Gore Capitalism was first published by a small press in Spain in 2010. That was four years before the disappearance of the 43 students of the Ayotzinapa Normal School in Guerrero. It was before the discovery of mass graves in 31 of Mexico’s 32 states. Before we knew of the government created clandestine graves at Tetelcingo, or the discovery of trucking containers containing 273 bodies.
Many of the tens of thousands of disappeared in Mexico have been disappeared into these graves, slighted away by complicit authorities, dissolved in diesel, or burned in acid. When Gore Capitalism first appeared, some family members of the disappeared in Tijuana were already organized and searching for their loved ones; dozens of family collectives now doing the same throughout the country had yet to organize.
And though it’s just come out in English, it feels like Gore Capitalism’s time is already well past. Reading this text in order to prepare this review made me feel profoundly uncomfortable, in large part because it reproduces many of the same myths about the violence that are propagated by Mexican state forces and the judiciary and repeated ad nauseam by mainstream media.
Now to a brief parentheses, as I try and locate the source of my discomfort. Over the last four years, I have been accompanying a search group, known as Grupo Vida, which is composed of family members of people disappeared in Torreón, in the northern state of Coahuila. Grupo Vida has carried out land searches for human remains every Saturday since January of 2015.
The last time I walked together with Grupo Vida, we went to San Antonio los Altos, which is communal (ejido) land less than an hour outside of Torreón. Silvia Ortíz, the group’s leader, guided the driver to a spot (un punto) she’d obtained through an anonymous tip. Ortíz’s teenage daughter Stephanie was disappeared on the evening of November 5, 2004 as she walked down the street near their home.
Members of the group chat and make jokes as we turn onto a secondary road and then a desert trail. For the uninitiated, it can be difficult to tell anything apart; chaparral bushes are often the only landmarks for miles on end. When we arrived to the spot, the searchers–family members of people who have been disappeared in the context of the drug war–spread out, walking in all directions, looking for traces that could lead them to human remains.
First we found a pile of clothes and shoes. Then bullet casings. A metal drum punched through with holes: firewood on the bottom, cut up body parts and diesel placed on top, the little holes allowed air to flow through the barrel while its contents burned. Once cooled, the bones would be further broken down if there were any large pieces left over. Then, bone fragments, thousands of them, dumped on the surface of the dry earth.
By late afternoon we had gathered over 3,500 human remains, which were photographed and bagged by authorities, who would send them on to Mexico City for genetic testing. By 2018, authorities had returned the remains of 19 people recovered by Grupo Vida to their families. Through their searches, Grupo Vida has shifted the media cycle on enforced disappearance and broken the social stigma around disappearance.
Those stigmas are many, and they are strong. Victims of enforced disappearance are regularly accused of being involved with criminal activity, or, in the case of women, of having left to live with a drug dealer. Family members report receiving threats from authorities when they file the police reports for their disappeared loved one. Others say their own relatives, friends and neighbors stopped talking to them after a disappearance.
So when Valencia discusses the “semiotics of overspecialized violence in gore capitalism as exercised by the Mexican drug cartels,” twice telling readers bodies dissolved in acid were “debtors and enemies” of the cartels (on pages 67 and 163), it stings. In this formulation, there is a certainty: the dead were involved in the drug trade, as were the perpetrators.
In fact, we still don’t know the identities of the more than 300 bodies dissolved by El Pozolero, or the identities of the killers. (People were killed before they were dissolved.) By 2011, family members of people disappeared in Baja California were giving DNA samples and pushing authorities to do genetic testing of the human remains in the lots where El Pozolero was active.
In addition, without knowing the identities of the killers or the dead, declaring that they were members of a drug cartel is speculation that reinforces official discourse. It focuses the responsibility on individuals and drug cartels for carrying out violent crimes when we know state forces are often involved. It also criminalizes victims by suggesting they were involved with the drug trade.
Criminalization, in this war, is a key mechanism through which state and non-state violence is justified in the public sphere. It is a means to designate part of the population as internal enemies or enemy combatants, suggesting they deserved to meet violent ends. The notion of drug cartels dissolving “debtors and enemies” in acid ignores ongoing struggles by family members of the disappeared to find their loved ones, who may or may not have been involved in illicit activity. It also overshadows the role of the state in covering up for these crimes.
Gore Capitalism suggests we consider the killers in Mexico as endriago subjects, “the new ultraviolent, destructive subjects of gore capitalism” (133). We are told “…endriago subjects decide to utilize violence as a tool for empowerment and capital acquisition. Due to a number of factors…the use of direct violence is more and more popular among powerless populations…” (134). The choice was made to keep the Spanish endriago, instead of using its unfortunate translation: fabulous monster.
Valencia’s version supposes that the drug war is one in which villains (cartels and monster subjects) battle state forces (283), which would mean civilians killed or disappeared are akin to collateral damage. Available numbers—as limited as they are–and the voices of those directly impacted by violence tell a different story. This is not to say that the potential for monstrous subjectivities doesn’t exist. But to position this subjectivity as a primary source of violence ignores how state forces are known to carry out the most gruesome crimes. This violence demands an analysis of how institutions promote the use of the kind of extreme, dehumanizing, gore actions at issue in this volume.
It’s clear that Valencia is a brilliant writer and a creative thinker; we would all benefit were she to continue to think through the violence in Mexico in a manner that meaningfully weaves voices and experiences of survivors and victims. Though it is smartly written, expertly translated, and at times captivating–especially in the final chapters on Tijuana and transfeminism–the late appearance of Gore Capitalism as a straight translation of the original is of dubious merit.