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Watchful waiting

6 October 2010

GUADALAJARA–President Felipe Calderón on Monday announced that Mexico will launch three new satellites, not just for security reasons, but to bolster the country’s telecommunications industry and L-band international frequency.

As he inaugurated the Plenipotentiary Conference 2010, Calderón defended the granting of concessions of 1.7 gigahertz and 1.9 gigahertz bands, known as Bid 21, and said that the telecommunications market had been enhanced “without privileges” to certain groups”.

María del Carmen Martínez, The [Mexico City] News (10-05-2010)

In April I wrote about the Mexican space agency’s re-creation and the country’s need for new satellites.  The 1968 Olympics, which led to the political upheavals that changed what is communicated in Mexico also was the beginning of a radical change in HOW Mexico communicated.  The Summer Games demonstrated the practicality of satellite television communications (a Mexican invention, this allowed for the first “live” transmissions of moving pictures) and was essential to the NASA moon landing a year later.

Within Mexico — where the challenging terrain has always made communications difficult — the importance of sending moving images in real time meant it was possible to create truly egalitarian education even in remote areas.  And, with the democratic changes after 1988, to create a modern electoral system with “real-time” voter ID checking.  Of course, beaming television programs — not just the nes, weather and hurricane warnings  — but telenovelas and advertising has had an immense impact on Mexico since the first satellites were launched in the early 1980s.

Unwisely, satellites were seen as one of those government functions ripe for privatization, the predictable results being to minimize the educational and citizenship functions, and maximize the profit-making potentials.  And, promptly started to go broke, requiring government bail-out after bail-out.  In April, Agencia Espacial Mexicana (AEXA) was created to take over “SatMex”, the private company that had taken over the satellite system from the Secretariat of Communications.

While there are some fierce political issues surrounding the consessions granted for new transmission bands (suprisingly, the big television and telephone companies get the best channels, leaving the proposed indigenous and community programs, and educational channels, in the wilderness), there is no question that Mexico needed new satellites.

None of this is really new, but the lead-off in article, quoting Calderón as taking about “national security” is, however, startling.  I’m hard pressed to think of any national security needs for satellites: Mexico doesn’t have any foreign enemies, so what “national security” concerns is Calderón talking about?  I wish I had saved the article from Reforma I saw several years ago, but the gist of it was that Mexico has only three potential foreign invaders… two, Cuba and Guatemala, would be more likely a refugee crisis, rooted in political collapse or civil war in either of those two neighbors, or… at the outside … military invasion from the United States.

Internally, a better communications system would allow police to better coordinate their actions, and it would allow for more efficient court and criminal record keeping, but that would be presented as perhaps “justice” issues and not “national security.”

Not that there aren’t national security issues where satellite overview would be immensely useful… finding where forests are being illegally logged, where water is stolen, where oil lines are breached, and the like are national security concerns (so, to my mind, are providing education and access to public health for the citizens).  But I found it very odd that this was the first thoughts about increased satellite coverage to come out of Calderón’s mouth.

We’ll have to wait to learn more, but I get the sense that “national security” means U.S. national security — tracking Central American migrants crossing the southern border, possibly (as Malcolm Beith once proposed) sending in drone attacks on suspected narco dealers (and likely incinerating a busload of tourists here in Sinaloa) and gathering data for the United States on “unfriendly” (i.e., not cooperating with the “Free for US Trade, A Heavy Price For you” economy — Venezuela, Nicaragua, Cuba, etc.).  I don’t see that as some lefty paranoid theory.  There is a long history of CIA and other U.S. “covert” operation in Mexico designed to infiltrate less friendly neighbors, and to tamp down internal dissent that might upset the prevailing “neo-liberal” trend.

Unless, as a quid pro quo Mexico can launch missile attacks on border gun dealers and the U.S. banks that launder the loot, I’m vwery much afraid that “national security” is a nice way of saying spying on the citizens and on third parties that don’t have anything to do with Mexico’s security.

I just hope no one has the bad taste to name the new satellites for Morelos or Juarez.

Yup, my title is from the U.S. policy during the early stages of the Revolution, when the U.S. Army was on stand-by along the border, ready for a more “down to earth” form of political interference.

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