It has been five months since the Movement for Peace with Justice and Dignity led a peace caravan across the United States to end the war on drugs. Yet much has happened in that time that changes the context for our movement, or rather, collection of movements.
Two new governments have taken office–Enrique Peña Nieto in Mexico and Barack Obama in the United States. Although Obama begins a second term, he has appointed new Secretaries of State and Defense, launched new initiatives and expanded some old ones. Both governments have new Congressional representatives.
Just as there have been significant changes in the governments, there have been some major changes within our movements as well. This makes it necessary to rethink our path: where we are, where wecan move forward and what obstacles lie in the future.
We are bound together by our commitment to the two objectives laid out for this meeting: truth and justice for the victims and a change in the security model to a vision of human security. They are two separate goals yet one single path: we know that there is no peace without justice, since security must be based on justice and on our community ties, not on fighting violence with violence.
Changes in US-Mexico Security Policy?
Enrique Peña Nieto came to office with a pressing need to distance himself from Calderon’s war. The disastrous drug war played a major role in the downfall of the PAN in the 2012 elections. Since the campaign, we’ve heard talk of modifications to the war strategy and focusing more on public security and reducing violence.
Members of the Peña cabinet talk about “building peace”. The Inter-secretarial commission installed on Feb. 12 has a previously absent emphasis on social programs. The president and members of his cabinet use phrases that repeat verbatim some of what the peace movement has been saying all along. It sounds good, or at least, better.
And there are some specificactionsthat point to another approach. The approval of the Victims Law, for example, could have a real impact on the situation of thousands of victims’ families.
So the question is: Are we really seeing a change in the security model?
Unfortunately there are many elements that point to the answer being no.
Like a magician who practices sleight of hand, Peña Nieto is betting that we will watch his lips as his hands perform tricks under the table. To get a real idea of how much is likely to change, it’s more realistic to look beyond the rhetoric to the facts.
Reasons to believe the war on drugs will not change substantially
1. The new government–who they are and where they come from
During the elections, the youth movement YoSoy132 reminded us that the historical memory has not been erased. The PRI is not an unknown factor. MeriMany names in the new cabinet of the “new PRI”–starting with the president himself–are closely associated with old-school politics, machismo and repression.
The PRI is a political party that spent decades of its unchallenged rule developing forms of social control through diverse means: manipulation of the justice system, cooptation, fomenting internal divisions and, when all else fails or it’s deemed convenient, violence.
Drug war militarization is a disguised system of social control. It works for them.
This time around the PRI government has big plans for a series of structural reforms that are extremely unpopular. These policies seek to consolidate a misnamed “development” model based on privatization of resources, increased transnational investment and displacement of whole populations. Militarization of broad swathes of the country is the stick that follows the carrot. To impose these kinds of reforms, the presence of the armed forces in the name of the war on drugs helps to remove people from zones of interest, to repress communities and groups that defend their territories and to intimidate or even wipe out sectors in resistance.
To quietly continue with the war while promising changes, the new Peña Nieto administration has placed some key figures in high places. To give an example: Eduardo Medina Mora. Recall that Medina Mora was Attorney General in the Calderon cabinet until 2009. As such, he was the spokesperson for the Calderon war and main apologist for the national injustice system. Today he is ambassador to the United States for the Peña government.
In 2008, Medina Mora gained headlines briefly for uttering the Orwellian phrase–apparently with no irony intended—“We are at war to recuperate the peace.” The Pentagon has a close ally in Medina Mora. In a cable made public by Wikileaks, the US Embassy referred to Medina Mora as “a key player” in instituting the Merida Initiative—the foreign aid plan that arms and perpetuates Mexico’s war on drugs. Now the US government’s point person for the war works out of Washington overseeing a binational relationship whose main and practically only focus is the Merida initiative.
2. The military budget
The 2013 Mexican budget maintains and increases the militarized model of the drug war. As it was approved, the budget to the Sec of National Defense (SEDENA) is 60.8 billion pesos—double its funding in 2007 when the drug war was just beginning and 5 billion more that the last year of the Calderon administration.
The administration says the resources will go to spy equipment, to set up military checkpoints throughout the country, weapons, etc. It justifies the war-time increase by citing an “integral” war with the stated objectives of “corralling armed groups throughout the country, and improving the schemes of operation in integral combat against drug trafficking, to make more efficient the activities that they carry out in the areas of eradication, interception and the fight against organized crime.”
3. The gendarmerie
Peña Nieto’s proposal to create a national gendarmerie is not in practice a form of demilitarization. It entails the creation of an initial force of 10,000 troops, most of whom according to the government, will be military men, with some police agents.
In effect, and in the absence of a real change in the drug war model, it is the same scheme as Calderon initiated, with massive military deployment, only with a different name.
4. U.S. Pressures
Another reason the Peña Nieto administration will probably not make any major changes in the war on drugs is the dependence that Mexico has on the United Stats and the huge interest the U.S.government has in continuing—and expanding–the war.
Washington’s Drug War in Mexico
In Washington, there is also a recognition that the drug war’s reputation is tarnished with blood and that it’s necessary to clean up the image of the Merida Initiative. The State Department, backed by interested beltway NGOs, has tried to float a renaming as “Merida 2” or “Beyond Merida” and stresses that the plan now includes aid to social programs and not just espionage and military/police counternarcotics operations. The rhetoric stresses that the U.S. supports Peña Nieto in a less military-heavy model and has modified the Merida to have a more integral focus.
This would be a good thing if it were true.
Although the direct military financing (DMF) has gone way down from 2008 to 2013, the war model has not changed nor has the strategy. In fact, it has been deepened and intensified. The following are the most important and recent indicators of Washington’s war commitment:
- 1. John Kerry’s declarations at the Senate confirmation hearing. The new Secretary of State said that Mexico is “under siege”, and offered to intensify support. He affirmed “president Peña Nieto is trying to move this in another direction (less militarized) and that it is more important than ever to support him.” Kerry even went further, insisting that in any discussion of budget cuts, the Merida Initiative should be exempted.
“I think that we are going to need to convince our colleagues of the importance of this initiative,” he said, without offering a single criticism of a model that has left more than 100,000 people dead or disappeared in just six years.
Foreign aid to Mexico: if we follow the money rather than the rhetoric, we see that the war model has not changed in the Merida Initiative. Merida Initiativeaid in the 2013 State Department’s foreign operations budget still under discussion provides $7 million to the armed forces, $199 to counternarcotics efforts, $8 million to programs against terrorism (in Mexico?) and only $35 million in economic support for a neighboring country in which half the population lives below the poverty line. Aid in areas like global health and education have been reduced or eliminated in this budget, and a list of human rights recommendations had been stripped from the Initiative at this writing.
The Department of Defense is funding more of Mexico’s drug war and those funds are even harder to track.
- 2. The expansion of military training for Mexican military in the northern command. The Pentagon is actively expanding training programs with the Mexican armed forces. It created a new base of special operations in Colorado Springs, home of the Northern Command (Northcom), to train Mexican military in the name of the drug war in techniques employed in Iraq. According to the magazine Proceso, this training in the US has included “espionage, torture, surprise attacks and kidnapping.” It focuses on counter-insurgency/counternarcotic/counterterrorism operations as if the three security threats were synonymous.
This merging in the discourse and practice of the expanded drug wars increases risks to the population and to civil liberties. It increases the criminalization of protest and harassment and attacks on human rights defenders. The express purpose of the new Northcom center, according to a Jan. 17 AP story, is the war on drugs “so the Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto establishes a military force focused on criminal networks…” (presumably the gendarmerie).
The US military officials had already taken Mexicans to visit centers of special operations in Balad Irak and Fort Bragg, NC. The news report states that the Mexicans are being trained in tactics of capture as applied in the capture, or rather killing, of Osama bin Laden. This is cause for concern on many levels, one of which is that all studies show that the strategy of capturing drug lords known as the “kingpin strategy” leads to explosions of violence where carried out and does not work to reduce drug trafficking or much less improve public safety.
Just so there is no doubt about the relationship between the new Northcom efforts and the Merida initiative designed by Bush and extended indefinitely by the Obama administration, AP states it clearly: “Northcom’s current special operations training missions are an outgrowth of the Merida Initiative that was formalized in 2008, to provide extensive military assistance to Mexico.”
The imposition of the counterterrorism paradigm on Mexico has terrible consequences for the US-Mexico relationship. When the Calderon administration began to redefine drug traffickers as a threat to national security, and not just as criminals, the cartels began to act much more like a threat to national security– unleashing battles for control of territory, increasing their interference with daily life in civil society, and challenging and coopting the State in many regions of the country.
There is no doubt that when the drug war becomes a war on terrorism with the help of exaggerated risk assessments from U.S. warmongers, the drug traffickers will escalate their own actions and reactions, despite the fact that their fundamental logic is far different from that of international terrorists.
Furthermore the war on terrorism is characterized by the use of torture, the murder of civilians by both sides, especially women and children, drone strikes and indiscriminate attacks on society, the division of society, hatred and racism. It is also characterized by U.S. intervention, in ways that stand in clear violation of national sovereignty, and very probably in violation of national laws.
Is this what we want in our relationship with Mexico? Do we really want to replace the war in Iraq with a trumped up drug war, just to feed the national security industry, the military-industrial complex, or what ever we´re currently calling this monster that just keeps growing and growing?
The change in rhetoric accompanied by no intention of changing the security model puts us in a situation of simulation that in many ways is more dangerous that the war talk of before. There is an effort to cover up the war, at the same time that it is being intensified. There is an enormous distance between the discourse and the reality.
If our peace movements do not continue to expose the real nature of the war—as the Movement for Peace with Justice and Dignity has done since it began—we will leave the victims and future victims defenseless against a war that has officially ended and unofficially ends or destroys more lives every day. The new context can mean more isolation, more vulnerability, and more doublespeak–journalists say they are being told not to cover drug war violence any more (although it continues unabated) because that would contradict the official line of the new government that says it is over and seeks to wipe the slate clean of all the blood that continues to spill on it.
Its important to note that although the new governments plan to continue the war, there still may be opportunities for the movement to press for a real change in the security model. Sergio Alcocer, Sub-Secretary for North America of Mexico’s Ministry of Foreign Relations announced an upcoming evaluation of the Merida Initiative “and based on that, we will decide how or if we continue within the Initiative or other processes are established.”
This is the moment to demand transparency and citizen participation in a review from both sides. In the U.S., urgent budget cuts open up the possibility of challenging Merida Initiative funding and demanding the plan be terminated. The arguments against the application of a counterterrorism paradigm to the trafficking of prohibited substances and the likelihood that this course of action will create another costly and threatening war–this time on our border—should be sufficient to cause legislators to at least listen. We have never argued for inaction against crime—we have alternative approaches that have successful track records.
On both sides of the border, citizen groups are coming up with constructive proposals to replace the destruction. Mexico’s peace movement has drafted documents on human security, mending the social fabric and fighting corruption. In the US, organizations have proposals for regulation of drugs, demilitarization of the border, and building a more integral binational relationship that deserve to be heard in Washington and throughout the nation.
Forging a commitment to end the war, the violence and the injustice
There’s an impressive line-up o forces on the side of violence:authoritarian politicians, corrupt public servants and institutions, organized crime, the Pentagon, the US government, the defense lobby and businesses looking to assure investments. So what’s on the other side?
Indigenous communities in Chiapas and Michoacan who struggle to live in peace and care for Mother Earth as they have for centuries. The mothers and fathers who, with broken hearts, struggle for justice and to never forget the memory of their lost children. The human rights defenders, men and women, in communities and cities throughout the country who due to their brave work are targets for violence and repression. The campesinos in Chihuahua who oppose the Narco-NAFTA model of terror and land grabs. The youth of Ciudad Juarez who live and create in the shadow of militarization and fear.
And in the United States, the migrant activists who say that nobody is illegal and that walls can kill. The organizations of African-Americans who protest against imprisonment of their children in the war on drugs. The border communities that protest the militarization of their homes. The groups that demand an end to the bloody foreign policy of hegemony that is Plan Merida.
We are the other side; we who are slowly finding each other, like now, and will continue to connect to build a vision that stands up to the war mentality that currently dominates U.S.-Mexico relations. We don’t have to share the same program—we’re a diverse set of organizations and issues and movements in two countries, with our own agendas and very different national contexts. It’s important that we maintain our focus.
But we are bound by a common purpose: to end a patriarchal war model that dominates our national politics, and for some, life in our communities. Alliances and shared goals and mechanisms of coordination are essential. The challenge isn’t necessarily to construct joint plans or build binational platforms along the five issues we defined for the caravan—arms smuggling, drug policy reform, money-laundering, migrant rights and an end to U.S. military aid to Mexico. It is to understand how these issues, and our efforts to make change, come together in this war model that oppresses and wounds us, and how all of our efforts can be mutually reinforcing to end this war.
Laura Carlsen is director of the Americas Program, www.americas.org