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The same thing and expecting different results

17 April 2009

Although Barack Obama is personally popular with the Mexican people,  he wasn’t hearing from many of them, nor from a very wide segment of Mexican opinion makers.

The “ new era of cooperation and partnership” which Obama spoke about yesterday in Mexico City is nothing new… the cooperation and partnership having more to do with continued support for a militarized solution to the narcotics trade problem, and lukewarm rhetorical support for cooperation in a  few shared concerns — migration, cross border trucking and global warming — than about any real cooperation and partnership.

Admitting openly that meaningful control of the arms trade is practically impossible for the United States, its doubtful more export controls will really dent the traffic.  At the same time, Obama spoke of more military assistance for the “war on drugs” , but is not hearing from those who question the premise of militarizing the anti-narcotics drive.

Launching the drug war was a “smart, though short-sighted, political move that turned out to be a national security blunder [Calderón’s] administration has been trying to recover from ever since,” former Foreign Relations Secretary Jorge Castañeda wrote this week.

More than a national security “blunder”, it’s been a human rights disaster, according to many:

… there’s the alternative to the Army: the police. Mexico’s municipal police forces have long been tarred as corrupt, inefficient and underfunded. Last year, more than 750 police in 16 states were arrested, many of them for alleged links to organized crime. In cities like Juárez, Tijuana and Culiacán, police departments have been taken over by the military in order to clean out the so-called bad apples. But there are a lot of those: According to a 2008 evaluation by the Public Security Secretariat, or SSP, nearly 50 percent of police in Mexico were found to be “not recommendable” for active duty.

And yet, the federal government increased security budgets to local governments by 15 percent this year.

Of course, it’s not Obama’s fault that the “drug war” is being treated as a “war” and not a police issue, and that police reforms are being short-changed in return for the “mano duro” approach taken by the Calderon Administration, but it is counterproductive for Obama to think more support for this one policy opens a “new era of cooperation”.

If Obama had been serious about climate change, he should have at least met with Marcelo Ebrard, the head of the Federal District .  Admittedly, Obama’s visit was a short one, but Ebrard is the head of government for a much larger population than most heads of state in the Americas, and the Federal District is one of the few political entities in the Americas that have taken concrete measures to undo the effects of climate change.  And, what is being said by leaders like  Ebrard (my translation) —

Ideas that were dismissed as populist, dangerous, misguided, or wrong-headed in the eyes of others are now being implemented in the United States, Latin America and Europe.

One of those whose ideas have been dismissed as populist and dangerous, and won’t be meeting with Obama, at least sent him a letter.  My translation is from an article by Francisco Reséndiz in Thursday’s El Universal:

Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador warned President Barack Obama that the social movement he heads will not permit any “joint operation” between Mexico and the United States which would only lead to a renewed state of siege and a systematic violation of human rights.

In a letter delivered today to the American President, Lopez Obrador asserted that border walls, immigration raids, militarization, the threat of a “hard hand” and continued propaganda attacks have had their effect, but do nothing to resolve immigration problems.

The former presidential candidate stressed that migration and insecurity have political, economic and social causes, and “it is an error to confront them solely with coercive measures, and to treat the issue as a cops and robbers issue.”.

He noted that the United States president was coming to the country at a particularly bad moment, when the majority of people were suffering from poverty, underemployment and insecurity.

“These evils, President Obama, have been caused by a group that seized the State to impose a policy, plundering the people to the detriment of public interest”, Lopez Obrador wrote.

He blamed Carlos Salinas for public companies, banks and other public services and turning them over to Salinas’ allies, which has allowed “these people not only to continue accumulating wealth such as not been seen in any other part of the world, but to use that wealth to become a dominant elite effectively overriding constitutional norms”.

He said that the Mexican policy of fostering economic development and job creation has been abandoned; rural production left without support; and the energy sector purposely neglected to cause its financial difficulties and justify privatizing the power generation and the oil industry.

“The result of this vandalism and this absurd policy is lamentable: our extraordinary people have been condemned to survival or exile. For our youth, it has meant the cancellation of their future – they have neither the opportunity to work, nor to study

“There is no longer social mobility in this country. Those who want to get ahead have no choice but emigration or anti-social conduct. Millions of Mexican live without hope, ill, and lacking social security”, Lopez Obrador expounds in the letter.

However, Lopez Obrador’s missive makes it clear that “this tragedy does not imply a request for intervention in issues which Mexicans must resolve though the free exercise of their liberties and sovereign rights as a people.

“Fortunately, in this country, there is a strong, pacific and determined citizen movement seeking to overthrow the oligarchy and return power to the people and restore democratic values.”

The letter, which Lopez Obrador signed as the “Legitimate President of Mexico” concluded:

“Hopefully you will have the virtue and the wisdom of that great statesman who faced similar circumstances, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, who sought to return hope to his own people, and to apply a good neighbor policy to the nations of Latin America and Caribbean, and in particular with Mexico”.


We have nothing to fear, but the same-old, same-old. Hope for change is not enough.

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