling the cartels.

The drug certification process has not only failed to achieve its policy goals of promoting greater cooperation between the United States and drug transiting and sourcing nations, but it has also created its own distinct set of political confrontations. Former Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Jesse Helms' (R-NC) move in 1989 to block Mexico's certification on the grounds of its widespread corruption elicited a response from Mexico City, calling the senator an, "unblushing liar."40

Distinctly, there was widespread criticism from the media and members of congress when President Clinton certified Mexico in 1997, even though Mexico's drug czar was found to be corrupt just a short time before the President rendered his decision to certify the country. When asked by members of the media why they chose to continue the process, the Clinton Administration responded with a sentiment stating, "It's not for [the administration] to decide or to weigh in on whether it's a good law or not."41 Thus, the ideas of the Camarena Affair, a securitized border, and its associated sub-optimal policies live on to this day.

Conclusion

How did we come to understand the border as a militarized concept, a place that symbolizes the inherent good of the United States and its ability to keep out the foreign, and thus dangerous "other?" Certainly many factors, including the events on September 11th, 2001, contributed to the increasingly securitized state of the border as we know it. Yet, as this paper argues, the first major modern act of securitization came shortly after Mexican drug cartels kidnapped, tortured and murdered one undercover DEA agent, Enrique Camarena. But what makes this case so exceptional is not the mere events of February 7th, 1985. What makes the Camarena Affair noteworthy is what Camarena has come to symbolize still to this day.

Surely Camarena is not the only undercover agent to have ever been captured and killed beyond the territory of the United States. But he may very well be one of the only undercover agents to have ever singlehandedly shut down the largest border crossing in the world, for an entire week, under the guise of finding information on his or his body's whereabouts.

The only possible explanation for these actions points to the policy priority of the War on Drugs, specifically the United States' inability to curb drug demand within its own borders. Because it could not conceivably declare war on its own society, policymakers used the language and actions of securitization by closing the border, thereby demarking everyone and everything foreign trying to enter as an "enemy," and associating them with the previously securitized threat of drugs.

Few people, if any, view the modern United States-Mexico border as merely a place of trade and commerce. As the border initially became securitized over the issue of drugs, soon thereafter nearly everything associated with Mexico was associated with the "other," from its government to its citizens. Therefore, one can better understand the confluence of drug and immigration policy today by looking back to the United States' initial distinction of friend and enemy, memorialized within the Camarena Affair itself.


References

Best, Joel. Images of Issues: Typifying Contemporary Social Problems. New York: A. De Gruyter, 1995.

Brinkley, Joel. “Concern Growing Among U.S. Aides On Mexico Future.” New York Times, May 25, 1986, (Late Edition (East Coast)) ed., P. A.1. sec. Accessed November 21, 2011. Banking Information Source.

Buzan, Barry, Ole Wæver, and Jaap De. Wilde. Security: A New Framework for Analysis. Boulder, Colorado 80301: Lynne Rienner Publishers, 1998.

Buzan, Barry, Ole Wæver, and Jaap De. Wilde. Security: A New Framework for Analysis. Boulder, Colorado 80301: Lynne Rienner Publishers, 1998.

“DEA Briefs & Background, Drug Policy, DEA Mission Statement.” Welcome to the United States Department of Justice. Accessed November 05, 2011. http://www.justice.gov/dea/agency/mission.htm.

“DEA History Book, 1985 - 1990.” The United States Department of Justice. Accessed December 05, 2011. http://www.justice.gov/dea/pubs/history/1985-1990.html.

Diederich, Bernard, Jacob V. Lamar Jr., and Larry Wippman. “The Bust of the Century.” Time Magazine. December 3, 1984. Accessed November 8, 2011.

Falco, Mathea. Winning the Drug War: A National Strategy. New York: Priority Press Publications, 1989.

George, Alexander L., and Andrew Bennett. Case Studies and Theory Development in the Social Sciences. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 2007.

“Heroin Timeline Info.” Narconon, Drug Rehabilitation, Drug Education. 2010. Accessed December 05, 2011. http://www.narconon.org/drug-information/heroin-timeline.html.

H.R. Res. 5729, 99th Cong., The Library of Congress (1986) (enacted).

McSweeney, Bill. Security, Identity and Interests: A Sociology of International Relations. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1999.

“Mexico Certification.” Transcript. In All Things Considered. NPR. February 28, 1997.

Morlet, Thomas. “Border Search for Clues Ended : Mexico Arrests Suspect in Kidnaping of U.S. Agent.” The Los Angeles Times. February 26, 1985. Accessed November 06, 2011.

Nixon, Richard M. “Remarks About an Intensified Program for Drug Abuse Prevention and Control.” Address, Briefing Room at the White House, Washington D.C., June 17, 1971. Accessed November 8, 2011. http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/ws/index.php?pid=3047#axzz1dMFHxQNi.

Nyers, Peter. Securitizations of Citizenship. London: Routledge, 2009.

Padgett, Tim, and Elaine Shannon. “La Nueva Frontera: The Border Monsters.” Time Magazine. June 11, 2001. Accessed November 6, 2011.

Reeves, Jimmie Lynn., and Richard Campbell. Cracked Coverage: Television News, the Anti-Cocaine Crusade, and the Reagan Legacy. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1994.

Reinarman, Craig, and Harry G. Levine. Crack in America: Demon Drugs and Social Justice. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1997.

Russell, George, Ricardo Chavira, and Janice C. Simpson. “Mexico Slowdown on the Border.” Time Magazine. March 4, 1985. Accessed November 6, 2011.

Schenk, Benjamin S. “Beyond the Blame Game: An Assesment of the Motivations, Policies, and Obstacles Behind Mexico’s Cartel Violence.” World Outlook: An Undergraduate Journal for International Affairs 40 (summer 2011): 32-46.

Schmitt, Carl. The Concept of the Political. Translated by George Schwab. Chicago: Univ. of Chicago Press, (1996[1932]).

Silver, Ira. “The Crack Attack: Politics and Media in the Crack Scare.” In Social Problems: Readings. New York: W.W. Norton, 2008.

Special to the New York Times. “WASHINGTON TALK; ‘My Position Hasn’t Changed’” October 28, 1986, (Late Edition (East Coast)) ed., P. B. 18. sec. Accessed November 22, 2011. Banking Information Source.

Toro, Maria C. “The Internationalization of Police: The DEA in Mexico.” The Journal of American History 86, no. 2 (1999): 623-40. Accessed November 8, 2011. JSTOR.

Walt, Stephen M. “The Renaissance of Security Studies.” International Studies Quarterly 35, no. 2 (1991): 212-13.

Williams, Michael C. “Words, Images, Enemies: Securitization and International Politics.” International Studies Quarterly 47, no. 4 (2003): 511-31.

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Endnotes

  1. Buzan, Barry, Ole Wæver, and Jaap De. Wilde. Security: A New Framework for Analysis. Boulder, Colorado 80301: Lynne Rienner, 1998. Print. pp. 204
  2. Walt, Stephen M. “The Renaissance of Security Studies.” International Studies Quarterly35.2 (1991): 212-13. Print.
  3. Buzan et al., pp. 5.
  4. Nyers, Peter. Securitizations of Citizenship. London: Routledge, 2009. Print. pp. 1.
  5. Buzan et al., pp. 30.
  6. Nyers, pp. 17-18.
  7. Buzan et al., pp. 26.
  8. Ibid., pp. 32.
  9. Ibid., pp. 33.
  10. Ibid.
  11. Ibid.
  12. Schmitt, Carl. The Concept of the Political. Trans. George Schwab. Chicago: Univ. of Chicago, (1996[1932]). Print. pp. 32-33; As quoted in Williams, Michael C. “Words, Images, Enemies: Securitization and International Politics.” International Studies Quarterly 47.4 (2003): 511-31. Print. pp. 518.
  13. Wćver, Ole. “Securitization and Desecuritization.” On Security. Ed. Ronnie D. Lipschutz. New York: Columbia UP, 1995. 46-86. Print. pp. 67; As quoted in Williams, pp. 519.
  14. Williams, pp. 519; And see McSweeney, Bill. Security, Identity and Interests: A Sociology of International Relations. New York: Cambridge UP, 1999. Print. pp. 72.
  15. Discussion with Professor Ruback on 11/3/2011
  16. Nixon, Richard M. “Remarks About an Intensified Program for Drug Abuse Prevention and Control.” Address. Briefing Room at the White House, Washington D.C. 17 June 1971. The American Presidency Project. Web. 8 Nov. 2011. <http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/ws/index.php?pid=3047#axzz1dMFHxQNi>.
  17. 17. Reorganization Plan No. 2 of 1973, as amended by Pub. L. No. 93-253, 88 Stat. 50 (1974), is reprinted in 5 U.S.C. app. 1, along with the accompanying President’s Message to Congress. Executive Order No. 11727 appears at 38 Fed. Reg. 18357 (1973); And see Toro, Maria C. “The Internationalization of Police: The DEA in Mexico.” The Journal of American History 86.2 (1999): 623-40. JSTOR. Web. 8 Nov. 2011. pp 624.
  18. “DEA Briefs & Background, Drug Policy, DEA Mission Statement.” Welcome to the United States Department of Justice. Web. 05 Nov. 2011. <http://www.justice.gov/dea/agency/mission.htm>.
  19. oro, pp. 628.
  20. Falco, Mathea. Winning the Drug War: A National Strategy. New York: Priority Publications, 1989. Print. pp. 36.
  21. “Heroin Timeline Info.” Narconon, Drug Rehabilitation, Drug Education. 2010. Web. 05 Dec. 2011. <http://www.narconon.org/drug-information/heroin-timeline.html>.
  22. “DEA History Book, 1985 - 1990.” The United States Department of Justice. Web. 05 Dec. 2011. <http://www.justice.gov/dea/pubs/history/1985-1990.html>.
  23. Silver, Ira. “The Crack Attack: Politics and Media in the Crack Scare.” Social Problems: Readings. New York: W.W. Norton, 2008. Print; And see Best, Joel. Images of Issues: Typifying Contemporary Social Problems. New York: A. De Gruyter, 1995. Print; See also Reeves, Jimmie Lynn., and Richard Campbell. Cracked Coverage: Television News, the Anti-Cocaine Crusade, and the Reagan Legacy. Durham, NC: Duke UP, 1994. Print.
  24. Toro, pp. 628.
  25. Ibid., pp. 632.
  26. Ibid., pp. 633
  27. Padgett, Tim, and Elaine Shannon. “La Nueva Frontera: The Border Monsters.” Time Magazine. 11 June 2001. Web. 6 Nov. 2011.
  28. Diederich, Bernard, Jacob V. Lamar Jr., and Larry Wippman. “The Bust of the Century.”Time Magazine. 3 Dec. 1984. Web. 8 Nov. 2011.
  29. Drug Enforcement Administration Reauthorization for Fiscal Year 1986: Hearing Before the Subcommittee On Crime of the Committee On the Judiciary, House of Representatives, Ninety-ninth Congress, First Session ... May 1, 1985. Washington: U.S. G.P.O. , 1986. pp. 22.
  30. Ibid.
  31. Ibid., pp. 23.
  32. Russell, George, Ricardo Chavira, and Janice C. Simpson. “Mexico Slowdown on the Border.” Time Magazine. 4 Mar. 1985. Web. 6 Nov. 2011.
  33. Primary purpose aside, the border shutdown led to the following effects: the restriction in crossborder travel included long lines at the border, thereby increasing production costs for many multinational businesses, as well as a stigmatization of all potential entrants into the United States.
  34. Morlet, Thomas. “Border Search for Clues Ended : Mexico Arrests Suspect in Kidnaping of U.S. Agent.” The Los Angeles Times. 26 Feb. 1985. Web. 06 Nov. 2011.; And see DEA Reauthorization (1986), pp. 23.
  35. Brinkley, Joel. “Concern Growing Among U.S. Aides On Mexico Future.” New York Times (Late Edition (East Coast)) 25 May 1986, P. A.1. sec. Banking Information Source. Web. 21 Nov. 2011.
  36. Schenk, Benjamin S. “Beyond the Blame Game: An Assesment of the Motivations, Policies, and Obstacles Behind Mexico’s Cartel Violence.” World Outlook: An Undergraduate Journal for International Affairs 40 (Summer 2011): 32-46. Print.
  37. Brinkley (1986).
  38. “WASHINGTON TALK; ‘My Position Hasn’t Changed’” Special to the New York Times 28 Oct. 1986, (Late Edition (East Coast)) ed., P. B. 18. sec. Banking Information Source. Web. 22 Nov. 2011.
  39. H.R. Res. 5729, 99th Cong., The Library of Congress (1986) (enacted). Print.
  40. “Mexico Certification.” All Things Considered. NPR. 28 Feb. 1997. Radio. Transcript.

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