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.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Civil-Military Relations Roundup

Argentina's defense minister, Nilda Garré, and president, Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, at the annual civil-military "comradeship dinner."
  • Argentina: [A possible military pay raise] will be the central point at the traditional military dinner [the annual "comradeship dinner"], in which the entire national cabinet, Supreme Court judges and legislators share tables with the main military commanders. The appearance of the salary question as a fundamental concern at all levels, at a moment of political upheaval [Argentina's agricultural crisis], is taken by the officers as a symbol that the barracks' doors are closed, and have been for many years, to coup-plotting adventures. With no greater crises in view, the dinner's climate will be marked by a possible announcement about salaries."
  • Argentina: "The Minister of Defense ordered the Army High Command to relieve three officers of their command in the V Infantry Brigade (Salta), if it is proven that they tried to destroy a guard logbook in that city's Military Hospital. ... In the hospital was found a guard logbook corresponding to the 1976-1983 military dictatorship period."

  • Bolivia: "The government last night accused the Podemos and UN opposition parties of trying to split the armed forces and seek to pit them against the police, through a Senate committee's investigation of a [dynamite] attack on a communication medium [television station] in Yacuiba. ... They denied that Army Lieutenant Georges Nava, who is detained with 11 other people, is responsible for the deed. ... Yesterday [July 8] information on Nava's flash memory came to light indicating that the [Morales] government has the unconditional support of perhaps only three of the 56 regimental commanders."
  • Brazil: "250 soldiers began to leave [Rio de Janeiro's violent Providencia favela], obeying the order of a federal judicial tribunal that considered soldiers' participation in police functions to be unconstitutional. On Thursday June 26 the Federal Regional Tribunal's deadline for the Army to vacate the area completely will expire. The soldiers' presence to support a project sponsored by a political ally of Brazil's president, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, was strongly criticized by the opposition, the press and Providencia's own inhabitants. The neighborhood's residents organized violent protests against the soldiers who had been there, accusing them of abuses of power and of being allies of narcotrafficking gangs.
  • Guatemala: "In his speech, [President ?lvaro Colom assured that his government will support itself on 'a new modernized Army to recover diverse geograhic areas of the country' that are under the influence of organized crime gangs."

  • Mexico: "The debacle in Santiago in Sinaloa state, a stronghold of drug traffickers, is one of a series of blunders by Mexican soldiers waging a bloody campaign against narcotics cartels — a crackdown that the U.S. Congress is looking at supporting with up to $1.6 billion. Since President Felipe Calderon took office in December 2006 and sent out 25,000 troops to take on the mafias, soldiers have killed at least 13 unarmed civilians."
  • Peru: "A debate blew up in Peru after the government's decision to send the armed forces into the streets to reinforce security in the face of a July 9 national strike, in the belief that demonstrators opposing President Alan García will commit acts of violence."
  • Venezuela: "Venezuelan military officers have expressed growing alarm at attempts by President Hugo Chávez to turn the armed forces into a political instrument of his socialist revolution."
  • Venezuela: "Hundreds of Venezuelan military officers are no longer assigned duties and have been relegated to their homes, quietly pushed aside for their dissent under President Hugo Chavez, according to former military commanders and a watchdog group."
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