Mexico On My Mind

Mexico is always much on my mind. It is our neighbor to the south, with a contiguous border of 1,969 miles, second only to Canada. It is also our third biggest trading partner. Mexico is our biggest international problem and we are theirs. (There is a saying in Mexico, “Poor Mexico. So far from God and so close to the United States.”) Mexico is the source of the majority of our illegal immigration and of a large part of our illegal drugs.

On the other hand, we are the source of a great deal of the poverty in Mexico. (US agribusiness with its large subsidies has undercut the Mexican corn farmers and driven them out of business. Many of the factories along the border are run by US corporations and have terrible labor conditions that wouldn’t be tolerated under US or Mexican law, but the NAFTA agreement makes them almost untouchable.) We are also the source of most of the weapons being used by the drug cartels. There is only one legitimate gun store in Mexico and it only sells to authorized law enforcement officials. The rest of the weapons are imported illegally, the vast majority from the US.

Here is an article I find helpful.

Ackerman: To help Mexico, the U.S. needs to focus on solutions that work


Published: 8:11 p.m. Friday, Sept. 17, 2010

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton made a dangerous mistake when she spoke of Mexico’s drug cartels as “insurgents” and suggested reviving President Bill Clinton’s Plan Colombia to address the issue. That program set up U.S. military bases in Colombia and funneled billions of dollars in military aid to fight the country’s drug-trafficking left-wing insurgency. The last thing the United States needs today is a new quagmire south of the Rio Grande.

Mexico is different from Colombia. Colombia was up against a rebel organization bent on taking over the government. In contrast, Mexican drug traffickers are businessmen who are principally concerned with increasing their profits. In the end, they prefer to use “silver,” or bribes, over “lead,” or bullets. Though they are quick to kill or decapitate members of rival gangs, they much prefer a pliant police officer, soldier or mayor to a dead one. That’s why government officials make up such a small percentage of the dead — only about 3,000 out of 28,000, according to official statistics.

The deployment of U.S. combat troops on Mexican soil could also have the look and feel of a foreign invasion. It would not be the first time the U.S. literally crossed the line. Between 1846 and 1848, the U.S. conquered a third of Mexico’s territory. In 1914, the U.S. occupied the port city of Veracruz. In 1917, as the modern Mexican Constitution was being drafted, U.S. troops crossed the border in a failed pursuit of Pancho Villa.

The Mexican people are therefore more wary than the Colombians of a military relationship with the United States. It’s particularly the case as Mexico celebrates the bicentennial of its independence from Spain and the issue of sovereignty is in the forefront of public discussion.

Plan Colombia was highly problematic. More than $4 billion of military aid and the construction of U.S. military bases did reduce the violence. Nevertheless, Colombian cocaine still flows freely into the U.S. market and remains a key source of income for the Mexican cartels.

U.S. military support in Colombia also led to skyrocketing human rights abuses and many “disappeared” citizens, at a considerable cost to the country’s social fabric. Nongovernmental organization and media reports found that much of the aid was channeled to paramilitary groups and that the U.S. presence emboldened the Colombian military to act with impunity.

The Obama administration is right to consider boosting funding to Mexico. Clinton is also correct to push for more “political will” south of the border. The decision to withhold $26 million in aid to Mexico on human rights grounds is a breath of fresh air. Recent statements by top U.S. officials about corruption in Mexico are also a welcome break from the past.

But increased militarization is not the solution. As Alonzo R. Peña, deputy director of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, said, “Giving the Mexican government 12 new Black Hawk helicopters to fight the drug lords has no value if corrupt officials tip off the cartels before the choppers swoop in.” Mexico urgently needs to meet the corruption problem head-on.

There is evidence of some progress. The government recently announced that it had fired 10 percent of the federal police force because the agents had not passed their “confidence control” exams, which include lie detector and drug tests. Another 5 percent are subject to investigations and also may be expelled.

In addition, the recent increase in direct attacks on public officials may be a sad indication that something is actually working in Mexico’s bid to clean up government. Nine municipal presidents, one candidate for governor and numerous police chiefs have been assassinated in recent months. Though it’s possible that the officials were killed because they favored one gang over another, at least in some cases the gangs were responding to anti-corruption efforts.

But it is simply naive to think that confidence control exams and a few honest government heroes will do the trick. Mexico needs to create a fully independent and well-funded anti-corruption commission to work closely with civil society to oversee, investigate and catch wrongdoing by public servants.

Another strategic move would be to aggressively fund and support independent investigative journalism and alternative media outlets, which have played a major role in holding government accountable. Journalism has become a high-risk profession in Mexico. Both cartels and the government have done their best to suppress the truth about corruption.

Unfortunately, neither strong anti-corruption agencies nor support for journalists have formed a part of the new focus on social programs, which months ago the Obama administration suggested as a possible target for future funding to Mexico. Under the influence of the Calderón government, most of the talk has been about much “softer” initiatives, like drug education, urban renewal, scholarships and community development programs. That’s fine, but none of it will attack the roots of the present failure to rein in the drug cartels in Mexico.

Instead of sending more money down the black hole, the U.S. could make a significant contribution to peace in North America by helping to aggressively combat corruption and supporting freedom of expression.

Ackerman is a professor at the Institute for Legal Research at the National Autonomous University of Mexico, editor-in-chief of the Mexican Law Review and a columnist for La Jornada newspaper and Proceso magazine.


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