Mexico: US leaks hit military, “drug war”

The US government hopes to develop a closer relationship with the Mexican military as a result of Mexico’s “war on drugs” and international humanitarian operations, according to US diplomatic cables obtained by the WikiLeaks group and posted on Dec. 2 by the Spanish daily El País. The cables also show that US and Mexican officials know the “drug war” itself is going badly, despite their public expressions of optimism.

The Mexican military has traditionally been suspicious of the US, which invaded Mexico on several occasions and seized one half of its territory in the 1840s, but Mexican attitudes are changing, according to a secret Jan. 29, 2010 assessment by the US embassy. Mexico and the US are now collaborating closely in the fight against drug trafficking, with the US funding Mexican military operations through the Mérida Initiative. The Mexican navy has been receiving special operations forces (SOF) training from the US military, according to the cable, and by January the army too was asking for training. The Jan. 12 earthquake in Haiti also provided an opportunity for closer collaboration: there were “[i]ncipient steps towards logistical interoperability with US forces…ongoing related to Haiti relief,” the embassy wrote. “We need to capitalize on these cracks in the door.”

The cable recommended “[e]ncouraging the Mexican military to participate more actively in the international arena, such as through greater security cooperation outreach to Central America and Colombia, and even with limited participation in regional humanitarian ops to possibly peacekeeping.” This will help “the military transition from a mentality of ‘Protecting the Revolution'”—the 1910 Mexican Revolution—”to a more active, dynamic, and flexible force.”

But the “drug war” has also created problems. More than 30,000 Mexicans have been killed since President Felipe Calderón Hinojosa stepped up the militarization of drug law enforcement when he took office four years ago, and this has increasing the armed forces’ involvement in human rights violations. The military “has taken a serious beating on human rights issues from international and domestic human rights organizations, who argue with considerable basis in fact that the military is ill-equipped for a domestic policing role,” the embassy warned.

Another problem is the perception that the militarization policy isn’t working. A confidential Oct. 5, 2009 cable reported that two officials of the Attorney General’s Office (PRG) advised a visiting delegation from the US Justice Department to explore “focusing our joint efforts on two or three key cities to reverse the current wave of violence and instability and show success in the fight against the DTOs [drug trafficking organizations] in the next 18 months.” They “believe the symbolism of turning several of the most violent cities would be potent, sending a signal to the rest of the country that the fight against organized crime can be won, and combating the current sense of impotence felt by many Mexicans.”

The two officials, Jorge Tello Peón and Gerómino Gutiérrez Fernández, suggested Ciudad Juárez in the state of Chihuahua and Tijuana in Baja California Norte as the cities to focus on. (El País, Madrid, Dec. 2; La Jornada, Mexico, Dec. 3)

US officials continue to promote the Calderón policy publicly. This year on Nov. 24, a little more than a week before the cables were released, US ambassador to Mexico Carlos Pascual told an academic conference in Mexico City that the escalation of violence over the past four years wasn’t a result of President Calderón’s policies but a matter of “cartels against cartels, gangs against gangs.” At another event earlier that day, Pascual announced that the US was supplying Mexico with training and equipment worth $600 million by the end of 2011 under the Mérida Initative. (LJ, Nov. 25)

Meanwhile, Mexican students have continued their protests against the militarization policy [see Update #1057]. On Nov. 20, the holiday marking the anniversary of the start of the 1910 Revolution, students marched in Ciudad Juárez to demand the removal of the army and the federal police from the area, where 2,800 people have been killed this year. The protesters were mostly from the Autonomous University of Ciudad Juárez (UACJ) and the Autonomous University of Chihuahua; a group of Catholic youths held a separate march for peace at the same time.

In Mexico City about 80 youths did street theater and passed out information to bystanders as army troops marched in the traditional Nov. 20 parade. Riot police broke up a student march later in the day and beat some protesters; the Federal District’s center-left government apologized to students for the incident, blaming it on lack of coordination. About 20 youths held a peace rally in Tlaxcala, capital of the central state of Tlaxcala. (LJ, Nov. 21)

From Weekly News Update on the Americas, Dec. 5.

See our last posts on Mexico and Mexico’s narco wars.