Mexico: Pentagon privatizes controversial “war on drugs”

A little-known office of the US Defense Department is now taking bids from private security firms on a $3 billion contract for US-funded anti-narcotics operations in Mexico, Colombia, Afghanistan, Pakistan and other countries. According to a report in Wired News, the Pentagon’s Counter Narco-Terrorism Program Office (CNTPO) announced a “mega-contract” on Nov. 9 for as much as $950 million for “operations, logistics and minor construction,” up to $975 million for training foreign forces, $875 million for “Information” tasks, and $240 million for “program and program support.” The cash will start flowing next August, and the contractors may be able to extend the jobs for three more years.

The Mexican daily La Jornada reports that the work involving Mexican operations includes training for armed forces drivers; training for pilots, mechanics and crews on UH-60, Schweizer 333 or OH-58 helicopters in the Public Security Secretariat; training for up to 48 people to command and pilot Bell 206 helicopters; and the development of night vision materials and training programs for helicopter pilots and crews.

The CNTPO started in 1995, but its importance has grown as the Defense Department increasingly turns sensitive jobs over to private contractors. Nick Schwellenbach, director of investigations for the US nonprofit Project on Government Oversight, told Wired that the office is now “essentially planning on outsourcing a global counternarcotics and counterterrorism program over the next several years, and it’s willing to spend billions to do so.” “This stuff isn’t delivering paper clips or even fuel or bullets,” Schellenbach said. “This is something you really want to keep a tight lid on.”

The CNTPO gained some notoriety in 2009 when it unsuccessfully tried to award a contract worth about $1 billion to the Blackwater military services corporation. Blackwater employees have been accused of theft and human rights violations, notably in Iraq and Afghanistan; the company has since changed its name to Xe Services LLC. (Wired News, Nov. 22; LJ, Nov. 23, from correspondent)

Much of the Mexican population is disillusioned with the country’s “war on drugs,” five years after President Felipe Calderón Hinojosa began involving the military in anti-narcotics operations at the start of his term. On Nov. 25 Mexican human rights attorney Netzaí Sandoval filed a complaint with the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague charging Calderón, members of his cabinet and members of a drug cartel based in the northern state of Sinaloa with 470 documented cases of murder, torture, forced displacement and military recruitment of minors. These took place in a “generalized context of systematic violence which has brought Mexico to a humanitarian crisis, with more than 50,000 people killed, 230,000 displaced and 10,000 disappeared,” Sandoval told Netherlands Radio Worldwide.

Among the crimes attributed to the government in the complaint are sexual violations by Mexican soldiers, the “enslavement” of undocumented immigrants by officials in collaboration with criminal groups, the killing of civilians at military checkpoints, forced disappearances, extrajudicial executions and the use of torture to obtain confessions. The complaint says the Sinaloa Cartel and its head, Joaquín Guzmán (“El Chapo”), have created armies that are guilty of executions, amputations and decapitations, attacks on civilian targets and the military recruitment of minors.

The complaint, which was signed by 23,000 Mexicans, is unlikely to develop into an actual criminal case. But John Ackerman, a legal expert at the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM), told La Jornada that the complaint could lead ICC prosecutor Luis Moreno Ocampo to put Mexico under formal observation, as has happened with Colombia. “If we accomplish this first step, it would be a gain,” he said. (LJ, Nov. 26)

From Weekly News Update on the Americas, Nov. 27.

See our last post on Mexico.

  1. Who cares, they’re always changing corporation names
    From the Washington Post, Dec. 10:

    The private security contractor known as Blackwater renamed itself Xe Services nearly three years ago. Now, the firm is rebranding itself again.

    On Monday, Xe announced that it was changing its name to Academi, part of a years-long effort by the company to shed a troubled legacy that critics said made the firm a symbol for mercenaries and impunity in Iraq and elsewhere.

    In an interview, the company’s president and chief executive, Ted Wright, said the announcement was about more than a simple name change.

    “We want to reflect the changes we made in the company,” he said, noting that the firm has new ownership, new leadership and a “refocused strategy on training and security services.”

    The company also has unveiled a new Web site and logo. The tag on the Web site reads: “Elite Training. Trusted Protection.”

    Xe was acquired by USTC Holdings, an investor consortium, in December 2010, and since then has tried to undergo a corporate makeover. Erik Prince, the former Navy SEAL who built the company, no longer has ties to the business. The firm formed a new board of directors to manage the company and picked up big Washington names in the process.