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Guns, Guatamalans and gringos

16 December 2010

The results of the Washinton Post’s investigation of arms purchases by Mexican gangsters is no more a surprise than Wikileaked cables revealing the U.S. State Department’s fixation on militarizing Mexico.   The United States (and in previous centuries, France and Britain) have been glomming onto simplistic reactions  (generally involving violence against Mexicans) to complex  actions of their own.

Whenever there is at least an acknowledgment that the United States might have SOME negative role in Latin American affairs, I can always count on reactionaries attacking the messenger.  While the attempts to shut down Wikileaks are more mainstream (more people’s oxen were gored), there is a lively pushback against the Post’s “revelations” from the right  found on websites like “Free Republic”.

The best argument made on the right (besides the one that says people in the U.S. have a right to bear arms, and they do… but, not — as far as I can tell — to export them to foreign countries) is that arms ALSO enter Mexico through Guatemala, or are domestic military weapons that have been diverted to gangsters.  Basically, the argument is that because not all weapons were traced to their point of origin, those NOT traced did not come from the same source.  That in itself is a dubious proposition, and to be true would require the statistical sampling to be tainted (no evidence of that).  Of course, the untraceable guns COULD come from other sources than the United States, and some of them do.

U.S. reports continually telling us the Mexican military and police are out-gunned, and don’t have the sophisticated weaponry the “bad guys” do should put the kibosh on the diverted weapons story (some are, of course, but not the ones under discussion).

However, the weaponry floating around Guatemala is mostly from the 197os, and the weapons seized in Mexico are much later models.  Then, too, if you look at where weapons are showing up, it’s close to the U.S. border… all points I’ve made before.

What gives some credence to the Guatemalan connection comes from a source the right-wingers have been attacking… except when it can be spun to bolster their weak arguments.  A wikileaked cable, 10MEXICO77 dated 25 January 2010,  originating from the U.S. Embassy in Mexico City deals with perceived laxity by Mexican authorities in preventing contraband from crossing the Guatemalan-Mexican border, specifically at the Talisman and Cd. Hidalgo (both in Chiapas) border crossings.  While Mexican officials agreed that the border inspections were lackadaisical (or non-existent), “on-the-ground” observers noted that it seemed to be personal goods crossing back and forth… nothing particularly alarming at all.  Given the easy access to firearms in Guatemala (and the extremely high murder rate in that country — about 1.5 times that of Mexico, even with its “drug war”), I suppose some of those “personal items” would include guns.   But, unless arms shipments are going to the Mexican border with the United States via Guatemalans carrying personal items, as opposed to from Houston to Reynosa (or Nogales Arizona to Nogales, Sonora) it’s not likely.  Again, as I’ve pointed out several times, the arms being used by Mexican gangsters are found near the U.S. border, not the Guatemalan border … and even criminals not associated with the drug cartels are less likely to be using sophisticated weaponry near the southern border.

What seemed to bother the U.S. officials at the meeting discussed in the 10Mexico77 cable was that:

… there are 30,000 U.S. CBP [Customs and Border Patrol] officers on the 1,926 mile Mexican/U.S. border, only 125 Mexican immigration officials monitor the 577 mile border with Guatemala. Mexican immigration officials repeatedly confirmed that they do not have the manpower or resources to direct efforts effectively along the southern border.

Meaning that the U.S. sees Mexican border-crossing as a security threat (or at least wants to invest resources in border control), while Mexico does not see Guatemala as a particular threat, or at least doesn’t seem to feel the need to invest heavily in manpower along what hasn’t been a problem for them since the Central American civil wars of the 1970s, when political refugees poured into Mexico .  Other than a few stray Guatemalan guerrilla bands also ending up in Mexico during the civil wars, Mexico hasn’t seen Guatemala as a credible national security concern since the  since the late 1950s, when a dispute over fishing rights led to the Mexican air force strafing Guatemalan vessels in Guatemalan waters.  The whole thing ended farcical with Guatemalan dictator Miguel Ydígoras Fuentes offering to settle the issue by dueling Mexican President Adolfo López Mateos.  The Guatemalan military establishment really, really thought this was stupid, and López Mateos concluded Ydígoras was nuts.

Since then, the only “issues” of note have been the problems caused by  (or rather, the problems caused by Mexicans as a result of)  Guatemalan emigres crossing Mexico and headed for the United States, or seeking work in Mexico.  The Guatemalans are abused, and have been the target of criminal gangs (and are subject to harassment and worse by local authorities in Mexico acting under “color of law”), but that is not something which necessitates a heavy military presence along the Usmacata River.

The revelations in 10MEXICO77 are not particularly earth-shattering, and not likely to make the front pages of the New York Times… or even La Jornada.  But they are symptomatic of the serious disconnect in United States policy in Mexico and Latin America in general.

Although no one realistically expects the United States to do more than pay lip service to its own role in the “drug crisis” (and to totally ignore, as much as possible, the roots of that crisis both in U.S. social behavior and in its economic system) there is some belief that it would at least do something to control its own firearms export trade.  It’s too easy to make a target of the U.S. gun dealers, tempting as that is:  given that some have suggested drone or missile attacks — directed from the United States — on Mexican gangsters, perhaps Mexico should suggest launching missile attacks on Carter’s Country Stores, starting with the one at 8927 Katy Freeway in Houston… during rush hour.

As the Washington Post article is careful to note, Bill Carter is not doing anything illegal, and is following the law (which he played a role in crafting) on gun sales.   While the United States seems to suggest making radical changes to the Mexican constitution (see Mexico City cable ID #ID: 231890, dated 28 October 2009 from Deputy Chief of Mission John J. Feeley),
the  U.S. legal system has a difficult time prosecuting even the most blatant arms trafficker, and finds attempts to even make mild changes in existing law politically controversial.

I’m not going to say U.S. policy is “hypocritical”.  Of course it is, but no more hypocritical than  any great power when it wants to impose its will on other nations.  Hernan Cortés famously said, “We come to bring the true religion… and get rich”.   Napoleón III set in motion France’s Mexican adventure claiming it was to restore order to a disorderly county, but never attempted to deny he also wanted control of the Sonoran gold fields.  Woodrow Wilson thought he would “teach us to elect good men” — who would keep extraction taxes low.   Cortés, Napoleón III and Wilson,  aren’t that different from the 21st century diplomacists.  Which is pathetic, given that in the 21st century, Mexico is hardly an unknown country, nor is Latin American thinking a mystery.

It’s not the hypocrisy of the U.S. diplomatic moves in trying to foster their own narcotics use problem onto Mexico that is so stunningly stupid.  It  makes me wonder if anyone in the State Department has really looked at Latin American policy — or really paid attention to anything that’s happened here in the last century — since William Jennings Bryan was Secretary of State.

The Wikileaks expose an administration that “assumes” the Mexican government will, or must be forced to, react to issues of concern to the United States (like their drug problem) the same way they would.  Even without getting into the whole “we’re suppliers, not users, and our agricultural system was screwed over by U.S. corporate agriculture” meme, the Wikileaks suggest a State Department that has already made up its mind, and doesn’t want to be confused with the facts… or even read a little history, or think or … well, use their intelligence when gathering intelligence.

More troops to the southern border?  C’mon… that would me a vastly different, and vastly expanded military (which, as it happens, is what John Feeley is proposing in Cable ID# 246329, 10MEXICO83…. but I’ll reserve comment on that for another time) and an assumption that because the U.S. feels its southern border is a national security concern, Mexico’s southern border should also be a national security concern.

Stupid, stupid, stupid.

Transporto in orator*

Apparently it isn’t only in Mexico where U.S. diplomats are in the habit of expecting smaller nations to do things the way they do them in the United States.  Der Spigel, in reviewing Wikileaks from the Vatican, found one U.S. diplomat complaining not only are most Vatican officials “Italian men in their 70s,” but that

… the Cardinal Secretary of State, the name given to the Holy See’s equivalent of a prime minister, doesn’t even speak English…

* ut laudo Warren Zevon:

One Comment leave one →
  1. El Chismoso permalink
    16 December 2010 10:49 am

    Tranquilo…… Help the gringo oppressed mexicans, go out and enjoy some mexican El Patron tequila.

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