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And it’s one, two three… what are we fighting for?

23 July 2010

Don’t ask me, I don’t give a damn,

Next stop is Culiacán…

I haven’t weighed in on the GAO report “MÉRIDA INITIATIVE:  The United States Has Provided Counternarcotics and Anticrime Support but Needs Better Performance Measures” (pdf), nor on the numerous media analyses and various spins put on the report because what it says isn’t all that enlightening and should have been obvious a long time ago:  the exercise was ill-conceived as an anti-narcotics measure, and is spending a lot of money attacking a symptom  and not the disease — which is a problem for the United States.

What is not talked about is that “Merida” is part of a trend towards financing the militarization of other countries (not just Mexico) — something mentioned obliquely by Joshua Kurlanzic and Shelby Leighton (Council on Foreign Relations), in the Boston Globe, who  used Mexico as a springboard to discuss this disturbing world-wide trend:

Mexico’s political system has also gone backwards in one key area: the role of its military. As the Latin American drug trade has blossomed and its neighbors have become less stable, the military has stepped in, and used its leverage to control an ever-widening sphere of the civilian political system.

In several Mexican states, in fact, the military essentially commands the area, dominating law enforcement and other civilian institutions. The Mexican armed forces now contain nearly 260,000 troops, an enormous leap from just 150,000 men in uniform in 1990. Military personnel now occupy hundreds of positions traditionally held by civilian personnel, especially those in law enforcement. “The military is becoming the supreme authority — in some cases the only authority — in parts of some states,” Mexican political analyst Denise Dresser told the Senate Judiciary Committee last year.

The Mexican military’s quiet power grab is emblematic of a new and disturbing trend throughout the developing world…

The authors’ area of expertise is Asia, and I question some of their interpretations of Mexican history, but that’s not my focus here (nor what I’m quoting from a worthwhile article).   I also have a problem with the idea that Mexico is a “developing” country (its been an industrial nation for the last century, and has a several millenia old urban culture, hardly “undeveloped), but I’m more concerned with the presumption that militarization is only a problem in the “developing” world.

And it’s five, six, seven… open up the pearly gates…

Well, it ain’t no time to wonder why…

It’s not Mexico that spends half its national budget on “security”, although the present administration is stinting in necessary spending in other areas.  It is, however, Mexico — and countries like Mexico that receive “stimulus packages” from the United States to buy arms, and “security advisers” from the United States, where the military presence is most noticeable, and where the problems are the most visible.

Today, the president-elect (or select?) of Colombia — which, despite (or thanks to) massive U.S. “drug war” funding is exporting MORE cocaine and has a murder rate that makes Juarez look like Mayberry, offered to “share Colombia’s experiences” with Mexico in fighting the drug war.  Presumably, that includes how not to get caught killing innocent people for fun and profit, how to threaten judges and journalists, and generically justify human rights violations.

Even civilian policing takes on military overtones: photo of Oaxaca police from Chihuahua Resiste

The supposed “developing nations” militarization — in this quarter of the planet, at any rate — is largely in response to those “drug war” purchases.  Brazil and Venezuela beefed up their forces in response not just to the Colombian build-up, but to the placement of “undeveloping” United States military installations in Colombia and the Netherlands Antilles.  The Central American Republics, which have striven mightily, but often unsuccessfully, to throw off militarism, are now being asked to turn back the clock as well.  Costa Rica’s red-carpet treatment for the U.S. Navy is only the latest manifestation of a trend that can hardly be laid to the “developing nations”.

At the same time, that United States keeps harping on the “rule of law”, here in Mexico, the “rule of law” is being conveniently short-circuited.  No one seems to care (or care to comment) on the ironic fact that Article 129 of the Mexican Constitution forbids the military from involvement in civil affairs, that even gangsters are entitled to a trial (and they aren’t eligible for the death penalty, which isn’t imposed in this country anyway), and “ley de fuego” supposedly went out with Porfirio Díaz. At that same time that Mexico is urged to reform its judicial system, those reforms are being delayed… again with the excuse that the “drug war” takes priority. Sort of like the U.S. argument that there can be no immigration reform until immigration stops (which is like saying you can’t reform drug laws until people stop using drugs, or implementing prison reform until there are no prisoners).

Rule of law?  The new Secretarío de Gobernacíon was chosen — not for his experience in governance and the nuances of the law (as a whole), but for his expertise in integrating the military into the police forces in his own state is evidence enough that militarism is taking precedence over other fields of law and governmental functioning.

Whoopie, oh boy… beaners are  gonna die!*

So who dies in this “war”? Not a lot of Mexican soldiers, but a lot of Mexican civilians.

A recent poll by Angus Reed found that “half of Americans (49%) believe Mexico deserves most of the blame for being a major supplier of illegal drugs to the U.S. because it has allowed the drug cartels to grow and flourish. ”  Only a third (34%) think the United States “deserves most of the blame for this situation, for having a population that demands illegal drugs.”  I don’t do blame… that’s just the reality of it.

What set off this  rambling post  was the news that Oakland California has decided to “grow its own” … fine by me, and none of my concern, but — if government units in the United States are going into the narcotics trade for themselves, while other government units are militarizing large sections of the country supposedly in response to the “threat” of the narcotics trade (why not send the National Guard into Oakland?) it’s not exactly the right time for them to complain about our militarization, while complaining not enough is being spent,  (so the Senate is sending us more!) AND yet anther government agency carps that no one seems to know what the rationale of the whole exercise is about… is more than galling.  It’s asking people to die here, to give up their rights, to submit to militarization … for an undeveloped unknown reason.

* Apologies to the one and only Country Joe Mc Donald and the Fish:

I know this post was more link-heavy than usual, but I was only able to “cherry pick” some of the data available.  For those that like to accuse me of being picking my data to fit preconceived notions … this is just what’s recent on the internet (which is not everything on the subject by any means), here’s their assigned reading for the weekend:

Militarizing the Mexican customs service

Glenn Greenwald on “The Secret Washington”

Council on Hemispheric Affairs on the  narcotics trade in the Caribbean

More — and more lethal — weapons for Mexico City police

Militarizing politics, police and society: Honduras today

Details on delivered and pending Merida Initiative equipment and training

Narcos killing politicos in Peru (just for a change from Mexico)

Colombia’s secret police and Uribe’s legacy

Soldiers cover up murder of civilians (Baja California)

“Plan Colombia. Ten Years Later”

Adam Isacson (Senior Associate for Regional Security Policy, Washington Office on Latin America), testimony befor the Domestic Policy Subcommittee, Oversight and Government Reform Committee: “International Counternarcotics Policies — Do They Reduce Domestic Consumption or Advance other Foreign Policy Goals?

Problems with the Merida Initiative Says GAO

Mexico’s Military Malpractice (Council on Hemispheric Affairs)

Human rights defenders under threat in Mexico

Is Calderón preparing for “total war” on all protests?

14 Comments leave one →
  1. 23 July 2010 6:22 am

    has a murder rate that makes Juarez look like Mayberry,

    You probably want to check your source there. That website uses very old data. That murder data is from 2002, when Colombia did make Juarez look like Mayberry. Try using the 2009 or 2010 data. In terms of violent crime, Colombia has improved significantly since then and is far safer than Juarez.

  2. Frank permalink
    23 July 2010 7:55 am

    Boz,

    The data is actually from eearlier. The author needs to get his fact straighy.

    “SOURCE: Seventh United Nations Survey of Crime Trends and Operations of Criminal Justice Systems, covering the period 1998 – 2000 (United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, Centre for International Crime Prevention) ”

  3. 23 July 2010 10:36 am

    It’s comforting to know that Plan Merida might get Juárez down to a Bogota-level murder rate by 2022, then.

  4. 23 July 2010 11:08 am

    Ciudad Juarez is without a doubt a dangerous place, but Frank and Boz are the ones mindlessly swinging statistics around, and for what purpose, can you tell me? Colombia is a COUNTRY with a higher murder rate than Mexico has as a COUNTRY. Crime statistics, in any event, are not reliable either as numbers or as general descriptors of causes of problems and shouldn’t be used to scream out stories with. Here is a link to an excellent article about all of this: http://latintrade.com/2009/11/murder-headlines-and-statistics
    I live in a relatively peaceful, though no, not crime-free, area of Mexico. The stories and statistics about Ciudad Juarez have nothing to do with where I live.

  5. 23 July 2010 12:13 pm

    While it would be nice if Juárez had a murder rate close to that reported for Bogatá, as the capital should be compared to a Mexico City, or, if making demographic comparisons, then to Queretáro. Juárez is hardly a typical Mexican in demographic terms, and perhaps Boz can recommend a community by community comparison of Colombia that would make my statement less hyperbolic. As it is, Mexico is nowhere near as violent as Colombia.

  6. 23 July 2010 3:55 pm

    I was just pointing out that your stats were at least 8 (and perhaps 10) years old. The rates for murder, kidnapping and other violent crime in Colombia have dropped dramatically since then.

    If you want to do a country to country comparison, homicides are still higher in Colombia than Mexico, but that’s mostly because Colombia is still facing an internal conflict. Colombia and Mexico both have far fewer murders per capita than countries like Honduras, El Salvador, Guatemala and Venezuela.

    If you want to get into other crimes, the rates of kidnappings, muggings and other violent crimes are higher in Mexico today than Colombia according to the most recent stats. Kidnappings, in particular, are extremely high in Mexico while Colombia is no longer even in the top 10 (perhaps 20) countries in the world. Countering kidnapping is an excellent example of the sort of area Colombia could help Mexico learn from its experience.

  7. 23 July 2010 4:15 pm

    Boz: You really need to know Mexico better than you do. You need to be able to recognize where problems are and who the victims are, etc. Colombia can’t help Mexico with much. The situations are different in significant ways. Also, I’d really like you to give the sources of your statistics and to explain why we should believe them over othres.

  8. Frank permalink
    23 July 2010 5:12 pm

    I know Mexico is one of the mosty corrupt nations in the world. I have know many people who have had their homes robbed by the police.

    And of course Mexico is infamous for the mordida.

    When millions of mexicans leave the U.S. and return to Mexico of their free will, then we all will know Mexico is making major needed improvements.

  9. 23 July 2010 6:05 pm

    Frank, Colombia has the most internally displaced refugees in the world (more than Iraq), and those that could flee did so years ago. Mexico is hardly the “mosty corrupt” — ranking about the middle even in the “corruption index” prepared by Transparency International.

    Esther — a word in Boz’ defense. He’s a “large picture” guy and — as a tool of the military-industrial complex (and, of course, he knows I mean that in the nicest way) — has access to relatively good “inside the beltway” data sources.

  10. Frank permalink
    23 July 2010 9:01 pm

    I wonder what other corrupt country produces daily video tapes like these?

    http://www.blogdelnarco.com

    What percentage of Mexico’s police are corrupt?

    How many “displaced refugees” from Mexico are living in the U.S.

  11. Maggie permalink
    23 July 2010 9:56 pm

    Oh I know, I know ! My hand is up ! Colombia can teach Mexico how to keep a drug dealer in the highest office of the land, and receive US aid at the same time !!!

    Yea, Country Joe only had a couple of good songs, he just burned out on too many drugs.

    (c;

  12. 27 July 2010 6:23 pm

    I just have to ask, have you seen the WaPo articles on US intelligence? What makes you think Boz and other inside-the-beltway types really have nice, clean data? I mean, really. How can anyone know they’ve got accurate crime statistics anywhere, and how can anyone who generalizes from a city to a pretty big country have a feel for what he’s talking about.

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