Monday, June 02, 2008

Bush's proposed Mexican anti-drug aid package needs revision

America has a responsibility to assist in Mexico's hot war between the government and the drug cartels, but nothing obligates us to spend money in ways that make matters worse. The Houston Chronicle recently editorialized that the US should provide military aid to Mexico for combating cartels without attaching strings to ensure the money is not used for human rights violations, declaring that:

At a time when law enforcement cooperation between the United States and Mexico is more important than ever, the two countries are threatening to turn their backs on each other. The U.S. Congress wants to cut President Bush's Merida Initiative, which proposes $500 million to finance Mexico's anti-drug efforts. More annoying to Mexico, Congress wants to attach human rights conditions to the aid, causing some Mexican officials to threaten to turn it down. That would benefit neither country, but would boost Calderon's standing at home.

Because of the corrupting influence of billions of narco-dollars, the battle against traffickers will always be imperfect. But the United States cannot stand by while drug cartels turn much of Mexico into a lawless, bloody empire.

Anyone who thinks the US should ignore human rights concerns when supplying weapons to the Mexican government has got another think coming. The Mexican government has a long history of brutally suppressing political dissent - particularly by indigenous people in the southern part of the country. Congress is right to insist on requirements that the aid they give won't be used that way.

Regular readers know that I'm as concerned as anybody about the increasing levels of lawlessness in Mexico and bloody wars between the government and the drug cartels. But from the beginning I've questioned the package the President put together and think it places the cart before the horse. Buying expensive military hardware for use by corrupt police won't solve anything by itself. The US would be better served by funding anti-corruption initiatives on both sides of the Rio Grande and spending more to stop the flow of guns south into Mexico.

Related Grits posts:


Anonymous said...

This is only going to make matters worse. The ONLY solution is to end the drug war and quit financing these criminals.

Anonymous said...

Charles Kiker here:

Right on Scott. Patricia and I rewarded ourselves about 5 years ago with a cruise. There was a stopover at a port on Mexico's Yucatan peninsula. We took a tour bus trip an hour or so into the interior, and I asked the tour bus director about the conflict with one of the indigenous peoples. He was extremely evasive. It was obviously an issue he could not visit. Made me wonder.

Anonymous said...

While the human rights concerns are understood by Mexicans, it's the devil in the details -- requiring U.S. access to sensitive national security data (including personnel records from the Mexican police and military) that have led to even the Human Rights organizations in Mexico recommending the deal be rejected.

On top of that, the Human Rights groups are seriously worried about the fact that this deal does nothing except provide more resources (under mostly U.S. control) for use against those who oppose the Calderon administration for any number of other reasons. The Colombian experience is uppermost in these people's minds. As you know, "Plan Colombia" has not cut drug exports, but has given the Uribe Administration the tools it needs to put down dissent in the name of narcotics control.

Finally, other than lip service, the plan does nothing to control U.S. financing and consumption of narcotics. The best U.S. ambassador Tony Garza has been able to do is whine that "Mexicans use narcotics, too." True, but that's only because the exporters are selling what they can't get across the border at cut rates here.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

Richard, if you haven't seen it check out this writeup of an article by a Mexican academic I blogged last year. He said the Mexican military pushed for the hardware requests in a way that misunderstood US politics and documentary requirements when you actually give military weaponry.

The problem with not doing background checks as you describe is personified by Los Zetas. They were military special commandos trained by US green berets at Fort Benning Georgia, then defected and have become the Mexican government's worst nightmare. It would be folly to repeat that mistake.

If the military only wants hardware without accountability, maybe the deal should fall through. Better that than have that hardware used by corrupt cops in the employ of the cartels.

I totally agree with your analysis about Colombia, which is precisely why I don't mind the restrictions aimed at preventing human rights abuses. I don't want police using US weapons to participate in death squads in Mexico as has sometimes occurred in Colombia. If the package is aimed at initiatives that help, fine. If it's just throwing money into a black hole, which is how I view hardware and paramilitary training given with no accountability, there's nothing that says it has to happen.

el_longhorn said...

Plan Merida is a bad idea. To borrow a phrase that my Republican friends always toss around regarding health care, "You can't solve a problem by throwing money at a broken system."

The Mexican justice system is completely and utterly broken right now. Giving it helicopter gunships will not fix anything. If and when the Mexicans successfully reform their crim justice system, the US could step in and provide support to a functioning system. But reforming the system is an internal Mexican issue that the US cannot force.

What is funny is that the worse the crim justice system in Mexico gets, the stronger the Mexican economy grows. Mexico will have stronger GDP growth than the US this year. Crim justice reform is the last major hurdle for Mexico - if they can crack that nut, Mexico enters a golden era.

Anonymous said...

I have to agree with the broad theme that the outcome of the current proposal with Mexico is strongly affect by the decades of history of the War on Drugs, going back decades. The merits of this proposal, at this time, in Mexico, are overshadowed by the facts (and fallout) from other times, places and propositions.

Being ex-military, I think applying military forces to the problem of drugs was from the outset ill-advised. In fact, I find it improbable that 1.) the purpose of the project was actually to address drug-problems or that 2.) it was seriously envisioned that the enterprise would translate to progress on the drug-front.

It appears realistically to be simply "Politics by Other Means".

El Longhorn 10:11 -

I am intrigued by the way you describe Mexico's current economic momentum & trajectory. Not to get Scott's post too off-topic with this, but maybe we could get some further coverage of this situation as you describe it? Thanks!

Anonymous said...

I don't think "el_longhorn" wants to start an "Atole para desayuno" site -- though he should! He makes an intriguing point.

Changing the justice system (as least the criminal prosecution detection and prosecution side of things) is going to take a long time. The changes that have been most effective -- better pay and training have started to pay off in Mexico City and a few suburbs like Nezahuacoatl (where cops are required to read a book a month... and take art classes!). There has also been some progress on prison reform in these communities, with more flexibility in sentencing.

Mexico City is also experimenting with unified policing. A big problem with Mexican police forces is that different departments have different functions, and every municipio (or, in Mexico City, "delegacion") have different forces. "UNIPOL" is putting these different forces under a single command. I was the other day that Oaxaca is looking at doing the same thing -- though, Oaxaca being Oaxaca, there are those who worry it will strengthen the supposedly corrupt and oppressive administration.

One thing that might work -- and is being done here in Sinaloa -- is recruiting military administrators to manage the police "corporations."

"el_longhorn" is better qualified to speak on court changes. Oral trials are supposed to improve the justice delivery system... but all these things take time.

I think the biggest danger right now is that the short-term military "solution" could become a permanent fixture and cut off reforms that will take years to be effective.

Aside for the real fear for our civil rights. IN Guerrero, where water shed protection issues (and illegal logging)have escalated into violence, you see attempts to "spin" the fight into something involving narcotics -- and an attempt to use military forces to fight... environmentalists!

In the end, we're all in agreement. Its the financing and guns the gangsters receive that are the root of the problem. More guns are not the solution.

Anonymous said...

The temptation for local politicos to use US-supplied hardware (originally intended for an entirely different purpose) to settle internal scores is a pretty old one.

I recall very clearly the old hands in my Army unit, all Viet Nam War Vets, who told me of how the South Vietnamese Air Force used to drop ordnance on the montegnards whether there were reports of VC/NVA activity there or not. The indigs were immensely disliked by the political establishment in Saigon because they comprised an element beyond their political control, and thus merited the 'whiff of grapeshot' treatment to keep the 'barbarians' in their place.

Anyone who thinks Presidente Calderon won't find a way to justify the use of heavy artillery on politically restive native populations hasn't been paying attention to what's happening in the southern Mex states.

And yes, drugs are the handy excuse for acquiring this hardware. Anything that threatens the maintenance of Mexico's largely European-descended elite will be handily dispatched courtesy of US munitions and equipment. That such a threat is seen as coming from short, brown-skinned folks having classic Mayan features the American taxpayer is supposed to believe is juuuuuust 'coincidental'...

Anonymous said...

It would be a lot shorter to run a fence across the Mexican border with Guatemala and Belize than across the entire southern USA.

The USA should just annex Mexico. The people in Mexico would obviously support this since they are risking their lives to be in the USA already anyway, and if they don’t support it then do it by force. We’d be greeted as liberators! They have a bunch of oil in Mexico. That oil they is not being fully exploited because of the stupid state-run Pamex oil company. Put Exxalburton in charge of that oil and we can thumb our nose at OPEC. Why spend money fixing up Iraq when they just blow everything up. The money would be better spent fixing up Mexico. What could possibly go wrong?

Nicolas said...

yeah gritsforbreakfast you must know that the law of supply and demand in a market worth hundreds of billions will not be stopped by any human law...that's just economics 101....where's the outrage for what is destroying innocent people's lives overseas and at home, the so-called War on Drugs ?

jdgalt said...

Besides the human rights issues (and there's more than the one you cite), Mexican government efforts to shut down the drug gangs simply can't work because the gangs have already bought key people all through both the Mexican federal police and military. Any money contributed to these efforts will just wind up in the pockets of the crooks.

But it occurs to me that this is not the first time Mexican gang violence has spilled across the border into the US. We had the same problem in the early 20th century -- and we solved it quite elegantly and effectively in 1921. I believe we should consider using the same solution again.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

You realize, don't you JDG, that Blackjack Pershing never caught Pancho Villa - spent three years chasing him around Mexico to no avail then headed home with his tail between his legs. Is that the "elegant" solution from the Mexican Revolution you're talking about? Invading Mexico to pointlessly chase criminals we can never capture?

That approach also worked well in Afghanistan, hasn't it?! Or perhaps I'm missing your reference.

Anonymous said...

His reference should be to invade mexico, strip its current system of gov't, replace it with one exactly like ours, and watch the rest take care of itself...with a bit of friendly monitoring.

Too much disparity in Mex tween the haves and have nots.

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