8 Reasons to Doubt There Will be any Policy Change in the Distastrous US-Mexico Drug War

By Laura Carsen, CIP

Mexico and the United States both held presidential elections in 2012 and two new governments took office–Enrique Peña Nieto in Mexico and Barack Obama in the United States. Although Obama began a second term, he has appointed new Secretaries of State and Defense, launched new initiatives and expanded some old ones. Both governments have new Congressional representatives.

Enrique Peña Nieto came to office with a pressing need to distance himself from Calderon’s war. The disastrous drug war played a major role in the downfall of the PAN in the 2012 elections. Since the campaign, he has said he will significantly modify the war strategy, focusing more on public security, reducing violence and root causes.

Members of the Peña cabinet use phrases like “building peace” instead of “waging war.” The Inter-Secretarial Commission installed on February 12 has a previously-absent emphasis on social programs. The president and members of his cabinet often repeat verbatim some of what the peace movement has been saying all along. It sounds good, or at least, better. And there are some specific actions that point to another approach. The approval of the Victims Law, an announced evaluation of the Merida Initiative, and development of a crime prevention model are a few examples.

In Washington, the Obama administration insists that “Beyond Merida” is different from the Bush-era Merida Initiative that Obama extended indefinitely when it expired in 2010.

So the question is: Are we really seeing a change in the security model?

Unfortunately, the answer is no. Not only that, both governments plan to intensify the Drug War, one of the worst “security policies” in history. Here’s why:

1. Peña Nieto’s military budget

The 2013 Mexican budget maintains and increases the militarized model of the Drug War. As approved, the budget to National Defense (SEDENA) is 60.8 billion Mexican pesos (MXN), double what it was in 2007 when the drug war was just beginning and 5 billion MXN more than in 2011, the last year of the Calderon administration.

The Peña Nieto administration says these new financial resources will go to counternarcotics efforts, which includes spy equipment, more military checkpoints throughout the country and weapons. The administration justifies the increase by citing the need for an “integral” war with the stated objectives of “corralling armed groups throughout the country, and improving the schemes of operation in integral combat against drug trafficking, to make more efficient the activities that they carry out in the areas of eradication, interception and the fight against organized crime.”

2. The gendarmerie (militarized police force)

Peña Nieto’s proposal to create a national gendarmerie is not in practice a form of demilitarization. It entails the creation of an initial force of 10,000 troops, most of whom, according to the government, will be soldiers, with some police agents. It differs in name only from Calderon’s massive military deployment.

3. The PRI’s history

The PRI is a political party that spent decades of its unchallenged rule developing forms of social control through diverse means: manipulation of the justice system, cooptation, fomenting internal divisions and violence. During the 2012 elections, the youth movement YoSoy132 reminded us that historical memory has not been erased: the PRI is not an unknown factor. Many names in the new cabinet of the “new PRI,” starting with the president himself, are closely associated with old-school politics, machismo and repression.

Back in the saddle, the PRI government has big plans for a series of structural reforms that are extremely unpopular. These policies seek to consolidate a misnamed “development” model based on privatization of resources, increased transnational investment and displacement of whole populations. Militarization of broad swathes of the country is the stick that follows the carrot. To impose these kinds of reforms, the presence of the armed forces in the name of the Drug War helps to remove people from zones of interest, to repress communities and groups that defend their territories and to intimidate or even wipe out sectors in resistance.

4. Drug warriors in the Peña Nieto administration

To quietly continue with the war while promising changes, the Peña administration has placed some key figures in high places. To give an example: Eduardo Medina Mora. Medina Mora was Attorney General in the Calderon cabinet until 2009, making headlines in 2008 by uttering the Orwellian phrase–apparently with no irony intended—“We are at war to recuperate the peace.” He was the spokesperson for the Calderon war and main apologist for the national (in) justice system. Today he is Mexico’s Ambassador to the United States.

The Pentagon has a close ally in Medina Mora. In a cable made public by Wikileaks, the U.S. Embassy in Mexico referred to Medina Mora as “a key player” in instituting the Merida Initiative. Now the U.S. government’s point person for the Drug War in Mexico works out of Washington overseeing a binational relationship whose main and practically only focus is the Merida Initiative.

5. John Kerry’s declarations at the Senate confirmation hearing The new Secretary of State said that Mexico is “under siege” and offered to intensify support. He affirmed that “President Peña Nieto is trying to move this in another direction (less militarized) and it is more important than ever to support him.” However, Kerry went on to insist that in any discussion of budget cuts, the Merida Initiative should be exempted. “I think that we are going to need to convince our colleagues of the importance of this initiative,” he said, without offering a single criticism of a model that has left more than 100,000 people dead or disappeared in just six years.

6. U.S. foreign aid to Mexico

In Washington, there is a recognition that the Drug War’s reputation is tarnished with blood and that it is necessary to clean up the image of the Merida Initiative. The State Department, backed by interested beltway NGOs, has tried to float a renaming campaign to “Merida 2” or “Beyond Merida” and stresses that the plan now includes aid to social programs and not just espionage and military/police counternarcotics operations. The rhetoric stresses that the U.S. supports Peña Nieto in a less military-heavy model and has modified Plan Mexico to have a more integral focus.

This would be a good thing if it were true. Although the direct military financing (DMF) has gone down from 2008 to 2013, the war model has not changed nor has the strategy. In fact, it has been deepened and intensified. If we follow the money rather than the rhetoric, we see Merida Initiative aid in the 2013 State Department’s foreign operations budget still under discussion provides $7 million USD to the armed forces, $199 million USD to counternarcotics efforts, $8 million USD to counterterrorism programs and only $35 million USD in economic support for a neighboring country in which half the population lives below the poverty line. Aid in areas like global health and education has been reduced or eliminated in this budget, and a list of human rights recommendations had been stripped from the Initiative at this writing. Moreover, the Department of Defense is funding more of Mexico’s drug war and those funds are even harder to track.

7. Expansion of military training for Mexican military

The Pentagon is actively expanding training programs with the Mexican armed forces ostensibly to fight drug cartels. It created a new base of special operations in Colorado Springs, home of the Northern Command (Northcom), to train Mexican military in techniques employed in Iraq. According to the magazine Proceso, this training in the US has included “espionage, torture, surprise attacks and kidnapping.” The express purpose of the new Northcom center, according to a Jan. 17 AP story, is the Drug War “so the Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto establishes a military force focused on criminal networks…”

Just so there is no doubt about the relationship between the new Northcom efforts and the Merida Initiative, the AP states it clearly: “Northcom’s current special operations training missions are an outgrowth of the Merida Initiative that was formalized in 2008, to provide extensive military assistance to Mexico.” The design of the training and war tactics treat counterinsurgency, counternarcotic and counterterrorism operations as if the three security threats were synonymous. The imposition of the counterterrorism paradigm on Mexico has terrible consequences for the U,S.-Mexico relationship. When the Calderon administration began to attack drug traffickers as a threat to national security, and not just as criminals, the cartels began to act much more like a threat to national security, unleashing battles for control of territory, increasing their interference with daily life in civil society, and challenging and coopting the State in many regions of the country.

8. The Drug War as big business

The defense industry, intelligence/espionage companies, private security firms and others related to the war industry see the War on Drugs as the new frontier. These sectors contribute heavily to political campaigns and exert heavy lobbying pressure. They are a powerful force to maintain a policy that has produced massive human rights violations and many deaths.

The change in rhetoric surrounding the Drug War in Mexico makes it all the more dangerous, as it hides the reality that it is in fact intensifying. If our peace movements do not continue to expose the real nature of the Drug War we will leave victims defenseless against a war that officially no longer exists even as it destroys lives every day.

It is important to note that although the new governments plan to continue the war, there are still opportunities for the peace movement to press for a real change in the security model. Sergio Alcocer, Sub-Secretary for North America of Mexico’s Ministry of Foreign Relations announced an upcoming evaluation of the Merida Initiative, “and based on that, we will decide how or if we continue within the Initiative or if other processes are established.”

The U.S. budget discussions can also be used to raise the point that the Merida Initiative does not stand up to any facts-based analysis of costs and benefits. It’s time to challenge Merida Initiative funding and demand the plan be terminated at once. This is also the moment to demand transparency and citizen participation in alternatives on both sides of the border. Mexico’s peace movement has already drafted documents on human security, mending the social fabric and fighting corruption. In the U.S., organizations have proposals for regulation of drugs, demilitarization of the border and building a more integral binational relationship. Their arguments against the application of a counterterrorism paradigm to the trafficking of prohibited substances and how this course of action will create another costly and threatening war, this time on our border, should be sufficient to cause legislators to at least listen.

8 razones para dudar que habrán cambios en la desastrosa Guerra contra las Drogas en los EE.UU. y México

Por Laura Carsen, CIP

México y los Estados Unidos tuvieron elecciones en el 2012 y dos nuevos gobiernos asumieron el poder—Enrique Peña Nieto en México y Barack Obama en los Estados Unidos. Aunque Obama empezó un segundo termino, él ha nominado nuevos Secretarios del Estado y de Defensa, ha lanzado nuevas iniciativas y ha expandido algunas antiguas. Ambos gobiernos tienen congresistas nuevos.

Enrique Peña Nieto llegó a la presidencia con la necesidad urgente de alejarse de la guerra contra las drogas de Calderón. La desastrosa guerra jugó un papel importante en la derrota del PAN en las elecciones del 2012. Desde su campaña, Peña Nieto ha dicho que modificará considerablemente la estrategia de la guerra para enfocarse en la seguridad pública, la reducción de la violencia y las raíces del conflicto.

Miembros del gabinete de Peña Nieto usan frases como “construir la paz” en lugar de “hacer la guerra.” La Comisión Inter-Secretarial instalada el 12 de febrero tiene un énfasis, previamente ausente, en programas sociales. El presidente y los miembros de su gabinete suelen repetir palabra por palabra lo que siempre ha dicho el movimiento por la paz. Suena muy bueno, o al menos, mejor. Y hay algunas acciones específicas que indican un nuevo enfoque. La aprobación de la Ley de Víctimas, una evaluación de la Iniciativa Mérida y el desarrollo de un modelo de prevención del delito, son algunos ejemplos.

En Washington, el gobierno de Obama insiste que “Beyond Merida” es diferente que la Iniciativa Mérida aprobada bajo el gobierno de Bush y extendida indefinitivamente por Obama en 2010 cuando se venció. Entonces la pregunta es: ¿Realmente vamos a ver un cambio en el modelo de seguridad?

Lamentablemente, la respuesta es no. Además, ambos gobiernos planean intensificar la Guerra contra las Drogas, uno de las peores “políticas de seguridad” en la historia. Estas son las razones para dudar que habrá un cambio:

1. El presupuesto militar de Peña Nieto

El presupuesto mexicano del 2013 mantiene y aumenta el modelo militarizado de la Guerra contra las Drogas. En la versión aprobada, el presupuesto para la defensa nacional (SEDENA) es de 68.000 millones pesos mexicanos, el doble de lo que fue en 2007 cuando recién estaba empezando la Guerra contra las Drogas y 5.000 millones pesos más que en el 2011, el último año del gobierno de Calderón.

El gobierno de Peña Nieto dice que estos nuevos recursos financieros se dirigirán a esfuerzos antinarcóticos, los cuales incluyen equipo de espionaje, más controles militares alrededor del país, y armas. El gobierno justifica el aumento con la necesidad de una guerra “integral” con los objetivos declarados de “controlar los grupos armados alrededor del país y mejorar las esquemas de operación en el combate integral contra el narcotráfico, con el fin de hacer más eficientes las actividades que se realizan en los áreas de erradicación, intercepción y la lucha contra el delito organizado.”

2. La policía militarizada

La propuesta de Peña Nieto para crear una fuerza de policía militarizada no es una forma de desmilitarización en realidad. Incluye la creación de una fuerza inicial de 10.000 tropas, la mayoría de las cuales, según