I am still trying to develop the exact structure for my final project but have finally honed down on the topic and its breadth.
I am interested in space as a tool to understand the complexities at play in urban environment. Regarding the issue of drug-related violence I am specially interested in addressing the way the built environment manifest the intricacies of interaction between the state, citizens, and what Profr Davis calls ‘violence entrepreneurs’.
In the last 6 years violence has scaled dramatically in certain cities in Mexico, driving the state to try and develop new judicial tools to understand and tackle this issue. At the center of this battle, is a fight for territory, and control of that territory by these three different parties, that are not always differentiated clearly. I wish to understand how activists have defended their territories in this struggle, and the languages and media developed through that struggle.
Within this disentangled conversation is the role of the built environment as an enabler or restrainer of said violence. As Saskia Sassen would call it, the city as technology of war, in this case the war on drugs. The government of Mexico, followed by the local government in Mexico City, have decided to utilize the tool of expropriation as a tool for control of the city, as a way to sistematically tame networks of violence being threaded into the urban environment. This tool of expropriation has a long history and symbolism of state-led intervention and authoritarism that evoque many of the demons of Mexico’s political past, however the violence and urgency of the so-called ‘war on drugs’ has led them to approve a new law, based on expropriation, where the citizen is no longer ‘presumed innocent’, where a space of crime can be immediately seized, regardless of the ‘criminality’ of its proprietor. This creates a discretionary tool for the state that could potentially affect the rights of thousands of citizens, and the implications of said tool are not being articulated clearly. The thin line between citizen and criminal becomes non-existant, and therefore the right to the city, the right to the citizen to claim a voice and stand for its beliefs becomes increasingly and sistematically weakend.
The first major case where expropriation was used on this regard is specially relevant. It is the case of La Fortaleza in Tepito, where major Marcelo Ebrard expropriated a housing complex that had been developed during the state-led intervention after the 1985 earthquake. This housing estate had allegedly been a critical point for street-level drug retailing and a hub of its distribution network, responsible for close to 10% of the drugs being sold in the city. The expropriation not only generated a lot of uproar and a claim of Rights Violations n the Human Rights Comision (CDHDF) but is also the first symbolic confrontation between the state and one of the most emblematic, vigorous and resilient populations in the city, the tepiteños. The case started in 2006 and closed in 2011 provided a great understanding of how the relationships at play are manifested through diverse media. From Signs and Boards, to street protests, murals and songs, the Tepiteños reacted fiercely. At the same time the trajectory of this confrontation was documented by the media and citizen journalists in very diverse manners and with many different tools. The case is complex and multilayered, and I believe can provide a great case with which to study this issue. I am interested in exploring this for the next few weeks, and documenting its layers, actors and histories, drawing a narrative of citizen resistance and state-led intervention in the same territory from 1985 to the present. At the same time I made a formal request to the Attorney General to find out a list of the 128 other properties that have been seized since then, although I am not quite sure how much time they may take on giving me this information.
I am still not sure if I will be able to link both sets of information for this particular project, however both are furthering my research towards understanding the spaces of violence in Mexico city and traces citizens/criminals/state are threading through it, creating peels and layers that adhere to the history of those spaces, and describe a particular moment while completely transforming it. What Weizman would call, ‘the archaeology of the present’.