El Chapo: A Social Order of His Own

In the last week of February, Mexican marines captured Joaquin ‘El Chapo’ Guzman, international drug lord and, apparently, a local hero. Over 1000 people have protested his imprisonment with signs that read ‘We love Chapo’, ‘We want Chapo free’, and other such slogans. Investigators have deduced, from the testimony of many protesters, that Guzman’s friends and family are almost certainly paying people to take part in this uproar. However, I think it is worth pending your belief of that fact, as it would be in the best interest of these investigators to downplay any actual sympathy for Guzman that exists in the community. They’ve claimed that sums of 700 pesos are being offered to potential protesters, amounting to approximately 50-55 U.S. Dollars. Over 200 of these ‘activists’ have been detained, so it is not a bounty that comes without considerable risk. Perhaps Marx would look directly at poverty and desperation in the community as an explanation for why people were willing to accept these risks, but I feel like Durkheim might have looked less at the reward and more at the social function of the movement, the feeling that people are getting by participating in this event that flies in the face of the Mexican government. Why might people feel a compulsion to support Guzman, beyond the guarantee of cash?

El Chapo grew up poor in a rural community in La Tuna, Badiraguato, Sinaloa, Mexico. He reportedly dropped out of school in 3rd grade to work with his father and was known to be abused at home. As he got older, he was an accessory to his father’s petty crimes and watched him spend most of their earnings on liquor and women. At age 15, he cultivated his own marijuana plants with his distant cousins and at 20, he left his home town and aligned with organized criminals through his uncle’s connections. After unprecedented acceleration in his drug dealing syndicate, he was imprisoned in 1993, to escape in 2001 with the aid of prison guards he had paid off. His ability to rise above the law on countless others occasions has been credited to bribery aimed at government officials in Mexico. 69% of Mexicans believe this billionaire has been propped up by corrupt members of the Mexican government.

A Boston-based company called Jana conducted a survey that said that 44% of Mexicans believe El Chapo should be extradited to America for trial, as he would face drug trafficking charges that would almost certainly stick. So, it can be said that many people in Mexico are fully aware of the fact that a man who is responsible for countless drug-related murders needs to face justice. But there is still an enormous mistrust of the government among the Mexican people because of the effectiveness of Guzman’s bribery. For people to have enough faith in the social order to support the prosecution of criminals, they need to believe that the government is not itself guilty of failing to apprehend individuals simply because they are wealthy and powerful. I think we can agree, too, that this is not only an issue in Mexico.

In this country, many subcultures exist in defiance of the law. This is not simply because of disagreement with the laws that are put forward by the government, but it is often a recognition of the contradictions that exist between the rules that the common rabble are forced to follow and the rules that the ruling class follow, which seem to constantly shift to support their whims. I believe these protests to release El Chaps are as much motivated by money as they are by a dissatisfaction with the current administration.

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3 thoughts on “El Chapo: A Social Order of His Own

  1. I’m inclined to look at poor people protesting in favor of El Chapo as motivated primarily by being poor. Being paid to go out and protest could seem pretty appealing if you’re impoverished, especially if you have no steady work (I’m not sure what the situation of the protesters in general is).

    I suppose that’s a materialist explanation? Ideology taking a back seat to the need for subsistence via acquisition of cash. There’s an argument to be made that people might be associating themselves with El Chapo because they seem themselves as someone like he was, and see him as someone they might become. Maybe that’s some of Marx’s false consciousness. But, assuming they are being paid to protest, I think there’d be a lot fewer people involved if it was motivated simply by their own ideology.

  2. Not only identifying with El Chapo, but also seeing him as hope. Given the structural barriers to upward social mobility these poor people face, he’s the one example of getting out. In fact, he’s quite a skilled and hard-working entrepreneur, but without access to legal capital – so the drugs business, although high risk, provides a quite rational means of increasing wealth.
    Given that he can be seen as a hero, a model, a beacon of hope that some people WILL get out of poverty – why not take money for protesting? It’s a kind of balanced reciprocity, perhaps.
    So – is it Marxian false consciousness? Strangely enough, the capitalists of the US would go right along with Marx in calling it false consciousness.
    OR is it part of a total integrated system. Hmmmm, how can we make sense of it in Durkheimian terms? I don’t think Durkheim has a lot to offer here, except maybe in terms of ‘social facts,’ which are coercive (so the system, no matter how economically broken, brings conformity to local norms and values?).
    And Weber, of course – he’d look at the narrative and take it at face value, and explain their own explanations of themselves. If we were Weberian, we’d just go interview the people protesting.

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