Admiral Michael Mullen, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, visited Mexico this week with a proposal to increase cooperation between military forces, especially in the areas of intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance. While Mullen did not explicitly discuss the use of US troops in Mexico, he noted that Mexican authorities are increasingly open to bolstering military cooperation with the United States. The presence of US troops in Mexico would break with more than 150 years of sovereignty.
Discussions of military cooperation involving surveillance and reconnaissance, which would presumably require the presence of US troops on Mexican soil, met with widespread popular resistance. Yet Mullen remained upbeat: “What I find is the military to military relationship is the best I’ve ever seen it.” Last year, the US Congress approved US$1.4 billion in military assistance for Mexico, and the Obama administration is trying to fast track this year’s payment.
Mullen said the US military was ready to share tactics learned during the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan that could prove useful in Mexico’s drug war. The US military is “sharing a lot of lessons we’ve learned, how we’ve developed similar capabilities over the last three or four years in our counter-insurgency efforts as we have fought terrorist networks. There are an awful lot of similarities,” he said. This marks the first time a high-ranking government official from either country has referred to Mexico’s battle against narcotics cartels as a “counter-insurgency effort.”
Mullen’s comments help to put in perspective recent actions by US officials, including a Travel Advisory issued by the State Department and a critical assessment of President Calderon’s war on drugs. With Mexico’s economy in serious trouble, the Travel Advisory will likely hurt the tourist industry, the fourth most important source of foreign currency after migrant remittances, petroleum sales and narco-dollars. The Obama administration may be sending a not so subtle message – cooperate with our military and that might give us a reason to remove the Travel Advisory. Calderon appears open to the overtures and his presidency is increasingly seen as isolated and inconsequential. His current efforts to curtail organized crime have fallen flat, in large part because narco-dollars and high-powered weapons continue to flow from the US feeding the violence of the Sinaloa, Juarez and Michoacan cartels. According to law enforcement officials, 90 percent of the guns picked up in Mexico from criminal activity are purchased in the United States. Last month, fifty-four Congress members wrote to President Obama backing Mexican calls to enforce a ban on the imports of assault weapons, which are often shipped to Mexico.
In October 2007 President Bush introduced the Mérida Initiative, a drug war model along the lines of Plan Colombia that supports President Calderon’s offensive of interdiction and enforcement but which largely ignores the public health aspects of the drug problem. Since it’s gone into effect, there’s been a decrease in seizures of narcotics, and increases in their production, and in drug-related violence on the streets of Mexico. In 2007 there were approximately 2,500 narco-related deaths whereas in 2008 there were 6,290 and these figures are going up. Despite this and despite being criticized by the United Nations and a high-level commission called the Latin American Commission on Drugs and Democracy, these failures of the drug war model are continuously spun as successes.
Meanwhile, more troops and Federal Preventative Police have arrived in Ciudad Juarez, brining the total number of federal forces to nearly 8,000. During the first few days after their arrival, murders declined in the city. A similar response occurred last year when President Calderon sent 2,000 troops to the city, but within weeks the murder rate skyrocketed as three cartels battle for control of the city. Many residents expect the “cucaracha effect,” meaning that cartel members will likely move to other nearby cities while the army remains in Ciudad Juarez. Ciudad Juarez is located across the US border from El Paso, Texas. In a recent visit to El Paso, Texas Governor Rick Perry called for 1,000 US troops to be deployed to protect the border. But the mayor of El Paso, John Cook, has publicly expressed his opposition to militarizing the border.
Recently on Democracy Now! (www.democracynow.org) Greg Grandin, professor of Latin American history at New York University, had this to say about the increased militarization of Mexico:
“Oh, I think there’s a clear concern that the Mexican state, the promise of democratization that happened with the election of PAN and Vicente Fox two cycles back has not been delivered, that there’s—that both main political—that all three main political parties, the PAN, the PRI and the PRD, are losing its ability to channel dissent and protest and popular aspirations through the political process. And you see the growth of social movements and protest, not just in Chiapas, of course, with the Zapatistas, but we saw Oaxaca, saw the crisis in Oaxaca. And we saw a lot of the rhetoric of the war on drugs and the war on terror being used to repress dissent in Oaxaca. And in Chihuahua, people protesting the privatization of water and other natural resources have been locked up and have been physically repressed under the aegis of the war on terror and the war on drugs. So you’re seeing a kind of synergy of all of these different crises coming together in Mexico”.
Many Mexicans are looking to 2010 as a year for dramatic change, similar to the 1910 Revolution and the 1810 Independence. The US military may be using the war on drugs as a cover to insert counter-insurgency units in Mexico in anticipation of expected social unrest in 2010.