Monday, December 22, 2008

Better border strategies needed for journalist, witness protection, unmasking corruption

The War on Drugs from its inception has been marked by a stubborn futility in the face of overwhelming failure, but these days some of the proposals to combat Mexico's cartels are laughably pointless, like the Dallas News' suggestion last weekend to protect journalists reporting on the drug war. Their editorial last Sunday opened:

As much as we hate to admit this, the leaders of Mexico's drug cartels know what they're doing. By targeting the people who tell the rest of Mexico – and the world, including those of us in North Texas – about their deadly ways, the cartel's honchos know they are silencing the storytellers.

And by silencing them, they decrease the chance that people will know the depth of the cartels' corruption.

Sadly, this is precisely what's happening. The Committee to Protect Journalists in New York reports that 21 journalists have been slain in Mexico since 2000. That includes Armando Rodriguez, killed last month in Ciudad Juárez.

So what is the solution to this problem, according to the Dallas News? Pass another law against it! God knows, that'll solve it - why didn't we think of that before?!

That's why it's so critical that Mexican legislators pass a law before them now to make it a federal crime to curtail an individual's right to self-expression. The proposal also would strengthen the federal office of special prosecutor and give it more clout in investigating cases like Mr. Ortiz's.

Giving the feds more power to protect journalists wouldn't end the violence, but at least the cartels would know that Mexico City values the storytellers. And that must frighten them.

Why in heavens name would the Dallas News think a new law against murdering people would "frighten" the cartels when they're killing cops and rivals with impunity and it's the police who are afraid of them, not the other way around?!

New laws banning already illegal behaviors are just for show. What are needed instead are new strategies and tactics.

Twenty one dead journalists is the best argument I can think of for state and federal intelligence officials (the FBI and CIA at the federal level, DPS' criminal intelligence division for the state) to forego their traditional "security through obscurity" approach and embrace what' I've been calling "open-sourced intelligence," where part of the government's strategy is to publicly unmask cartel members and drive them as far as possible underground. I see no reason for journalists to die for reporting information that, in most cases, is already sitting in some government file somewhere and which is in the public interest to make known.

I've also been trying to think what strategies the US might employ as Mexicos' partner to reduce corruption. IMO the emphasis on buying guns and equipment from Congress' favorite contractors, by itself, is a failed strategy if it doesn't first address the biggest barrier to success in reducing cartel power: Official corruption on both sides of the border.

Here's a suggestion that plays off of America's inherent advantages and strengths - the fact that the rule of law is much stronger here than in Mexico and people in the United States are (relatively) safe from retaliation compared to in Ciudad Juarez or Acuña:

Corruption occurs in Mexico more because of intimidation than some inherent weakness in the national character. Plata o Plomo - Silver or Lead - is the choice facing both local and federal officials, and the threat of a bullet is no joke. It doesn't matter who you are, the government can't protect you.

One of the lessons learned from US debates over witness intimidation and the "stop snitching" slogans popularized in recent years by drug dealers and hip hop moguls is the importance of well-funded witness protection programs to prevent witness intimidation. At the end of the day, sloganeering aside, there's really no substitute if you want people to cooperate by standing up to violent, dangerous thugs.

With that lesson in hand, perhaps the United States, as Mexico's partner, could assist by establishing a robust witness protection program whereby police and others who turn in their cartel handlers or citizens who rat out corrupt cops could actually come live in America with their family, not just until they were required to testify but as long as they continue to be in danger.

Even if America chipped in most of the cost, you'd have to relocate a lot of people before you reached the $1.4 billion-plus total proposed by the Bush Administration for guns and equipment in the Merida initiative.

(H/T: Drug War Rant)


Anonymous said...

We should issue visas to Mexican workers and legalize - and regulate - drug use.

Ok, ok, fine, we're not going to do that any time soon!

Spending money on witness protection sure suits me better than spending money on guns. Especially when the guns ultimately fall into the hands of the cartels.

Anonymous said...

A country where the media allowed itself to lie -- despite open source documents -- the people into support of the invasion of a foreign nation -- is probably too corrupt to preach to us.

I do not call myself a journalist these days ("investigador" -- researcher is safer) and even as a border reporter on the U.S. side did not write about the "drug war" except from official documents. Believe me, reporters here DO support the legal changes. They may SEEM cosmetic, and don't go far enough, but giving legal protection to reporters -- and creating the specific crime of "periodocida" may stay official violence against us.

A friend of mine is among those 21 journalists murdered in the last couple of years. He had nothing to do with reporting on the narcotics trade (and his murder may not have been related to his work), but there are lingering questions because of he had recently published a book highly critical of the Fox Administration. Others among those 21 include two radio reporters for an indigenous language station killed during faction fights between local political gangs.

U.S. media and bloggers, I'm afraid, seem under the impression that a top down, federalized anti-crime force is in our advantage... my response being to ask if you'd accept the FBI replacing your county sheriff's deputies, or your local constable's office). Not everything in Mexico revolves around the U.S. drug trade. Perhaps legalizing drugs will cut consumption -- or violence -- north of the border, but there are other things here to be considered. Protection for journalists, decent pay and adequate training for municipal, state and federal police among them.

Anonymous said...

my response being to ask if you'd accept the FBI replacing your county sheriff's deputies, or your local constable's office

When the deputies and constables are on the take like a few of ours are and apparently all of yours are, absolutely. We not only would accept it, we would insist upon it. State authorities first, but the feds if the AG/DPS didn't step in.

Keep up your America hate mexfiles. It may sell papers in yoru country, but it's the same tired song in ours. Learn to accept the blame for your actions, and we'll learn to accept it on ours.