What’s going on? Mexico’s military build-up
Much was made this last weekend over the 100s of U.S. military vehicles crossing into Mexico, with this video (from El Mañana of Nuevo Laredo) raising two unanswerable questions: why is there a military build-up?, and why is Mexico getting military equipment from the only country that could conceivably be an existential threat to the nation’s existence?
Although Mexico is the 11st most populous nation on the planet, and the 10th largest economy, with no foreign commitments, only once having fought outside its own territory, and its very few foreign excursions being well-executed rescue and relief operations (including New Orleans, after Hurricane Katrina, where the Mexican Army showed up before the Louisiana National Guard!), and the only foreign threats being more theoretical than anything else (other than the United States, which prefers a “stable” Mexico, even if it means subversion, the only possible national security threats from the outside would be the collapse of a neighboring country, and a possible refugee crisis, or a spill-over from a civil war in Guatemala) Mexico has never needed a large military force.
According to Global Firepower, Mexico is ranked the 31st on the list of military powers… between #30 Switzerland, and #32, South Africa… two countries not likely to be launching offensive wars any time soon. Nor is Mexico. Brazil, which does have a history of expansionist ambitions (though not in the last century or so) and a major arms industry comes in at #22… but…
World-wide, military spending is down 4 percent, with the Latin American nations showing the largest decreases. Venezuela’s military budget is down by 34% and even Brazil managed to cut the budget by 1.7 percent. The exceptions are Paraguay (up 13%) and Mexico (up 11%).
Given that there has been a problem with banditry and gangsterism packaged as something new and more threatening under the names of “cartels” or the ridiculous “TCOs” (Trans-national Criminal Organizations… or what used to be called “smugglers”), there might seem to be a rationale for the build-up. However, the government itself is claiming that crime has fallen, and the “Institute for Economics and Peace” claims that the country is more peaceful.
It may well be, as is argued, especially in the media, that crime is NOT dropping, and that it is simply not being talked about, but more and more, there has been a realization that the military is the wrong tool to use in the fight against those so-called “cartels”, and as a substitute for normal police.
So why… in a country which had always been proud of its successfully de-militarizing its government, and had kept military spending a modest 6% of the national budget for decades (even during the Calderón “War on Drugs”) suddenly spending more?
Regeneración, overtly “leftist” even for Mexico, makes a good case that the Mexican military build-up has less to do with the needs of Mexico than it does with U.S. “geo-strategic interests”. Mesfiles has always said that the “Plan Mérida” money provided by the United States, ostensibly to fight the “cartels” was always meant to both legitimize the Calderón Administration and to prop up the US industries that provide military and “people control” equipment and services than anything else. But, Regeneración argues that with the neo-liberal “reforms” going back to the 1980s, making Mexico more and more an economic satellite of the United States, there is the assumption now that Mexico could (and should) serve as a military adjunct to U.S. forces.
While it is troubling enough that those of us who have lived in areas supposed requiring a military backup (or replacement) of police (like Mazatlán, where I lived for several years) became inured to the sight of soldiers and sailors in the streets (and a soldier with a 50-cal rifle pointed at you while sitting in traffic) and some eye-brow raising speeches by generals hinting that their loyalty was to the President, and not the nation, I don’t see us become a militarized state. After all, the country’s military heroes have been mostly amateurs (Morelos, the priest; Villa, the — uh— cattleman; Obergon, the farmer and businessman; Rafael Buelna, the law student) and our greatest modern Secretary of War, Joaquín Amaro, was probably the only bureaucrat in history who spent his career downsizing his department and cutting his own budget. This is a country that cut its military budget even during its own foreign war (the “War Against Nazis and Fascists”), and just doesn’t “do” militarism.
But, I do see — in small movements like allowing Mexican troops to serve in U.N. peace-keeping operations (something always avoided before), and in allowing foreign agents to carry weapons on Mexican territory — as well as the economic integration with the U.S. and Canada (another military adjunct of U.S. interests) a very troubling sign that Mexico will be dragged into outside conflicts that do not serve its own interest. And, that the military will be used to protect not our our interests, but those of the United States. With, U.S. weapons, paid for by Mexican taxpayers.