Often misunderstood, violence plays in integral role for narco-business to perpetuate economic and political interests. Violence, far from a simple by-product, is a complex sociological element of drug industry activities. The underlying crisis directly affects society in general and the resulting externalities of the violence cause harm on a global scale.
Predominantly, violence results from aggressive actions, but violence and aggression are not synonymous. There are numerous aggression theories that analyze the underlying goals and the intensity of actions. Berkowiths (1993) and Geen (2011) conceive “instrumental aggression,” as seen in narco-business, as a premeditated and proactive means of obtaining a goal rather than for the purpose of harming a victim.
Power balance must enter any discussion about violence as an omnipresent driving force. The spread of fear through many “minor” actions of aggression, in the form of violence, can be effective in controlling power balance. The “power of intimidation” gives the oppressor control over those that might have enormous resources. Power corresponds, according to political theorist Hannah Arendt (1970), to the human ability not just to act but to act in concert. Power is never the property of an individual; it belongs to a group and remains in existence only so long as the group stays together. This can be seen in the current narco-conflicts in Mexico and Colombia with the various actors involved.
Importance of perception and how it can be manipulated
Perception is not simply the gathering of information and sensing of events in one´s environment rather than awareness of these. Media informs national and international opinion on violence; nevertheless their perception of these violent actions is meagre. The concept of “othering” constitutes a useful theory to clarify this phenomenon.
“It has long been observed that people tend to positively differentiate themselves and their in-groups from other people and out-groups.” (Mead 1934, Ichheiser 1949, Heider 1958, Tajfel & Turner 1979)
Defining the problem as “we” and “them” externalizes the problem and discourse builds around that division. To appeal to society´s sense of community and then differentiate another part of society can be considered a Manichean logic of difference; belonging and not belonging. Only when it affects “us” society cares and perceives such actions as threats. Taking this into consideration, it is easy to externalize the problem when it lies in the “them” and not in the “we”.
Importance of violence for the narco-business
As journalist Duran-Martinez (2010) suggests, the gap between the perceived and actual levels of violence has become increasingly narrow . For example, in Colombia and now in Mexico narco-organizations publicly accept their responsibility for narco-executions (violent acts).
At this juncture the diverse perceptions of these violent acts are crucial; violent conflicts between different parties (“them”) -different gangs or groups- are not perceived as such. If narco-organizations are killing themselves it is “fine”, they chose to be part of the business. But if the violence affects civilians or any other perceived “us”, we remember, we take action, we react. Furthermore, the violence goes ignored as long as the reported violence levels are low.
“The violence is so pervasive in Mexico, so constant, that only the most egregious episodes remain in the memory. Like last year´s massacre of 15 teenagers at a Juarez party by narcos who mistook them for rivals. Or the eight people killed in 2008, when thugs tossed grenades into a crowd celebrating Mexico’s Independence Day in western Michoacan, President Felipe Calderon’s home state. Or what happened in 2009 after Mexican marines killed drug lord Arturo Beltran Leyva: his gunmen went to southern Tabasco State, to the funeral of a marine killed in the shoot-out, and gunned down the man´s mother and three relatives.” (Padgett 2011)
In addition to the levels of violence, the involved actors are crucial to the perception of violent actions.
“In Colombia targets included politicians, judges and civilians. In Mexico violence is cantered around the main players of drug trafficking but rarely around civilians; the contexts are comparable in the brutality of the committed acts and the tendency of narco-organizations to accept their responsibility with a strategic goal: to intimidate the state or its competitors.” (Duran-Martinez 2011)
Violence within this “nacro-business sector” results from powerful actors trying to achieve political and economic benefits. Those with the power look to maintain the political status that most benefits their individual interests.
“It is evident … that a conflict is always concerned with a distribution of power. Indeed, an exertion of power is prerequisite to the retention of a share in the determination of future relations – as well as for the acquiring or retaining of other benefits perceived as the “reason” for conflict.” (North, Koch, Zinnes 1960)
Taking into account the concept of violence, conflict will never be a solution for violence. Johan Galtung (1969), principal founder of peace and conflict studies, underlines keywords “actual” and “potential” as core elements of violence and its dimensions. He states that, “violence is present when human beings are being influenced so that their actual somatic and mental realizations are below their potential realizations.” If we apply this theory to the problem in question, violence (both physical and mental) is used by both state actors and narco-organizations to keep the public opinion submissive and thus achieve the “recognition” they seek.
Additionally, the gap between the “potential” and the “actual” in the concept of violence is widening. This suggests that in order to make the “potential” a reality, violence must be eliminated from the spectrum. With the current situation of Mexico and Colombia, as well as the internal range of narcotics related violence seen in the United States, the desired situation will only be achieved with lots of difficulties. We need to begin to consider ways to transform violence into a positive tool: perhaps a sense of “outrage” that will open our eyes to the need for a profound change in the current world equilibrium.
By: Juliane Petsch
Social Awares Journalist, London Campus
(This article has been adapted from a larger paper authored by Juliane Petsch, Priscila Zazueta, and Juliana Echeverri.)
Photo Source: Ushbah Abid, HGN Photographer, London Campus
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