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Send in the marines?

13 May 2007

I don’t highlight EVERY story that appears out of Mexico. I don’t see much point in posting something that’s in every newspaper, and on every website around, unless there’s something left unsaid (like my posts on the Canadian tourists, or the spin campaign during the last Presidential election). The “Narco Wars” are fairly well covered elsewhere. Other than reminding people that this doesn’t affect their foreign vacation, or really much of their daily life (unless they’re using or selling illicit drugs), there doesn’t seem much point in highlighting every attack on every narco, or every narco attack on every police unit.

What is noteworthy is the growing worry about attacks on the military. Or, rather, the government’s response to the attacks.

Lawrence Iliff of the Dallas Morning News, who is one of the best foreign journalists (if not the best) wrote on the military attacks (link to Miami Herald)

The slew of recent attacks by drug squads against soldiers ”is sending a message: Get in our way and you’re going to die,” said Roderic Ai Camp, a professor of government at Claremont McKenna College in Claremont, Calif., and an expert on the Mexican military.

Calderón has said that Mexico will win the drug fight because it must, and his crackdown on traffickers has helped him earn a hefty 68 percent approval rating, according to an opinion poll last month in the Mexico City newspaper El Universal.

But there are risks for Calderón, analysts say. With its aggressive response, the military is facing accusations of human rights violations. And there is a fear that the army could eventually lose the fight or become corrupted by drug lords.

 

The drug dealers have an almost unlimited supply of cash and weapons at this point (coming in from the United States). The Mexican military is not bad, and enjoys a high level of respect within the country, but there are huge problems with using military units as policemen.

 

Iliff was reporting on a new, “elite” anti-drug squad within the military. This was announced in response to an attack on a naval commander, and the death of a marine. It seems like a rushed solution and not something that’s gone through military planners, and worry that any solution will be thrown together from something laid out for dealing with domestic terrorism or civil unrest… in other words, martial law or a “suspension of liberties” (something allowed by the Constitution during foreign invasions or natural disasters).

 

That isn’t just some gringo’s preoccupation…The same Blogotitlan article I quoted in my Marcos post dealt with the “respectable” support among Mexico’s version of the neo-cons for just such a “solution.” Living in the U.S., I’ve learned to pay attention to what those who have the President’s ear suggest (if we had paid attention, we might have avoided the Mess O’Potania) and not what the President’s men poo-poo. And, in Mexico, the academics and theorists are more likely to be listened to, the country being more open to “public intellectuals” than we are. Fred Rosen, of the Mexico City Herald, also noticed that Calderón’s militaristic tendencies were worrisome.

 

 

Where the military has been used to “restore order” there have been credible reports of human rights abuses and, in the case of a Veracruz woman’s rape, serious crimes blamed on the military. The military worked very hard to restore the people’s trust after being used in the late 1960s and early 70s to put down urban unrest, and military officers since then have bent over backwards to avoid being used for political purposes. The good reputation the Mexican military enjoys is due to their efficient disaster relief, public health and environmental protection duties. Not their police work. Given that most soldiers are draftees or (like in the U.S.) from poor families, there’s a real danger that soldiers might refuse to take on the people. So would a lot of officers. (I‘ve written about the Mexican citizen-soldier before)

 

If you notice, most civil unrest is put down by either State Police (as in the Texcoco Flower War) or federal police units (though soldiers – from elsewhere in the country – were also used in Oaxaxa). Even in Oaxaca, the Navy was mostly used for transport and supply, not doing the dirty work. Foreigners in Oaxaca were struck that the soliders in the streets were mostly kids, and mostly just there to keep order, not to put down the protests.

 

Secondly, Mexico already has para-military police. The whole point of replacing the old Federales with the Policia Nacional and the Policia Judicial Federal was to get rid of corruption and put professionals under military control. The PNP officers come from the military academies and are supposedly professionals. I haven’t heard any suggestion that they just be better armed and trained. And, in the Federal District (that hotbed of socialist experimentation these days) the old fashioned approach of following the money trail, cracking down on laundering and gun running has been paying off handsomely, as in the meth lab seizure. And has been cleaning up its police department by just making basic reforms like prosecuting corrupt cops, paying a living wage and upping the physical and educational requirements. Marcelo Ebrard made his bones as a political figure by bringing his unlikely background as a social worker to Mexico City’s police commissioner. If you remember, when the Fox Administration tried to discredit the DF police, it backfired horribly.

 

If more training and resources are needed (and they are), it’s the police, not the army, navy, air force that need the assistance. By going for a NEW military unit, Calderón is undercutting his democratic credentials and raising more suspicions that his goals are less control of a rather uncontrolled industry than of cracking down on the 2/3rds of Mexicans that rejected his party and their goals at the ballot box.

 

 

The Mexican police aren’t the only ones needing better equipment and operating expenses. Unfortunately, the Mex Files doesn’t take bribes, though I may seriously have to think about it.

One Comment leave one →
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