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Plan Merida: lose-lose for U.S. and Mexico

25 November 2009

Mexico is the United States’ closest Latin American neighbor and yet most U.S. citizens receive little reliable information about what is happening within the country. Instead, Mexico and Mexicans are often demonized in the U.S. press. The single biggest reason for this is the way that the entire binational relationship has been recast in terms of security over the past few years.

From a neighbor and a trade partner, Mexico has been portrayed as a threat to U.S. national security. Immigrants are no longer immigrants, but criminals, “removable aliens,” and even potential terrorists. Latinos, mostly Mexicans, are now the largest group of victims of hate crimes in the United States.

Although Mexico-bashing has been a favorite sport of the right for years, this terrible conversion of Mexico, from an ally to a “failed state” and narco-haven in the media and policy circles, began in earnest under the Bush administration and has only intensified since then. The Merida Initiative and the militarization of Mexico are the direct outgrowth of the national security framework imposed on bilateral relations.

So argues Laura Carlsen, as a twenty year veteran of Mexican political analysis, a writer and — most importantly — a Mexican mother. Carlsen notes, as many of us with less time as analysts have also noted, the the so called Plan Merida was neither a Mexican initiative, nor does it involve actually supporting Mexican anti-crime activities with direct funding.

… Plan Mexico—as it was first called—has its roots in the Security and Prosperity Partnership that grew out of the North American Free Trade Agreement. When the regional trade agreement was expanded into a security agreement, the Bush administration sought a means to extend its national security doctrine to its regional trade partners. This meant that both Canada and Mexico were to assume counter-terrorism activities (despite the absence of international terrorism threats in those nations)…

Although U.S. troops cannot operate by law in Mexican territory, the plan significantly increases the presence of U.S. agents and intelligence services, now estimated at 1,400, and of U.S. private security companies throughout Mexico.

The terms of the Merida Initiative sends the full $1.3 billion appropriated so far to U.S. defense, security, information technology and other private-sector firms, and the U.S. government. One hundred percent of the money stays in the United States since the plan prohibits cash payments to Mexico.

In other words, what it does is ensure an expanding market for defense and security contracts, in an undeclared war that has no exit strategy in sight.

Suggesting, as Ms. Carlsen does, that the Mexican drug war was mostly a way of propping up the dubious electoral legitimacy of the Calderón administration may be somewhat an over-simplification, but there is no denying that militarization has been a human rights and social disaster.  Although she still puts faith in the Obama Administration’s willingness to reorient its policies towards Mexico and Latin America (which I tend to doubt will happen) she makes a couple salient points U.S. citizens and policymakers need to heed:

Militarization is not the way to deal with Mexico’s political crisis and infusing government money into industries based on blood is not the way to deal with the U.S. economic crisis.

Mexico should be a U.S. priority. But providing exclusively security-focused equipment and training to Mexico is like pouring gas on a fire.

Citizens in both countries stand to lose by viewing the complex binational relationship through the reductionist lens of national security. Critical issues have fallen from the agenda or receive merely lip service. Among them: trans-border livelihoods in the world’s most integrated borderlands, immigration, regional environmental threats, trade, and a sustainable energy future.

We must return the U.S.-Mexico relationship to the simple equation that a healthy neighbor equals better trade, security, and cultural relations.

Her entire article (which should be required reading for anyone living in Mexico, anyone concerned with Mexican issues, or paying taxes in the United States) , “Perils of Plan Mexico: Going Beyond Security to Strengthen U.S.-Mexico Relations“, is at the Council for International Polciy Americas’ Program website. still on the web (as of 03-06-2012) at ZNet.

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