'Intelligent discontent is the mainspring of civilization.' -- Eugene V. Debs

Saturday, November 28, 2009

The Perils of Plan Mexico 

An excerpt from a typically masterful analysis by Laura Carlsen, director of the Americas Policy Program in Mexico City:

The militarization of Mexico has led to a steep increase in homicides related to the drug war. It has led to rape and abuse of women by soldiers in communities throughout the country. Human rights complaints against the armed forces have increased six-fold.

Even these stark figures do not reflect the seriousness of what is happening in Mexican society. Many abuses are not reported at all for the simple reason that there is no assurance that justice will be done. The Mexican Armed Forces are not subject to civilian justice systems, but to their own military tribunals. These very rarely terminate in convictions. Of scores of reported torture cases, for example, not a single case has been prosecuted by the army in recent years.

The situation with the police and civilian court system is not much better. Corruption is rampant due to the immense economic power of the drug cartels. Local and state police, the political system, and the justice system are so highly infiltrated and controlled by the cartels that in most cases it is impossible to tell the good guys from the bad guys.

The militarization of Mexico has also led to what rights groups call "the criminalization of protest." Peasant and indigenous leaders have been framed under drug charges and communities harassed by the military with the pretext of the drug war. In Operation Chihuahua, one of the first military operations to replace local police forces and occupy whole towns, among the first people picked up were grassroots leaders—not on drug charges but on three-year old warrants for leading anti-NAFTA protests. Recently, grassroots organizations opposing transnational mining operations in the Sierra Madre cited a sharp increase in militarization that they link to the Merida Initiative and the NAFTA-SPP aimed at opening up natural resources to transnational investment.

All this—the human rights abuses, impunity, corruption, criminalization of the opposition—would be grave cause for concern under any conditions. What is truly incomprehensible is that in addition to generating these costs to Mexican society, the war on drugs doesn't work to achieve its own stated objectives.

We know this not only from the relatively recent Mexican experience, but from other places— especially Colombia and the Andean region. As Plan Colombia goes into its tenth year, the cost of drugs on U.S. streets has gone down and regional production has risen. In Mexico, interdictions dropped between 2007 and 2008. The number of arrests went up but seems to have little effect on the hydra-headed cartels. Actual indictment and prosecution rates following arrests are suspiciously not reported. Illegal drug flows to the U.S. market appear to be unaffected overall.

Meanwhile, as noted by Carlsen, the US is providing assistance in the form of Plan Mexico, 1.3 billion dollars directed to U.S. defense, security, information technology and other private-sector firms.

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