Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Violence in Mexico

Drug related violence in Mexico has killed over 2,700 people this year. Just this week, over 30 people have been found dead: 24 of whom were found in a mass grave, bound and shot execution style, and 7 of whom were killed yesterday when a grenade exploded at an Independence Day celebration in Michoacán.

While Mexican press is filled everyday with accounts of violence, kidnappings and murders, the U.S. press, which for multiple reasons should be closely following the increasing violence so near its borders, has only recently begun to report on the topic.

Last week, a Washington Post editorial sought to draw attention to this, comparing Mexico's violence and death toll to that of the war in Afghanistan:

More Mexican soldiers and police officers have died fighting the country's drug gangs in the past two years than the number of U.S. and NATO troops killed battling the Taliban. Civilian casualties have been just as numerous, and as gruesome: There have been scores of beheadings, massacres of entire families and assassinations of senior officials. By the official count, kidnappings in Mexico now average 65 a month, ranking it well ahead of Afghanistan and Iraq.

The Post continues, claiming that the violence

gets relatively little attention here because Americans are only rarely among the casualties. But U.S. money and weapons are fueling this war. Billions of dollars from American drug users flow to the syndicates, along with thousands of weapons smuggled across the border.

Not only do we need to pay attention because of the role U.S. money and arms trafficking plays in the violence, but we should also be following this closely because of the $400 million in aid, known as the 'Merida Initiative,' destined for the Mexican government that Congress approved in June (here is a a breakdown of aid for the Merida Initiative from 2007). A large percentage of this money will arm and equip the Mexican military in its fight against narcotrafficking. Critics like the CIP Americas Program, Amnesty International, LAWG and WOLA have argued that strengthening Mexico's institutions, especially the police force and the judicial system, and addressing the military's human rights violations should be the top priorities for Mexico and any aid from the United States.

Yesterday, the Los Angeles Times published an article on Mexico's various police forces, citing that a reform has begun, but that there are still inherent problems that make the police a very corrupt institution trusted by few Mexicans.

The weaknesses of Mexican police are vast. Most officers have at most a grade school education. They often have to buy their own guns on wages equal to those of a supermarket cashier. Many times, the average cop has his hand out for a bribe, in part to pay off bosses for the privilege of a job he probably will not hold for more than a few years. Problems are worst at the local levels.

In a video that goes along with this article, the Mexican citizens interviewed all cited lack of education, low wages and corruption as the main problems that must be addressed within the police force before violence will diminish.

The corruption of the police force has translated into many state and local officers working with the drug cartels instead of fighting against them. Last week, the Mexican government confirmed that an active Mexican federal agent had been involved in a highly publicized kidnapping and murder of a 14 year old boy. And the L.A. Times highlighted a shoot off that occurred last week between federal police transporting seven drug suspects and police officers from the city of Torreón intent on freeing the arrestees. "In the trenches of the drug war, cops were fighting cops."

With 25,000 federal police and over 350,000 state and local officers, it will be difficult for Mexican President Felipe Calderón to overhaul the entire police system. However, until corruption can be rooted out of the local and state police forces, it may prove difficult for U.S. aid to have a significant impact on the increasingly violent drug war next door.

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