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Biden our time while we hope for change

7 March 2012

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.

So wrote Laura Carlson back in 2009, when I commented that she “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).”

Her entire article, Perils of Plan Mexico: Going Beyond Security to Strengthen U.S.-Mexico Relations (still on the internet at ZNet) and perhaps my comments on Ms. Carlsen’s analysis of the U.S. proxy “war on (some) Mexican drugs” are unfortunately still a valid critique even in 2012.  Perhaps more than ever.

The Bush announcement of the three-year Merida Initiative in October of 2007 extended U.S. military intervention in Mexico from this base. The plan is dubbed a “counter-terrorism, counter-narcotics, and border security initiative” although it’s the war on drugs that has received the most attention…  what it does is ensure an expanding market for defense and security contracts, in an undeclared war that has no exit strategy in sight.

Now being into year five of that “three year plan” the only change I can see from the Obama Administration is that it wants to expand the “war” (or, perhaps the war profiteering opportunities for U.S. businesses) and is even less reluctant to intervene in Mexico and the Central American states for political ends than the previous administration.

I had some hope that this year’s U.S. election would give Mexico a chance to hold its own Presidential elections without Tio Sam looking on (and, who knows, maybe tipping the scales, as many think it did in 2006… “Plan Merida” being part of the political damage control). But, the Obama Administration, having either bought into the narrative of the right wing that Latin Americans somehow pose a danger to the U.S…. or believing that this is enough of a domestic political issue to warrant giving into the right-wing prescriptions, or maybe actually believing in the rightist narrative that the U.S. drug addiction problem is our problem (sort of like blaming ones alcoholism on a neighborhood liquor store), is not in the least interested in reorienting its policies towards Mexico and Latin America

.Rather, having found itself in a hole, is digging deeper… and sending Vice President Joe Biden to do the digging.  As the perceptive Ms. Carlsen posted on Monday:

Vice President Joe Biden landed in Mexico City last night and he’s left little doubt about his mission—to lock in the regional drug war. His visit comes at a time of mounting calls to end prohibitionist laws and the drug war model.

Although Obama’s spokesman on Latin American affairs, Director for Western Hemisphere Affairs, Dan Restrepo, used the always popular word “dialog” for Biden’s discussions with Mexican presidential candidates, the imcumbent and the presidents of the Central American republics (including Honduran President Porfirio Lobo, who despite owing his position to the Obama Administration’s backing of the coup and the fraudulent election that put him into office questions the effectiveness of the “drug war”, and its aims).


A dialogue on how to “be most effective in confronting transnational criminal organizations” must start from the recognition that the current U.S. strategy has increased violence, done nothing to reduce crime or illicit drug flows and had a devastating impact on “people’s daily lives and daily routines” in Mexico and Central America.

A real discussion on effective strategies has to include the option of legalization. The Obama administration seems determined to block that option, despite a growing number of calls for discussion on legalization that include former presidents of Brazil, Mexico and Colombia and current presidents Santos of Colombia and Perez Molina of Guatemala.

Biden is just the latest envoy in U.S. diplomatic offensive to bolster the drug war. On Feb. 27, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano was in Guatemala with the same message. “The United States does not view decriminalization as a viable way to deal with the narcotics problem,” she told Perez Molina.

There was no dialog. As Tim Johnson (McClatchy Newspapers) writes:

Vice President Joseph Biden said Monday that “there is no possibility” that Washington would heed a growing call by some Latin American presidents to move toward drug legalization.

Biden, on a two-day swing to Mexico and Central America, said a sour mood over violence from powerful narcotics mafias has led to a desire in some corners of Latin America to debate legalization.

Never mind what Latin Americans want. I found it amusing that Biden fretted that legalization would, among other supposed ills, 2ould “even create bureaucracies for drug distribution.” Actually I think that’s a good idea… bureaucrats may take bribed or pad their budgets or steal office supplies, but seldom do they put out hits on their departmental rivals or get into firefights with the army and leave hapless civilians to be written off as “collateral damage.”

Honestly, I don’t care much about drug legalization one way or another… while it might reduce violence (peace through bureaucracy is as good a way as any though), what I note is the assumption that the big ideas that got Biden and Obama their jobs in the first place — “Hope” and “Change” — aren’t applicable south of the border.

El País, the generally conservative Spanish daily’s International Edition had the first results from a poll by Demotecnia.  While pollster Maria de las Heras is only discussing presumably middle-class Mexicans, it’s clear that what is on those people’s minds is change… 74 percent of respondents say Mexico must change.

Nearly half see no change, no matter which of the major candidates is elected president (PANAL’s Gabriel Quadri, who realistically has no chance of winning more than a fraction of the presidential vote, was not included in the poll).  Voters see PRI as most likely change (34%), and a third of those who believe PRI is the mostly likely to bring change, a third believe the change will be positive for the nation.  Another third believes the PRD candidate is most likely to bring change, although only a quarter of them think the change would be positive overall.  The PAN candidate’s numbers were not that far behind (26% and 30%).

With over half of respondents seeing  the economic and security situation deteriorating over the next six months, change, and which of the candidates who best gives hope for change is likely to determine the outcome of the election. Although the voter nullification movement is likely to also affect the outcome (and perhaps those who don’t see change coming from the ballot box will have a larger effect on this election than has been assumed), what is more likely to short-circuit the hopes for change by Mexican voters is the same crew that came in to Washington four years ago (and more than probably will still be there for another four years), promising “hope” and “change:”

One Comment leave one →
  1. Allen Graham permalink
    7 March 2012 7:59 am

    Interesting, Obama with a cigarette. Now add a mirror. Like Gringo Bill, (or Slick Willy), Obama relies on smoke and mirrors, a magic show that promises change, lest we not forget Hope.

    I may detest drugs, but that doesn’t change reality. At this moment the Canadian government is in process of increasing the punishment for marijuana use. Other than a few people with a narrow vision, most know that is a bad approach and will only lead to more problems, and more gang wars in Canada..

    Calderon mumbled about legalizing marijuana, but he would find that politically impossible. No matter which party brings it forward the others will oppose.

    The forecast is simple. More crime, more deaths. less security for the average person.
    Here in Mexico, and in Canada things will get worse. The USA ? Too dangerous for me !

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