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¡Justicia, justicia!

11 April 2008

That was the headline in yestday morning’s el Debate de Mazatlán. Reports vary on the number of protests, but somewhere between 1500 and 3000 people blocked traffic in front of the local military base to protest the March 26 shooting of four teenagers in the rural community of  Santiago de los Caballeros, Badiraguato Municipio.

The kids were driving a Hummer, which is also the vehicle of choice for our local narcotraficantes, and maybe driving a Hummer should be a crime, but it’s not a capital offense.  A few of our more clueless foreigners — fearing narcos more than the army — have tried that particular spin, much as outsiders tried to blame the shooting of Ezikiel Hernandez back in Presidio County on his rabbit gun.  Local criminals tend to act like the rest of the locals.  In West Texas a lot of people carry their guns when out in the desert.  In rural Sinaloa, a lot of folks drive big vehicles.

At any rate, El Debate hints that the buses transporting the protesters MAY have been paid for by narcos.  I don’t think so, but even if true, so what?  The people themselves were protesting, and killing teenagers (other, more sympathetic sources say the boys were at a roadside refreshment stand planning a party) doesn’t go over well with most people.

Yes, the narcos need to be brought to justice.  But, having just left the only part of the United States where we civilians had to fear our own army, I know that “mistakes happen”  when governments turn to a military solution to a civilian problem.

Of course there is the argument that the local police are hopeless against the better armed narcos.  But then, we civilians are helpless against both of them.  And the Mexican soldier, like any other soldier, is trained to protect him or herself first.  Soldiers are not judges — nor juries, nor executioners.  It’s unfair to the soldiers (who will probably take the fall for this latest “massacre” — as even el Debate calls it)… it’s the obvious result of using military force against civilians.

I’m generally sympathetic to the Mexican soldier, and generally think the Mexican Army is competent.  The officers that I’ve spoken with don’t want to be policemen.  They aren’t trained for that job, and a policeman’s mindset has to be different than a soldier’s.  There is some synergy, and it’s popular to use a military model for police work (think of how popular “SWAT Teams” have become in the U.S., let alone the growing acceptance of paramilitary police like the Border Patrol), but I don’t see this “War on Drug Dealers” as good for the Mexican soldier.  They are going to make horrible mistakes (if it was a mistake) or be tempted to make horrible decisions (if it was deliberate) that alienate the military from the rest of society.  And, in a country like Mexico, where the Army has been considered popular and democratic, this can be a disaster.

¡Justicia, justicia! not just for these kids, but for the Army as well, requires a better way to deal with the narcos.

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