Op-Ed: White Gold: What AMLO’s Lithium Policy Reveals About Mexican Politics

Photo Credit: The White House

By Manuel Aguilera-Prieto
Staff Writer 

On April 20, the Senate of Mexico passed a new Mining Law nationalizing all lithium reserves in Mexico. This decision will have severe ramifications for the Mexican economy given lithium’s growing global demand. Consistent with the policy platform of President López Obrador, the Mining Law reveals the myopic underpinnings of his nationalist and anti-democratic administration. 

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Op-Ed: French Failures: A Warning to the Left Worldwide

Photo credit: Pierre-Selim Huard 

By Matthew Risley
Staff Writer

On Sunday, April 24th, French voters re-elected Emmanuel Macron for another five-year presidential term. For the second straight election, he defeated his far-right opponent Marine Le Pen, becoming the first president re-elected in France since Jacques Chirac in 2002. Running on a platform of centrist rhetoric, Macron won by a significant margin, even though the gap between him and Le Pen closed to 15.2%, demonstrating the waning appeal of the status quo in France. The French left missed out on a brilliant opportunity to publicize its positions and potentially take power, squandering the chance due to its inability to cooperate—a lesson for left-wing parties around the world. 

Extremist candidates—Eric Zemmour and Le Pen of the Far Right and Jean-Luc Mélenchon of the Far Left—received a majority of the vote during the first round of the election, taking 52.3%. Valérie Pécresse, who represented the center-right party of Les Republicains (The Republicans), received only 4.8% of the vote, despite polling at 12% percent in early March. This stands in stark contrast to the first round vote in 2017, where François Fillon, the representative for Les Republicains, received 20% of the vote, only missing out on the second round of voting by 1.3%.  

Mélenchon failed to reach the second round by a mere 1.2%, which could have certainly materialized if the other left-wing parties had dropped out and endorsed his campaign. Anne Hidalgo of the Parti Socialiste (Socialist Party) received only 1.8% of the vote, the lowest ever for a candidate for the Socialist Party and an abysmal performance compared to the 28.6% won in 2012. Yannick Jadot received 4.6% of the vote for the Europe Écologie Les Verts (The Green Party). Meanwhile, three other parties—Parti Communiste Français (French Communist Party), Nouveau Parti Anticapitaliste (New Anti-Capitalists), Lutte Ouvrière (Workers’ Struggle)—combined for only 3.7% of the vote. 

Taken individually these numbers are meager, yet when combined, the candidates on the left earned a significant 32.1% of the vote. In fact, it is surprisingly higher than Macron’s 27.8%. If only half of the voters from these five left-wing parties had voted for Mélenchon, he would have moved onto the second round of voting in place of Le Pen. Yet, in lieu of uniting to endorse Mélenchon—or even simply withdrawing and letting the voters decide—the left ran four separate campaigns with 0% chance of advancing to the second round.

Of course, not all the voters from these parties would have voted for Mélenchon if the field had been vacated, but he only needed an additional 1.3 percentage points in order to qualify for the second round of voting. This also would not have guaranteed Mélenchon a second round run-off victory—in fact, he would have most likely lost—yet, simply forcing Macron to face a left-wing candidate, rather than a far-right candidate, would be a victory for the French left. The strength of the left would have proved more pressing than that of the right, and this certainly would have shifted Macron’s policy pursuits. 

Nonetheless, this election demonstrates the eroding appeal of the status quo for French voters. The massive rise in support for radical political parties unequivocally points towards discontent with France’s neoliberal, pro-EU stance. Even in defeat, Le Pen has won her own battle: her right-wing platform has been established as a serious threat to the political center. It is clear that many of Macron’s votes come from unhappy voters who would have strategically picked any candidate other than Le Pen, although far from their first choice.

To an extent, the left has realized its error since the election. A new coalition—the Nouvelle Union Populaire écologique et sociale (New People’s Ecologic and Social Union)—is forming, attempting to deny Macron a Parliamentary majority. Macron has rebranded his party the Renaissance, hoping to ally with the center-right to combat this newfound threat. The union under Mélenchon is commendable; the combined force of the left in France is significant, and Macron’s maneuvers demonstrate his fear and betray the confidence he publicly projects. Fracturing Macron’s power with a win in Parliament would mark an incredible accomplishment for a coalition that seemed unlikely to materialize only a few weeks ago. Though it remains to be seen if it will do so, this coalition is the perfect vehicle for the left to win. 

Although comparisons to the United States’ contemporary political battle are loose, the American left can learn from this election. The inability of French left-wing elements to cooperate during the presidential election remains a warning for the American left as well as other left-wing parties around the world. However, their speedy commitment to a coalition and seeming ability to unite for the purposes of a Parliamentary majority should give their counterparts in the United States and elsewhere good reason to think that they too can reconcile differences to avoid electoral defeat at the hands of their ideological opponents.

Despite the limiting nature of the U.S. political system and culture, one rule transcends borders in truth: you must take power in order to enact the change you wish to see. Ideological concessions are an unfortunate necessity in politics. The New People’s Ecologic and Social Union is an excellent response to the situation, and an exemplary display of leftist unity that will hopefully set an example for leftist parties worldwide going forward. 

Op-Ed: Fentanyl as a WMD

Photo Credit: Province of British Columbia 

By Yan Graf
Staff Writer

In April 2021, as the United States was focused on dealing with the Delta wave of COVID-19, a drug advocacy group calling themselves “Families against Fentanyl” quietly submitted a letter to President Joe Biden with one demand: to label fentanyl, a powerful synthetic opioid, a weapon of mass destruction (WMD). 

While fentanyl’s deadly nature and its prominent role in the ongoing opioid epidemic is well documented, asking for the substance to be put on the same level as nuclear weapons and anthrax still seems like a reach to some. After all, unlike heroin or crack cocaine, fentanyl isn’t solely used as a narcotic. Fentanyl has legitimate medical uses and can be found in most hospitals around the country. The drug is even on the World Health Organization’s list of essential medicines—a list that forms the basis for how healthcare providers around the world stock medications and treat patients. Even with fentanyl listed as one of the WHO’s essential medicines, the push to label it a WMD has gained significant traction. 

Following the letter from Families against Fentanyl, a slew of high-profile defense officials have thrown their support to the movement, including former Department of Homeland Security Secretary John Ridge and former CIA Director John Brennan. Their concerns are wholly valid. Not only is fentanyl a deadly narcotic but its incredible potency, availability, and potential for weaponization therefore make it a top national security concern.

Used as a narcotic, fentanyl’s capability for mass destruction is incredible. The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has obscured the exacerbation of the opioid pandemic, which has seen drug overdoses become the number one cause of death in Americans under 50 years old. Of the 100,000 drug overdose deaths, 75,000 were opioid-related. Opioids killed three times as many Americans as murder and almost twice as many people as car crashes

Photo Credit: OverHook

While data on the specific breakdown of opioids involved in these 75,000 deaths is unavailable, the CDC and the Harvard School of Public Health both note fentanyl has been the main malefactor in this unprecedented rise.

The alarming number of overdoses fentanyl causes is largely due to its very high potency; a lethal dose is on average only 2 milligrams of the substance. Because of this, fentanyl is easy and highly lucrative to smuggle. Drug dealers, cartels, and other criminal factions can easily transport fentanyl in smaller quantities, which then is used as a cheap substitute for other more popular drugs like heroin and OxyContin. In 2021, U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) seized over 11,000 pounds of fentanyl, a 133% increase over seizures in 2020. Some regions, including south Texas, have seen fentanyl seizures increase by over 1000%. The 11,000 pounds authorities seized in 2021 contains enough lethal doses to kill nearly 2.5 billion people, roughly 7.5 times the entire population of the United States and roughly 30% of the world’s population. These figures only include the fentanyl that CBP has managed to seize. Fentanyl’s ability to be profitably smuggled in tiny amounts means border seizures likely represent only a drop in the bucket of smuggled fentanyl compared to the total amount entering the United States.

What makes fentanyl particularly difficult to crackdown on is the inevitably low cost and easy production. Fentanyl is usually produced in small underground labs and workshops, often in countries where precursor ingredients are easy to obtain. Most fentanyl entering the United States comes from either China or Mexico, where labor, ingredients, and production space more easily converge. A meta-analysis of dark web drug listings performed by the Australian Institute of Criminology found that a gram of fentanyl cost an average of $98 Australian dollars or about $71 USD. Factoring in bulk prices, the Southern District of California’s attorney’s office has estimated that major criminal organizations pay only $32,000 to produce one kilogram of fentanyl. Furthermore, the Southern District estimated such a kilogram to have a street value of over $20 million once converted to pill form, and the potential to kill over 500,000 people. With such profit margins, it’s easy to see why fentanyl has become a drug of choice for major crime syndicates. 

While fentanyl is extremely deadly, many argue it cannot be classified as a WMD since it cannot be used as a weapon. Those who die of fentanyl overdoses generally do so after volunarily ingesting the drug, meaning those who do not take drugs should be safe. Unfortunately, not only can fentanyl be made into lethal weapons, but it already has been used on people with deadly efficiency. Given its chemical properties, it can easily be made into an aerosol. Anyone who inhaled fentanyl-laced air could suffer an overdose as a result. This is not just speculation, as fentanyl aerosols have been used in the past as weapons. The most prominent example was in 2002 when a group of Islamist separatists stormed a theatre in downtown Moscow and took 850 spectators hostage. Russian Spetsnaz, or special forces, decided to disarm the terrorists by pumping an unknown gas into the building’s ventilation system before entry. The gas ended up lifting the siege, killing all 40 insurgents, but not before also taking the lives of 130 hostages. While the exact contents of the gas have never been published, many experts agree that it was likely an aerosol made with carfentanil—a derivative of fentanyl nearly 100 times stronger than fentanyl itself. The Moscow theater hostage crisis proves not only that fentanyl-based chemical weapons exist, but also that they can be used effectively to unwittingly sedate and kill hundreds of people. Following the Moscow hostage crisis, carfentanil was placed on the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) list of banned chemical warfare agents

Fentanyl is ubiquitous, cheap to produce, easy to transport and monetize, and can also be made into incredibly potent and deadly weapons. It is time that the Biden administration recognizes the incredible security threat this drug poses. The fact that the United States was willing to spend trillions of dollars tracking down WMDs that never existed in Iraq, but wavers while billions of doses of chemical weapons permeate its borders is a testament to how misplaced government priorities are when it comes to opioids like fentanyl. Fentanyl’s paradox of lethality and medicinal legitimacy makes crafting policy solutions difficult and precarious for institutions that have historically been outmatched in the war on drugs—this should not prevent them from trying.