Monday, September 29, 2008

Plan Mexico in the Caribbean: Payday for Haiti Coup Co-conspirators

This is part three in a series that analyzes the recently released spending plan for the Merída Initiative, also known as Plan Mexico. Part one analyzed Plan Mexico's funds for Mexico, and part two discussed Plan Mexico in Central America.

Narco News has made the entire Merída Initiative spending plan available.

In February 2004, Haitian paramilitaries left their bases in the Dominican Republic and marched towards Haiti with the goal of ousting democratically elected President Jean-Bertrand Aristide for the second time. When they arrived in Haiti, many were wearing Dominican Republic National Police uniforms.

The paramilitary forces were well prepared. For two years prior to the 2004 coup, about 200 US Special Forces members had trained them in the Dominican Republic with funds from the National Endowment for Democracy’s International Republican Institute. They trained on Dominican federal government property with the knowledge and permission of the Dominican Republic’s then-president Hipolito Mejia. In order to avoid suspicion, the Haitian militiamen dressed in Dominican Republic National Police uniforms. During this two-year training period, the Haitian paramilitaries ran frequent cross-border raids into Haiti to attack Aristide supporters, always retreating back into their Dominican bases afterwards.

After the coup leaders took control of the Haitian government as a US-backed “transitional government,” chaos reigned in the streets of Haiti. The World Bank estimated that by March 2004 about 1,000 people had died as a direct or indirect consequence of coup-related violence.

Supporters of President Aristide and his Lavalas party quickly mobilized in the streets to defend democracy. In one such action on April 27, 2005, Lavalas supporters rallied near the United Nations Mission headquarters in Bourdon, Port-au-Prince. According to Amnesty International, the Haitian National Police severely repressed the peaceful demonstration. Police fired into the crowd of demonstrators, killing nine people and injuring many others, including bystanders.

On August 20, 2005, at a US Agency for International Development-funded soccer match, masked Haitian National Police accompanied paramilitaries armed with machetes and hatchets in carrying out a massacre in the stadium. Police and the paramilitaries entered the stadium, ordered all in attendance to lie on the ground, and then selectively killed suspected Lavalas supporters. Anyone who attempted to escape was shot or hacked to death. By the end of the massacre, police and paramilitaries had murdered fifty people in front of 5,000 soccer fans.

In an attempt to bring the post-coup violence under control, the Brazil-led United States Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH) arrived on the scene on June 1, 2004. Its official mandate was “to assist with the restoration and maintenance of the rule of law, public safety and public order in Haiti….” According to MINUSTAH’s website, it was in Haiti “in support of the Transitional Government, to ensure a secure and stable environment within which the constitutional and political process in Haiti can take place.” MINUSTAH got right to work supporting the transitional government by gathering intelligence on activists at protests.

In an effort to “stabilize” the tense political situation in Haiti, MINUSTAH carried out two military operations in Cite Soleil, the poorest neighborhood in the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere and a bastion of Aristide support. According to the Haiti Information Project:

In the early morning hours of July 6, 2005, more than 350 UN troops stormed the seaside shantytown of Cite Soleil in a military operation with the stated purpose of halting violence in Haiti. When the shooting stopped seven hours later, more than 26 people, the majority of them unarmed civilians lie dead with scores more wounded…. An ‘After Action Report’ submitted to the US Embassy by the UN states that the UN attack on the crumbling civilian neighborhood was intense, prolonged, and carried out with heavy artillery and weaponry that UN officials knew could cause extensive collateral damage and the death of innocent victims.”

The July 6 bloodbath apparently did not succeed in “stabilizing” Haiti, so MINUSTAH carried out a second raid in Cite Soleil on December 22, 2006:

According to the After action report, ‘...the firefight lasted over seven hours during which time [UN] forces expended over 22,000 rounds of ammunition... [An official] with MINUSTAH acknowledged that, given the flimsy construction of homes in Cite Soleil and the large quantity of ammunition expended, it is likely that rounds penetrated many buildings, striking unintended targets.’… Although many were likely killed behind thin walls, the video evidence of the disproportionate number of victims felled by single shots to the head from high-powered rifles lends credence to the testimony of survivors following the deadly raid.

The Haiti Information Project has extensive photographic evidence of extrajudicial executions carried out during the July 6 MINUSTAH raid (warning: some photos are extremely graphic).


Plan Mexico: More of the Same in Haiti and the Dominican Republic

Plan Mexico’s $5 million in anti-narcotics funds to Haiti and the Dominican Republic hardly constitutes a significant change or expansion of US hegemony in either country. Rather, it should be considered a continuation of existing US foreign policy in the region.

For decades, the US government has armed, trained, and funded the police forces that will receive resources under Plan Mexico. It’s no surprise, then, that with the exception of the Haitian Coast Guard, all of Plan Mexico’s law enforcement recipients in the Caribbean willingly played important and deadly roles in repressing democratic resistance to the US-supported 2004 coup in Haiti.

It’s not clear that the US government made new funds available for either country as a result of Plan Mexico. It appears to have simply moved around existing funds so that the Dominican Republic and Haiti are included under the Plan Mexico rubric.

Haiti’s $2.5 million in anti-narcotics funding under Plan Mexico constitutes only 22% of the country’s overall International Narcotics Control and Law Enforcement (INCLE) funding for 2008. What’s more, Haiti’s 2008 INCLE funding constitutes a 23% decrease from 2007’s funding levels.

While the Dominican Republic’s $2.5 million in Plan Mexico anti-narcotics funds marks the first year that the country will receive INCLE money, it is not the first time the recipient, the Dominican National Police, will receive US support. The Dominican National Police’s predecessor, the Dominican National Guard, was created in 1918 as a US initiative following a US Marine invasion of the Dominican Republic. According to William Blum in Killing Hope, “The US placed [the National Guard] under the control of a young officer it had trained named Rafael Trujillo,” who later became the most notorious and brutal dictator the Dominican Republic has ever seen. Trujillo was so brutal that the US found it necessary to plan and participate in his assassination in order to prevent a leftist revolution such as the one that occurred in Cuba.

When the Dominican National Guard was disbanded and turned into the Dominican National Police, it was the US that stepped up to support the transition to a civilian police force. Rather that including any new initiatives for the Dominican National Police, the Plan Mexico spending plan states, “The Merída Initiative funding will be used to continue supporting the transformation of the Dominican National Police into a professional civilian law enforcement agency.” It will do this though “technical assistance, capacity building and equipping the National Police to support transition in areas of basic police training reform, strategic planning, internal affairs, and communications systems.”

The Haitian National Police, despite its numerous outstanding cases of human rights abuses such as the massacres it carried out during the coup, will continue to receive US aid under Plan Mexico. The resources provided under Plan Mexico, which include intelligence training and equipment and the construction of a new pier, hardly constitute the most insidious US aid to the Haitian National Police. In recent years the US government has given or sold millions of dollars in arms to the Haitian National Police.

Plan Mexico will allow the US to continue to leverage control over the Haitian National Police. According to the spending plan, “The Merída Initiative funding will be used to continue supporting the transformation of the Haitian National Police into a professional civilian law enforcement agency through expanded communications and intelligence capabilities; to increase the number of successful prosecutions of major criminals; to enhance Haiti’s capability to monitor, detect, and interdict illegal shipments of narcotics, firearms, and human smuggling in priority areas; and to improve cooperation between Dominican Republic and Haitian public security and judicial authorities.”

The US has supported “the transformation of the Haitian National Police into a professional civilian law enforcement agency” since its creation. President Aristide created the Haitian National Police in 1995 after disbanding the military in an attempt dismantle its political control. The goal of creating the Haitian National Police was to bring public security under civilian control, but high-ranking members of the military have consistently controlled it.

Being the poorest country in the hemisphere, Haiti lacked the resources necessary to train the new police force in civilian policing techniques. So, despite the US role in the 1991-94 coup that temporarily ousted Aristide, Haiti turned to the US Department of Justice’s International Criminal Investigative Training Assistance Program (ICITAP) to train the National Police. ICITAP training for the Haitian police included crowd control, the operation of firearms, and the use of force. The results of this training were apparent in the Haitian National Police’s actions during the 2004 coup.

Plan Mexico will also give the Haitian Ministry of Justice more control over law enforcement by funding the installation of “a secure Ministry of Justice-controlled network which will interconnect rule of law activities, specifically law enforcement operations, investigations, prosecution case management, records and case activities of the Judiciary, and inmate/detention management.” The Ministry of Justice’s actions following the 1991-1994 coup demonstrate its lack of commitment to the rule of law. According to an article by Diego Hausfather and Nikolas Barry-Shaw on Znet, “The Ministry of Justice has organized sham trials for ex-army officers like FRAPH [Front for the Advancement of Haiti’s Progress] leader Louis Jodel Chamblain accused of carrying out massacres or assassination [sic] during the 1991-94 coup. The defendants have unanimously been acquitted in proceedings described as ‘an insult to justice’ and a ‘mockery’ by Amnesty International.” FRAPH leaders may have enjoyed such leniency because some of them were on the CIA payroll during the coup.

Plan Mexico will also support the work of MINUSTAH, again, despite numerous allegations of human rights abuses and massacres carried out by MINUSTAH soldiers. One of MINUSTAH’s mandates in Haiti is to improve security on the Dominican Republic/Haiti border, so Plan Mexico will provide Dominican and Haitian security forces with joint trainings.


Missing the Mark

Haitian and Dominican residents will most likely not notice any change in their day-to-day lives and interactions with security forces as a result of Plan Mexico. Plan Mexico is a drop in the bucket compared to existing US aid to the region, both qualitatively and quantitatively.

Plan Mexico represents a continuance of twisted US priorities in the region. Death and violence in Haiti will continue as long as its government is at the mercy of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank. Thus far, any attempts to free Haiti from the international financial institutions’ grips have resulted in coups. The 1991-94 coup was a period of privatization frenzy in Haiti from which the nation never recovered.

The US government would be most successful at reducing violence and death in the region by providing real economic development to Haiti in the form of reparations for its support of the Duvalier regime and its role in two recent coups. Reparations combined with debt forgiveness might allow Haiti to recover from the environmental damage wrought by decades of clear-cutting its rich mahogany forests to pay its illegitimate external debts. Clear-cutting has resulted in soil erosion to the point where much of Haiti’s land is agriculturally useless. Furthermore, clear-cutting has caused mudslides that, combined with poor Haitian residents’ flimsy housing, have led to much higher storm death tolls than in the neighboring Dominican Republic.

While Plan Mexico does not currently represent a significant policy change in Haiti and the Dominican Republic, activists should keep it on their radar, because Washington is obviously keeping the two Caribbean nations on its radar. Washington has made a conscious effort to draw the Caribbean into the Plan Mexico zone. Given that the US government has moved from promoting Plan Mexico as a defined amount of aid over a set number of years to a potentially limitless amount of aid without an end date, there is always room for the expansion of the Caribbean’s role within Plan Mexico.

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Saturday, September 27, 2008

Mexican Activists Turn Over Mexico City Man to Police in Sally Grace Eiler Murder Case

Last night Mexican police transferred Omar Yoguez Singu, 32, to the Oaxacan attorney general's custody for murdering 20-year-old Marcella "Sally" Grace Eiler. The AP reports that he claims he had consensual sex with Sally, then killed her with a machete during an argument.

Yoguez Singu was captured thanks to the quick action of Oaxacan activists who publicized her murder internationally.

Yoguez Singu raised his friends' suspicions when he returned to Mexico City from a recent trip to San Jose del Pacifico, were locals discovered Sally's decaying and mutilated body in a cabin. They noticed that he was injured and that his two dogs were missing, so they asked him what happened. Yoguez Singu reportedly told them that one of his dogs bit a child in the community, so locals tried to kill the dog with a machete. He allegedly told them that he was injured attempting to save the dog.

Thanks to the widely disseminated statement signed by Oaxacan organizations that Sally worked with, people in Yoguez Singu's circle of friends knew that a woman was murdered in San Jose del Pacifico while Yoguez Singu was there. They called activists in Oaxaca to confirm Yoguez Singu's story about his dogs.

Townspeople from San Jose del Pacifico denied Yoguez Singu's story. They said both of the dogs were still with them because Yoguez Singu had left without them. They also reportedly said he was the last person they saw with Sally before she disappeared.

When Yoguez Singu's friends confronted him about his lies, he reportedly confessed to them. His friends kept an eye on him while Oaxacan activists made the trip to Mexico City to obtain an arrest warrant.

When the arrest warrant was finalized, activists reportedly arranged to meet police in a supermarket to hand over Yoguez Singu. The AP reports that he was arrested on Wednesday, September 24.

Activists were quick to place Sally's murder in the context of rampant unchecked violence against women in Oaxaca. They note that aggressors are hardly ever punished for their crimes. "There is no justice in Oaxaca," said a spokesperson for the Popular Indigenous Council of Oaxaca - Ricardo Flores Magon (CIPO-RFM).
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Hasta Siempre Sally Grace: Another US Activist Murdered in Oaxaca

In my memories of Sally Grace, she looks just like the photograph of her that her friends published along with the communique denouncing that she was raped and murdered--laughing and smiling with a camera in her hand.

Sally GraceSally told me she was a wanderer who had her strongest ties to Arizona. When she arrived in Oaxaca in the summer 2007 to help out local organizations in the popular struggle against Gov. Ulises Ruiz Ortiz, she published her photos, updates, and translations from the Popular Indigenous Council of Oaxaca - Ricardo Flores Magon (CIPO-RFM) and the APPO on Arizona Indymedia. When she went back to Arizona for a visit in March, she organized fundraising events and reportbacks where she showed photos and videos from the streets of Oaxaca and sold artisanry woven by CIPO women

Sally's friends in the CIPO-RFM, Encuentro de Mujeres Oaxaqueñas "Compartiendo Voces de Esperanza" ("Sharing Voices of Hope" Gathering of Oaxacan Women), Colectivo Mujer Nueva (New Woman Collective), Voces Oaxaqueñas Construyendo Autonomía y Libertad (Oaxacan Voices Constructing Autonomy and Freedom), Colectivo Tod@s Somos Pres@s (We're all Prisoners Collective), and Encuentro de Jóvenes en el Movimiento Social Oaxaqueño (Gathering of Young People in the Oaxacan Social Movement) say that she helped out wherever needed, be it painting banners or murals, performing Arabic dances, organizing punk shows to raise money for the organizations she supported, teaching women's self-defense classes, or translating and teaching English. She also served as an international human rights observer, accompanying activists who felt threatened by the government or paramilitaries in Oaxaca.

Most recently, Sally accompanied family members of a witness in the case of murdered Indymedia journalist Brad Will. She lived in their home and accompanied them as they went about their daily lives. However, a family member decided that the situation put Sally's life in danger, too. For example, the mysterious people following the family didn't leave them alone, even if Sally was around. So the woman encouraged Sally to go off with some friends who were uninvolved in the movement.

***

Sally and I met in Oaxaca during the November 2007 commemorations and protests that marked the anniversary of Brad Will's murder. We woke up early the morning of the gathering that aimed to re-erect the barricades in the place where government agents shot Brad to death. Someone went out to check out the meeting spot. He came back pale. "There's police there. They're masked and they're grabbing everyone who shows up. We can't go." So we stayed hidden where we were, and Sally and I chatted about who we were and what we did. She talked about the neighborhood where she lived; she said it was dangerous because it was teeming with PRI members, supporters of the despised Gov. Ulises Ruiz Ortiz.

Hours later, Sally left with other compañeros and compañeras to participate in and take photos of a huge march called by the Section 22 teachers union and other APPO members. I stayed behind, using the excuse of other work that had to be done behind the scenes. Sally came back hours later and got to work uploading her photos of the march to Arizona Indymedia and her Flickr album. She worked all night while we slept.

We stayed holed up where we were for a few days. When a friend and I decided that the situation on the streets had sufficiently cooled down, we decided to venture outside to run errands downtown and find a new place to stay. Knowing that tattoos, dark clothing, and anything else "suspicious" would be more than enough reason to snatch us, we borrowed light clothing that covered our tattoos and bade farewell to Sally and the rest of the compañeros there. Then my friend and I walked out into the streets for the first time in days.

When we reached downtown we made our way towards the market. I don't know exactly at what point the pick-up truck full of municipal police began to follow us, but they made their presence known soon enough. Two cops jumped out of the back of the truck and, communicating with whistles and hand signals, ran towards us. One came around front and, without saying a word, pointed his automatic weapon in our faces.

I grabbed my companion's hand, and even though he didn't speak a word of English, I began to talk to him in English: "What's going on? What do they want?"

"Tranquila, tranquila," he responded. Act calm. Don't show them fear. They're looking to see if you get scared.

The police officer kept his gun leveled at our heads, first pointing it in my friend's face, then mine, then back again. "What's happening?" I asked in English.

The cop's colleagues whistled to him. He whistled back. Then he lowered his weapon and ran, disappearing around a corner. The pick-up full of cops peeled off. We continued towards the market as if nothing had happened.

I knew that being a reporter in Mexico entailed risks. Mexico is, after all, the most dangerous country in the hemisphere to be a reporter, and second in the world only to Iraq.

This point was driven home when I was working in Sonora in late October 2006. I was covering a Day of the Dead celebration with Subcomandante Marcos when everyone's cell phones began to ring. Those of us who answered got the bad news: they'd killed a gringo Indymedia reporter in Oaxaca. His name was Brad Will.

***

Sally's raped and decaying body turned up in a cabin 20 minutes outside of San Jose del Pacifico. A neighbor noticed the smell and called the police.

According to the friend who identified the body, her face was unrecognizable: it was black as if it had been burned, and all of her hair was gone as if it had been ripped out. But Julieta Cruz recognized Sally's tattoos.

Sally's murder may have passed as yet another case of sexual violence, completely unrelated to her political work with some of the most persecuted organizations in Oaxaca. But Sally's friends in Oaxaca City know that she was being followed as a result of her human rights work and her associations with CIPO and other Oaxacan organizations for whom political violence is a daily fact of life.

While Sally's friends can't say for sure that her murder was politically motivated, they are certain that the government is not doing enough to seek justice in her case. The police and attorney general's office are slow to act, and they are not interviewing key witnesses who saw Sally before she was murdered and may be able to identify whom she was with. To protest this lack of action, organizations who knew Sally held a protest on September 25, first in front of the US consulate in Oaxaca and then at the local attorney general's office. A CIPO spokesperson says CIPO simply doesn't have the resources to thoroughly investigate the case, and the government won't share information with anybody who isn't family. Therefore, they have to resort to pressuring the government to do its job and investigate the murder of Sally Grace.

***

Sally was not by any means a central figure in Oaxacan activism. She was not an organizer. On the contrary, she did the only thing a foreign activist can do: she helped out here and there as she could. And through her translations and reportbacks, she kept the lines of communication between the US and Oaxaca open. Long after international attention and outrage had fizzled in Oaxaca, Sally stayed and accompanied activists whose safety no longer matters to the international community. She didn't protect them and she didn't get involved--she just watched and listened.

So why would someone take the trouble to follow and then brutally murder someone like Sally?

My friend Sister Dianna Ortiz was disappeared and tortured in Guatemala in 1989. Sister Dianna taught Spanish to indigenous children, hardly a revolutionary or insurgent undertaking. She hadn't been in Guatemala long before she was disappeared. But they chose her.

Years later in her memoirs, Sister Dianna notes that torture and political violence aren't just intended for the individuals who physically suffer a violent act. Torture and political violence are meant to terrorize an entire population. When the attackers grabbed Sister Dianna--probably one of the least prominent and powerful people in her mission, and one without any connection whatsoever to the resistance--they sent a message to everyone: No one is safe.

If they'd grabbed a priest, a bishop, a social leader, or an insurgent, everyone else would have been able to explain it away, "Well, he was an insurgent, and she was a leader. I'm neither. I'm safe."

But when they grab someone who operates on the periphery, like Sister Dianna or Sally, they succeed in terrorizing everyone: foreigners, locals, leaders, rank and file, neighbors, activists, punks, journalists, women... No one is safe.

***

Brad Will died a martyr. He died on the job. He died in the streets during an uprising. He filmed his own murder. He died surrounded by compañeros and witnesses. Despite this and other damning evidence, the Mexican government still tries to explain away his murder. As if using his murder as justification for a violent police invasion of Oaxaca City weren't enough, the day Sally's body turned up the government announced that it will yet again seek arrest warrants for APPO members and supporters in relation to Brad Will's murder.

Sally, on the other hand, died in the worst way: scared, tormented, and alone. There's no video or photographic evidence. There was no uprising providing an obvious motivation for murdering her. On the contrary, her murder leaves open the question of whether it was politically motivated or a random act of sexual violence. This could have been intentional on the part of her attacker or attackers to hide their true aims.

***

Shortly after publishing my article exposing the identities of the private contractors who led torture trainings for police in Leon, Guanajato, people followed me. It happened at least twice. The first time I was with a friend, and the person drove off after a few blocks.

The second time I was alone. A gray pick-up started following me very slowly, keeping pace behind me as I walked. I stopped and asked him what he wanted. He didn't respond. He just stared. I kept walking.

After what seemed like forever, I stopped a second time. "What do you want?" I yelled in Spanish. He rolled down his window a bit. "Tell me what you want or leave me alone!" He just stared. "WHAT DO YOU WANT?!?!" He stared.

I stomped off. He kept following. I called someone for help. My friend came out into the street. The gray pick-up drove off.

I never denounced it because I still don't know if the motivations behind it were political or perverted. That's the double-bind of being a female social fighter. We suffer violence as activists, and we suffer violence as women. The violence is almost always linked. But political violence can be used as a cover for sexual violence, and sexual violence is used as a cover for political violence.

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Thursday, September 25, 2008

Narcoterrorism in Mexico

by Carlos Montemayor for La Jornada
translation and notes by Kristin Bricker

Translator's note: On September 15, Mexican Independent Day, unknown assassins threw two fragmentation grenades into a crowd of revelers gathered for the traditional grito or cry for independence. Eight civilians, including children, died in the attack. This is the first time in Mexico that civilians were specifically and intentionally targeted in what is suspected to be a narco-related attack. As Montemayor discusses in the following essay, the attack brought the debate of whether Mexico constitutes a "narco-State" to the forefront in Mexico. The narco-State assumes that drug cartels are taking over the Mexican government to the point where the government and the cartels are becoming one and the same.

No one denies that the cartels have a significant influence over the government. President Felipe Calderon chose to deploy the federal army to eleven drug-producing states because the local police were either incapable of combating the cartels, or, more frequently, working for the cartels. The frequent shoot-outs that occur between the army and drug cartels often involve police--fighting on the side of the drug cartels.

Suspicion of the government's involvement in protecting and assisting drug traffickers was even further elevated by the revelation that ten plainclothes police who were supposed to work Morelia's Independence Day celebration never showed up for work. Furthermore, witnesses saw a man throw the grenades--he even apologized to those around him for what he was about to do--but the only people who were detained following the attack were released.


The terrorist attacks carried out in the city of Morelia this past September 15 brought out diverse perspectives in the international and Mexican media about the relevance of drug trafficking in Mexico and its parallels with Colombia.

Those perspectives distort Mexico's political life in various directions, sometimes magnifying the controversial process of drug trafficking in our country, sometimes confusing and forgetting the real collapse of our economic life, and at other times trying to capitalize politically, or even better, partisanly, on the drug trafficking cartels' escalating violence. A convincing and grave example is the federal budget for the 2009 fiscal year: a notable increase in funding to Sedena [Mexico's National Defense Department], SSP [Mexico's Public Security Department], and Cisen [Mexico's Intelligence Agency], and the decrease in the areas of health, education, and social security[1]. This approach to the political budget demonstrates that the federal administration assumes that this country's grave conflicts would be resolved with more repressive apparatuses and a reduction of rights, and that its attention is far from on the impoverishment and stagnation of the national economy, which finds itself in the basement of the 20 Latin American countries analyzed by Cepal [the UN's Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean]. What happened in Morelia can produce ideal media results for the Mexican government.

There's one thing about the attack that's difficult to doubt: it was narcoterrorism. It's about an unprecedented act committed in the birthplace of president Felipe Calderon, which was the state where the media and military war against drug trafficking began[2]. For months now in many places in the country, on the other hand, narcobanners[3] have shown up denouncing the governmental bias in this war. It's about a change of message to the federal government: from the narcobanners and the attacks against the civilian population (Creel and Ciudad Juarez in Chihuahua, Ocoyoacac in the state of Mexico, Merida in Yucatan[4]) to fragmentation grenades. We are, at the very least, facing a gradual, ascending, and continuing process.

In effect, we have a possible similarity with the Colombia of the '80s: the economic, social, and arms strength of drug trafficking on one side, and the poriferous and corrupt politicians, from police and military structures and some top public servants administering highways, airports, customs, or ports, on the other. All of this is a reflection of the insufficient and ineffective intelligence services[5], a situation which has worsened over the past four federal adminstrations. The war on drug trafficking lacks intelligence services and is extremely erratic. It's a medium to intensify the subjugation of the Mexican police and military to the United States' hemispheric security projects through projects like Plan Colombia and Plan Mérida[6].

A little while ago an Argentine journalist from the newspaper The Nation commented to me that some analysts have begun to use the expression narco-State when talking about Mexico. To me it seems exaggerated and above all erroneous. The Mexican State is dismantling itself because it submits itself to irrational economic globalization, not because of drug trafficking. It's a State weakened by neoliberalism, with a population that's becoming poorer and poorer, with a government that's becoming more and more inept and vulnerable and very docile and faithful to the large consortiums' interests. Drug trafficking is not the country's mortal enemy; the transnational consortiums are, the foreignization of our economy in bank and financial services, in business, in agricultural products, and in the energy sector. To talk of a narco-State means forgetting the economic prostration that has brought us the dismantlement of the public company and the State's withdrawal from the rectory of the national economy.

For a while now they've been asking me here in Mexico and from places around the world if it were possible that a relation exists between the guerrillas and the drug trafficking clans, as was the case in Colombia. Not only does it appear to me to be unthinkable, but also ridiculous. It's clear that the real links and what most interests the drug traffickers is found in the police and military forces, among politicians and various levels of public service, with banks and financiers in money laundering and the legal investment of laundered resources. These are the drug traffickers' real and useful ties. The guerrillas operate under other social orders and with other goals.

In sum, for organized crime the many dozens of daily executions and decapitations aren't enough now, nor are the narcobanners, to denounce the federal authorities. Now, in the birthplace of Felipe Calderon, two fragmentation grenades thrown at a crowd were the new messages. In the whole country, narcoterrorism demonstrates that it is not a phenomenon of regional crime, as the government's perspective wants us to believe, but rather a process of national decomposition, a reflection of the insufficient intelligence services in Mexico. What happened in Morelia was a terrorist act, which puts violence in the heart of the civilian population. The warnings and threats that where known to local authorities assured ambulances' immediate response, but not the prevention of a terrorist act or the cancellation of the [Independence Day] gathering. Mexico doesn't just occupy the last place in economic growth in the 20 Latin American countries studied by Cepal, I insist. Today it debuts as a country vulnerable to narcoterrorism. A tangible demonstration that the Mexican government is losing control of the country.

Footnotes:

[1] In Mexico's 2009 federal budget, national security spending rose a whopping 39% over 2008's budget.

[2] Morelia is located in Michoacan, the first state to which Calderon deployed the army when he declared open war on drug cartels soon after taking office.

[3] The narcobanners often accuse the government of waging war on the civilian population to cover up the government's own involvement in protecting drug cartel leaders. Numerous examples are available here.

[4] While the victims in all these cases were not government employees (which is why Montemayor refers to them as civilians), there has been speculation in all cases that they were involved in drug trafficking. Furthermore, these were targeted murders, and most victims were tortured prior to being executed. The attack in Morelia is the first case of suspected narcos randomly killing civilians who were in no way related to cartel disputes, either with other cartels or with the government. No armed organization (cartel or insurgent) has claimed responsibility for the Morelia attack, which is a rarity. Cartels often leave notes that vaguely explain who killed the victims and why.

[5] Mexico's national intelligence agency, Cisen, has come under fire for its ineptness. Complaints increasingly come from both the left and the right that Cisen spends too much of its time and energy tracking and repressing activists who present little-to-no public security threat, and not enough time investigating real public security threats, like the one in Morelia. Furthermore, in July the head of Cisen, Guillermo Valdés, told the Financial Times that drug cartel money is behind many political campaigns, quite possibly including those of federal senators and deputies. He did this despite the fact that a Cisen-funded investigation into drug money in the federal congress was underway. He did not release any names of politicians receiving drug money and didn't recommend any indictments. His reckless claims sparked a national outcry, and it is still unclear why he made those statements. No one doubts that drug cartels do buy politicians, but it is unclear why Valdés chose to expose Cisen's investigation, which he claims was making headway, without a single indictment.

[6] Officially known as the Merida Initiative, and also known as Plan Mexico.

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Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Plan Mexico in Central America

The Bush administration handed over its 2008 Merída Initiative spending plan to Congress on Monday, September 8—twenty-five days late. Congress had until Monday, September 22, to determine if the spending plan was satisfactory and to propose revisions or modifications.

The Merída Initiative spending plan includes funds for Mexico, Central America, Haiti, and the Dominican Republic. The 2008 spending plan is worth $465 million total. Mexico will receive $400 million, Central America will receive $60 million, and Haiti and the Dominican Republic will each receive $2.5 million.

This article is part two in a Narco News series that analyzes the Merída Initiative (also known as Plan Mexico) spending plan. Part one analyzed the Merída Initiative in Mexico.

Narco News has made the entire Merída Initiative spending plan available.


In an eerily omniscient paper written for the US Army’s Strategic Studies Institute in May 2001—just one year after the first round of funding for Plan Colombia—US Coast Guard Commander Stephen E. Flynn argued that the Plan Colombia model of utilizing a military strategy to combat the social problem of drug addiction was doomed to fail. Flynn called for “dismantling the prohibitionary regime,” which he labeled a failure that “does more harm than good.” In the paper’s preface, Ambler H. Moss, Jr., of the University of Miami advocated addressing the US demand that drives the Colombian drug market through increased funds for domestic education and drug treatment programs. He also advocated less emphasis on enforcing existing anti-drug laws so that drug addicts would be treated as “public health patients” rather than criminals.

Flynn likened the Plan Colombia approach to using antibiotics on a non-bacterial disease—in other words, just plain useless. He predicted that taking out Colombia’s biggest drug kingpins would lead to innovation on the part of drug traffickers. He was right: Plan Colombia dismantled the biggest kingpins’ operations, but the drug trafficking organizations evolved into numerous smaller boutique cartels. Producers have abandoned cultivating large open coca fields in favor of many tiny ones hidden under trees or in tall weeds in order to avoid aerial detection and spraying. The evolution of the drug trade in Colombia is producing results: Coca production rose 27% between 2006 and 2007. In particular, coca production in the department most targeted by Plan Colombia, Putumayo, has sharply risen every year since 2004 after a massive decrease between 2000 and 2003.

This evidence demonstrates that where there’s a will (US demand for cocaine), there’s a way. The US Department of Justice (DoJ) reports: “Coca growers, primarily in Colombia, have sustained and seemingly increased overall cultivation in South America by expanding growing operations to areas where large-scale coca cultivation had not been reported previously.” This increase happened despite the fact that “[t]he U.S. State Department reports that 2006 was the sixth consecutive year of record aerial spraying in Colombia, surpassing the previous year's record by 24 percent.”

Flynn also correctly predicted that militarily combating the Colombian drug trade wouldn’t decrease the flow of drugs into the United States, where demand levels have remained more or less constant. Rather, production and trafficking would spread out. In particular, the Plan Colombia strategy would provide a competitive advantage to Mexican drug traffickers, and as a result Mexican drug cartels would flourish. In the seven years since Flynn’s prediction, this is exactly what happened: the US DoJ reports that Colombian drug trafficking organizations increasingly rely on Mexican cartels to smuggle heroin to the United States. While the amount of South American cocaine that enters the US has remained constant, the routes it takes are changing to adapt to US interdiction efforts. In 2002 approximately 72% of the cocaine that entered the US traveled the Mexico-Central American corridor. This number rose to 90% in 2006. Mexican drug cartels now dominate the US market.

Plan Mexico: Slightly improving a fundamentally ineffective strategy

In designing Plan Mexico, US and Mexican officials listened to Flynn’s critiques of the Plan Colombia approach to reducing drug flows, but failed to comprehend his overarching argument: that a military approach is the wrong answer to the very real problem of a violent drug trade fueled by US demand. Instead, they used his critiques to fine-tune their military approach.

The stated rationale behind the inclusion of Central America and the Caribbean in Plan Mexico, which was hatched by George W. Bush and Felipe Calderón in order to combat Mexican drug cartels, is to avoid a repeat of one of Plan Colombia’s numerous failures: that the drug trade would yet again evolve and shift—this time to Central America and the Caribbean—rather than diminish. Rather than acknowledging that antibiotics don’t work against a virus, Plan Mexico’s architects hope that by throwing more antibiotics at even more countries, they might actually beat the virus this time.

Central American Gangs: “Foot soldiers of drug trafficking networks”

The Central American component of Plan Mexico focuses in large part on anti-gang initiatives because gangs (or maras) are a significant source of violence and insecurity in many Central American countries. According to Ana Arana in her article “How the Street Gangs Took Central America” for Foreign Affairs, “The maras’ members also act as foot soldiers for pre-existing drug-trafficking networks and for international car-theft rings and run sophisticated alien-smuggling operations.” Because the tens of thousands of Central American gang members are mere foot soldiers for drug trafficking networks that predate the existence of gangs in the region, it is difficult to determine the impact Plan Mexico’s anti-gang initiatives will have on drug trafficking through the region.

Plan Mexico does very little to address the source of Central America’s gang problem: the US government’s immigration and foreign policies. The MS-13 was founded in the US by refugees of El Salvador’s dirty war, which the United States government funded. The US then deported the gang members to Central American—particularly El Salvadoran—prisons where gangs like the Mara Salvatrucha (also known as MS-13) spread like wildfire amongst the prisoners. Arana elaborates:

In 1996, Congress extended the get-tough approach to immigration law. Noncitizens sentenced to a year or more in prison would now be repatriated to their countries of origin, and even foreign-born American felons could be stripped of their citizenship and expelled once they served their prison terms. The list of deportable crimes was increased, coming to include minor offenses such as drunk driving and petty theft. As a result, between 2000 and 2004, an estimated 20,000 young Central American criminals, whose families had settled in the slums of Los Angeles in the 1980s after fleeing civil wars at home, were deported to countries they barely knew. Many of the deportees were native English speakers who had arrived in the United States as toddlers but had never bothered to secure legal residency or citizenship….

The deportees arrived in Central America with few prospects other than their gang connections…. Local governments—which were desperately trying to rebuild after a decade of civil strife—had no idea who their new citizens really were: the new US immigration rules banned US officials from disclosing the criminal backgrounds of the deportees.

Plan Mexico will fund a “fingerprint analysis initiative to identify criminals who move from country to country within the region and to the US, and to allow sharing of this information between law enforcement agencies of the region and with the US.” It will also “develop a system to provide recipient nations with relevant criminal background information on repatriated nationals.” This will finally put an end to the US government’s policy of dumping gang-affiliated deportees in Central America without so much as a warning to local officials. However, Plan Mexico does nothing to stop the US from engaging in the sort of behavior that created Central American gangs—the foot soldiers of drug trafficking networks. The US will continue to deport gang members to their ICE-determined “countries of origin” even if they are US citizens or don’t speak Spanish, unloading a US problem onto other countries without so much as a thought as to the consequences.

Plan Mexico combines educational and law enforcement funding to combat gang violence in Central America. However, of specified anti-gang funds, a mere $5 million, or 14%, is dedicated to educational initiatives in Central America. $31 million, or 86%, is dedicated to law enforcement. Twenty million dollars are earmarked for a mix of law enforcement and education or job creation programs, but the Plan Mexico spending plan does not specify what percentage will go to education and job training programs and what percentage go to law enforcement efforts. Assuming these funds will be divided evenly between law enforcement and education/job creation programs (an unlikely scenario given the tiny proportion of education-specific funds for Central America and Plan Mexico’s overwhelming law enforcement and military focus), education and job creation funding would still only comprise 27% of overall Central American anti-gang funding.

Plan Mexico’s failure to prioritize gang prevention over law enforcement will exacerbate Central America’s gang problem. A 2006 study published by the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA) found that every dollar spent on gang prevention (for example, education and job training and placement programs) saves $6-$7 in law enforcement. Arana argues that law enforcement strategies, on the other hand, have only aggravated gang violence because “prisons act as gangland finishing schools, and military operations have only dispersed the gangs’ leadership, making bosses harder than ever to track and capture.”

Rather than prioritizing education, job training, and economic development in at-risk communities as part of gang prevention programs, many Central American governments have initiated what they call mano dura or “iron fist” policies to combat gangs. The specifics of mano dura policies vary from country to country, but they often entail joint police-military operations and special laws for suspected maras.

El Salvador and Honduras have both enacted laws that require less proof for arresting or detaining suspected gang members—in some instances a tattoo is the only probable cause necessary. Gang members also face longer prison sentences than common criminals for the same crimes. Under mano dura policies, it is generally illegal to associate with gang members, even if no other crime is committed.

Mano dura policies have failed to reduce violence in the countries where they are in effect. On the contrary, violence has skyrocketed. El Salvador and Honduras have both seen shocking increases in their homicide rates over the course of the mano dura policies. El Salvador’s murder rate increased 25% between 2004 and 2007. Honduras’ murder rate jumped 44% between 2005 and 2006. El Salvador has seen the return of vigilante death squads who murder young people suspected of being maras. In Honduras, MS-13 gang members massacred a bus full of innocent civilians and kidnapped and murdered the President’s son in retaliation for the government’s anti-gang operations.

Plan Mexico’s architects ignore logic, facts, and history and have chosen to emphasize law enforcement to solve Central America’s gang problem. Plan Mexico’s Economic Support Fund (ESF) section for Central America is specifically designed to “enhance law enforcement efforts to reduce crime”—efforts that have thus fair only increased crime. One of the stated goals of the ESF is to “increase successful arrests of gang members,” ostensibly to put them back in the prisons where they’re very effective gang recruiters. Law enforcement strategies have thus far only increased gang violence in the region, and logic dictates that more of the same will further increase violence.

Plan Mexico’s spending plan includes funds for police equipment, including “protective equipment” (previous versions of Plan Mexico specified riot gear such as helmets and bullet-proof vests), communications equipment, and vehicles. It will also send FBI trainers to train Central American anti-gang units and support officer exchanges with US law enforcement.

Despite gang members’ successes in organizing and recruiting their fellow inmates in prisons, Plan Mexico proposes to “expand a prison management initiative.” Prison officials from every Central American country will travel to the US to work with corrections officials there to “identify development needs, effective operating procedures, and appropriate technologies to improve the security of prison facilities.” Given the US DoJ’s admission of its own failure to contain violent prison gangs that traffic Mexican cartels’ drugs within the US prison system, it will be interesting to see what wisdom US corrections officials have to offer their Central American counterparts.

Plan Mexico also includes funds for Central American police to attend the US government’s International Law Enforcement Academy (ILEA), which is quickly gaining a reputation as the “School of the Americas for police.” One of the brains behind the ILEA is the Police Executive Research Forum’s John Timoney, who made national headlines when he spearheaded the law enforcement responses to protests against the Republican National Convention in Philadelphia and the Free Trade Area of the Americas meeting in Miami. In Philadelphia, despite 420 arrests and countless claims of torture, 96% of those charged were exonerated. The remaining 4% were convicted of minor misdemeanor or summary crimes. Timoney took out an insurance policy prior to the protest that covered the Philadelphia police against lawsuits claiming human and civil rights abuses, making such lawsuits logistically impossible for victims of police abuse. In Miami, under Timoney’s direction police shut down an entire section of the city, corralled protesters into that area, and then took advantage of the lack of bystanders to beat protesters to a pulp in the streets. His management of these protests made him a hero in the US law enforcement community. Since then he’s traveled to Iraq to train Baghdad police, and his think tank helped the US government write the founding document for the ILEA in El Salvador.

The US government’s intentions for the ILEA were laid bare by the aborted attempt to build the school in Costa Rica. When the Costa Rican government ceded to civil society demands and required that military topics be removed from the ILEA’s curriculum, that members of the military not participate in the police academy, and that US officials involved in the academy not be given immunity from Costa Rican laws, the US pulled out of its agreement with the Costa Rican government and looked for a less transparent, more military-friendly place to build the school. It chose to secretly establish the ILEA in El Salvador. Hoping to prevent a civil society backlash like the one in Costa Rica, US and Salvadoran officials waited until classes had begun to sign an agreement officially establishing the school. This agreement is still not public and the US Congress was never briefed on the ILEA in El Salvador prior to its establishment, even though the overwhelming majority of its funds and instructors come from the US.

The ILEA’s human rights record is impossible to monitor. The only human rights organization with access to the ILEA’s curriculum and lists of graduates is on the ILEA’s payroll conducting human rights trainings, and that organization is not sharing that confidential information with the rest of the human rights community. However, critics of the ILEA point to the human rights record of the police department with the most students in the ILEA: El Salvador’s National Civil Police (PNC in its Spanish initials): 40% of human rights complaints submitted to El Salvador’s human rights ombudsman’s office concern PNC agents. PNC agents are responsible for political assassinations, such as the 1993 assassination of FMLN leader Francisco Velis, and death squads such as Black Shadow, which tortures and murders suspected maras.

Plan Puebla-Panama and the Security and Prosperity Partnership in Plan Mexico

While a law enforcement and military strategy is doomed to fail against drug trafficking, it is designed to further US foreign policy goals in the Western Hemisphere while lining the pockets of the US war industry. Funding for ILEA training where US agents secretly teach Central American cops how to police is only one aspect of the Merída Initiative’s plan to spread US hegemony throughout the region.

As explained in further detail in Part 1 of this series, Plan Mexico is an integral component of the militarization of North and Central America via the Security and Prosperity Partnership (the militarization of NAFTA) and the Mesoamerica Project (the militarization of Plan Puebla-Panama).

The Security and Prosperity Partnership (SPP) is an agreement between the Mexican, Canadian, and US heads-of-state and business leaders to expand and militarize the North American Free Trade Agreement. The “security” aspect of the SPP aims to coordinate law enforcement and military activities and trainings in North America. This means sharing resources and information and harmonizing laws and regulations regarding law enforcement, the military, and national security. While the SPP only officially applies to the US, Mexico, and Canada, it represents the US’ strategic goals for the entire hemisphere, as seen in the Mesoamerica Project.

The Mesoamerica Project will also militarize what was originally an economic project that spanned Mexico and Central America. Its predecessor, the Plan Puebla-Panama (PPP) was a package of development projects proposed by the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) and the World Bank. The PPP faced enormous civil society opposition because its projects would displace peasants and indigenous people, and its infrastructure development projects were designed to facilitate the movement of energy and natural resources north to the United States. In an effort to jumpstart the PPP and modernize it for a post-September 11 world, North and Central American leaders met in Chiapas, Mexico, at Felipe Calderón’s request to re-inaugurate the PPP as the Mesoamerica Project. The Mesoamerica Project eliminates about 95% of the PPP’s infrastructure projects and includes a pledge to fight organized crime.

Plan Mexico furthers the SPP and Mesoamerica Project aims of coordinated national security strategies and increased US hegemonic control of the region through further militarization of the region’s borders, intelligence sharing, harmonization of prison management norms, police trainings and exchanges, and the deployment of FBI and AFT agents throughout the region.

As part of the SPP’s “Smart, Secure Borders” initiative, the Mexican, Canadian, and US executive branches agreed to:

  • Collaborate to establish risk-based screening standards for goods and people that rely on technology, information sharing and biometrics;
  • Develop and implement compatible electronic processes for supply chain security that use advanced electronic cargo information to analyze risk and ensure quick and efficient processing at the border; and
  • Exchange additional law enforcement liaison officers to assist in criminal and security investigations.

While the SPP is a North American project, it is clear that the SPP doctrine pervades Plan Mexico’s Central America component. Central America’s Plan Mexico border security funding ripped a page straight from the SPP book. Plan Mexico will “train and equip personnel for up to 35 inspection points at highway border crossings in all seven [Central American] countries” and “provide two mobile inspection points per country.” Mobile inspection units can be used to set up checkpoints that electronically screen cargo on highways or at docks. Plan Mexico will also provide “funding to support the OAS’s [Organization of American States’] Inter-American committee Against Terrorism to improve border controls and security through technical assistance and training.” Funds will also provide “train-the-trainer [training] so that law enforcement personnel can perform effective, intelligence-driven and random inspections on traffic transiting the region,” a practice that is already commonplace in the United States and Mexico.

The SPP’s goal to deploy law enforcement liason officers to assist in other countries’ ciminal and security investigations is also apparent in the Merída Initiaitve’s plans for Central America. Under Plan Mexico, the US Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms (ATF) will deploy at least one agent to Central America to “manage the arms trafficking program, conduct assessments of countries’ needs and coordinate training and provision of technical assistance.” It will also provide arms-tracking software and relevant training to recipient countries.

Operation Enduring Friendship: An armed friend is a friend indeed

Beyond the SPP and the Mesoamerica Project, the Central America region’s $4 million Foreign Military Financing (FMF) money in Plan Mexico is in large part dedicated to carrying out Operation Enduring Friendship, which, in conjunction with the hotly contested reactivation of the US Southern Command’s Fourth Fleet, will expand US military hegemony in the Western Hemisphere.

The Navy denies that reactivating the Fourth Fleet will result in more ships in the region and claims that the Fourth Fleet will be an “organizational fleet” instead of a physical one. However, Plan Mexico is stocking Central American countries with ships via another Southern Command (SouthCom) initiative: Operation Enduring Friendship. While money earmarked for the Fourth Fleet may not pay for new ships in the hemisphere, Operation Enduring Friendship’s funds certainly will.

Operation Enduring Friendship is, according to WOLA, a

proposal to coordinate maritime operations throughout the nations of the Western Hemisphere, and indeed to become a ‘Maritime Force of the Americas,’ led by the United States…. Enduring Friendship as conceived would usher in not only U.S. military involvement in a wider variety of non-military threats, but it would also encourage Latin American nations to use police and military authorities interchangeably.

Luis Lauredo, former U.S. Ambassador to the Organization of American States, said in an address to the Inter-American Defense College, “...we must guard against defining every challenge as a security issue, lest the concept become meaningless. As a region, we must be careful about labeling problems that are primarily economic or social as security issues or else we may find ourselves using the wrong tools to fix real problems.” Invoking military might against oil spills, fish poaching and the smuggling of illegal immigrants, for instance, would be to use the wrong tools for the problems at hand.

Further, to export to Latin America a model of using the military for police functions is a contradiction to our own principle of posse comitatus and may serve to further weaken cultural and legal prohibitions that exist between police uses and military uses in participating countries. This is even riskier considering that many countries in the region have legacies of authoritarian regimes that originated when the armed forces intervened in domestic matters; Operation Enduring Friendship would undermine the efforts those countries have taken to prevent their militaries from carrying out law enforcement roles. As such, the solutions to non-military problems should not be led by the military, but should be addressed by the appropriate civilian agencies. Operation Enduring Friendship would dangerously blur those important distinctions.

Operation Enduring Friendship predates Plan Mexico. Under the program, the US government has already given at least ten boats to at least three Central American and Caribbean countries. Plan Mexico will simply provide more funds and armament to the “Maritime Force of the Americas.

Plan Mexico’s Enduring Friendship funds will refurbish up to three 82-foot patrol boats and up to four 25-ft go-fast interceptor boats and provide up to three 33-ft interceptor boats and a “command, control, and communications” package to the Costa Rican Coast Guard under the banner of Operation Enduring Friendship. In Panama, funds will pay for follow-on training for boat maintenance and updates and training for a communications system provided as part of the Enduring Friendship program.

Plan Mexico will draw El Salvador into Operation Enduring Friendship, providing an “initial command and control package as the first step to implement Enduring Friendship.” “Command and control package” can mean any number of things, even within a military context. Plan Mexico does not specify what will comprise the Enduring Friendship command and control package.

The US Sets Central America’s Domestic Priorities

Unlike the Mexico section of the Merída Initiative, the Central America section makes no attempt to hide the US government’s true aims. Despite a recent history of authoritarianism and military regimes in Central America, Plan Mexico does not include any human rights safeguards for the region—not even the toothless safeguards that condition 15% of Mexico’s funds.

However, Plan Mexico does include an alarming condition for Central America that it considers to be a performance measure: “we look for increased host country law enforcement personnel and budget commitments.” Through Plan Mexico, the United States government doesn’t just emphasize militarization and repressive law enforcement policies by bulking up Central America’s military and police forces with US taxpayer money. It also demands that Central American governments slash their social welfare budgets to free up funds for the military and law enforcement budgets.

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Wednesday, September 17, 2008

OCEZ-RC Member disappeared in Pujiltic, Chiapas

The attack is the latest in a series of aggressions against OCEZ members in Carranza


The Emiliano Zapata Peasant Organization-Carranza Region (OCEZ-RC) claims that thugs working for a local political boss kidnapped one of its members and threatened to kill him if he did not stop supporting a local single mothers' organization.

Three unidentified men kidnapped Juan Gramajo Lopez, 28, from his home on September 11 at 10am. During the kidnapping the assailants blindfolded Gramajo Lopez, then beat him and fired two shots at his feet which did not strike him. They told him that if he did not stop supporting the August 11 Women's Group, an organization of single mothers, widows, and pensioners' wives, they would kill him. They also informed him that they have his house and his family under surveillance. Gramajo Lopez has one son and he and his wife are expecting another.

Gramajo Lopez' kidnappers released him at approximately 4pm the same day, leaving him blindfolded on the side of a highway hours away from his home. He managed to hitch a ride in public transportation to Ocosingo where he reported the kidnapping to the district attorney. Other OCEZ-RC members picked him up from the district attorney's office at approximately 1am.

Gramajo Lopez and the OCEZ-RC hold the United Cane Workers of Pujiltic (CURP in its Spanish initials) Local 42 and Jesus Orante Ruiz, the local political boss who controls the union, responsible for the kidnapping due to the assailants' statements about the August 11 Women's Group. The women's organization, which is affiliated with the OCEZ-RC, has recently endured threats and violent attacks by union members under orders from union bosses Abel Morales Arguello and Manuel Lievano Arguello.

Thirty-two poor women founded the August 11 Women's Group in July to look for new sources of income. They negotiated an agreement with the ejidal (collective) owners of a patch of land next to a federal highway in Pujiltic. The parcel of land measures 5 meters by 160 meters. It used to be a trash dump and a hangout for drug users. The women asked Gramajo Lopez to help them with their project. Gramajo Lopez says, "As a poor person in the struggle I said yes." Together they cleaned up the area and built stands where the women sold fruit, vegetables, and prepared food.

Even though the Soyatitan ejido authorities hold the title to the land, the United Cane Workers Union of Pujiltic (CURP in its Spanish initials) Local 42 claim it is the owner. The August 11 Women's Group sat down with the union bosses at a government-mediated meeting, during which the women say the union never showed proof of ownership. Despite the union's questionable ownership of the land, the Women's Group signed an agreement with the union bosses in which the union agreed to let the women keep their road-side stands.

However, on August 28, one day after the union and the women signed the agreement under government supervision, 600 union workers along with local government officials and the State Preventive Police (PEP) evicted the Women's Group. The women claim Juan Martinez Gutierrez, a Pujiltic government official, led the attack, which was recorded by a August 11 Women's Group member. Martinez Gutierrez shot tear gas at the women and their children. The women also claim he hit several of the women, picked up a 1-year-old child and threw him, and tried to beat Agustina Vazquez Ramirez in the head with a cement post. Other Women's Group members protected Vazquez Ramirez and she escaped serious injury. After dismantling the women's stands, the mob of workers burned what remained of the structures and the women's possessions. The mob also threw the women's earnings into the flames, burning approximately MX$15,000 (USD$1,388.50) in cash.

During the attack the women and their children gathered in the structure they use for meetings and protected it from the mob as the other stands burned. They remain there around the clock in order to defend against another attack. They also say they'll file a legal complaint against the union.

The union workers were forced to participate in the eviction or face a 40-day suspension without pay. One of the twelve workers who refused to participate and was subsequently suspended is Gramajo Lopez, the kidnapping victim. Gramajo Lopez has worked in the sugar refinery for nine years. His father, Modesto Gramajo Mauricio, who was also suspended without pay, told reporters, "It's not right what they are doing. I wasn't going to attack my wife like the head of the cane workers union wanted me to. It's not right to attack defenseless women." Both men's wives are members of the August 11 Women's Group.

Even though the union said it would come back to destroy any remaining structures, the Women's Group refuses to give up the land. During a August 11 Women's Group meeting after the attack, one woman said, "I was born into struggle and I think that's where I'll die."

The August 28 and September 11 attacks are only the latest in a series of assaults on the OCEZ-RC. The organization has also endured military incursions and disappearances and torture of its members carried out by the Defense Department (SEDENA in its Spanish initials). SEDENA justifies its actions by claiming it is looking for leaders of the People's Revolutionary Army (EPR), which carried out several high-profile bombings of petroleum pipelines to demand the release of its disappeared members and political prisoners. SEDENA claims that OCEZ-RC's leader, Jose Manuel Hernandez Martinez, aka El Chema, is affiliated with the EPR, a claim El Chema denies.

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Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Plan Mexico Spending Plan Released

The Bush administration handed over its 2008 Merída Initiative spending plan to Congress on Monday, September 8—twenty-five days late. Congress has until Monday, September 22, to determine if the spending plan is satisfactory and to propose revisions or modifications. If Congress allows the fifteen-day period to lapse without responding, the spending plan goes into effect.

The Merída Initiative spending plan includes funds for Mexico, Central America, Haiti, and the Dominican Republic. The 2008 spending plan is worth $465 million total. Mexico will receive $400 million, and Central America, Haiti, and the Dominican Republic will receive $65 million.

This article is part one in a series that analyzes the Merída Initiative spending plan.


Narco News has made the entire Merída Initiative spending plan available.

Part 1: Plan Mexico: Mexico under the Merída Initiative


The US State Department released the Plan Mexico spending plan just days before the Mexican government released its 2009 budget. The 2009 budget cuts money from agricultural development to increase funds for public security, dashing any hopes that Plan Mexico would allow the Mexican government to allocate funds that it would otherwise spend on public security to be used for domestic economic development. Instead, Plan Mexico should be seen as the latest in a series of disturbing moves to further militarize Mexican society at the expense of its citizens.

At the regional level, Plan Mexico is the latest in a series of carefully calculated moves designed to wrest back control of Latin America after years of neglect under the Bush administration.

Bush has focused nearly all of his foreign relations attention on conquering the Middle East, allowing big Latin American players like Venezuela and Brazil to form global South-South alliances that challenge the Washington Consensus. This has created what Latin America scholars refer to as a “multipolar moment” in which the US’ all-encompassing hegemonic and political control is challenged.

With Plan Mexico, Bush strengthens his relationship with one of his only two friends in Latin America, Felipe Calderón (the other one being Colombia’s Uribe). Through his war on organized crime, Calderón increasingly blurs the line between military and civil police in his drive to militarize Mexico. The Plan Mexico spending plan lauds this effort: “One of the most important benefits of the Merída Initiative is the partnerships that will be created among law enforcement and national defense officials.”

Plan Mexico also supports US-driven plans for the region. Plan Mexico’s funds for Central America include armament and resources to support the reactivation of the Fourth Fleet, a US-led “Latin American Navy” that will be discussed in detail in part two of this series. The package as a whole alludes to and contains resources to carry out Plan Puebla-Panama, now known as the Mesoamerica Project, and the Security and Prosperity Partnership (SPP). Both are militarized spins on what were originally economic development projects.

Known as "NAFTA plus Homeland Security," the SPP is widely considered to be the militarization and expansion of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). However, whereas NAFTA was ratified by the legislatures of all three participating nations (albeit, a one-party dictatorship ruled Mexico at the time), the SPP is an agreement between the executive branches and corporations that will never be presented to Congress for its approval. The SPP

calls for maximization of North American economic competitiveness in the face of growing exports from India and China; expedited means of resource (oil, natural gas, water, forest products) extraction; secure borders against ‘organized crime, international terrorism, and illegal migration;’ standardized regulatory regimes for health, food safety, and the environment; integrated energy supply through a comprehensive resource security pact (primarily about ensuring that the US receives guaranteed flows of the oil in light of 'Middle East insecurity and hostile Latin American regimes'); and coordination amongst defense forces.

Over 300 policies and agreements have been scheduled and/or implemented to realize these corporate priorities. Some examples of these agreements are the integration of military and police training exercises, cooperation on law enforcement, and the expansion of the North American Aerospace Defense Command into a joint naval and land defense command. This also includes redesign of armed forces for combat overseas and greater cooperation in global wars as part of the ‘external’ defense strategy of the security perimeter. (Harsha Walia and Cynthia Oka, "The Security and Prosperity Partnership Agreement: NAFTA Plus Homeland Security").

Plan Mexico’s immigration, military, intelligence, police training, and judicial reform aspects all bear the mark of the SPP. This shouldn’t be surprising since Leslie Bassett, Deputy Chief of the US Mission to Mexico, explicitly linked the SPP and Plan Mexico in her speech at the Border Security Conference in August.

Plan Puebla-Panama (PPP) was a series of linked development projects that spanned from Panama to Puebla, Mexico. According to the Center for Economic and Political Investigation for Community Action (CIEPAC) in Chiapas, the PPP consisted of “programs for infrastructure, investment, free movement of merchandise, an open border between countries, investigation for technology, agriculture and livestock development, development of the mining industry, biodiversity protection, development centers for people from the countryside, etc.” The PPP has suffered several setbacks due to widespread and militant resistance to the project amongst affected communities, including the Zapatistas. However, in May 2008 the PPP was reborn as the Mesoamerica Project. According to the International Service for Peace (SiPaz), “the new project eliminates some 95% of the development and infrastructure projects originally planned for in the Plan Puebla-Panama since its inception in 2001…. [During the announcement of the PPP’s rebirth as the Mesoamerica Project] leaders also reiterated their pledge to fight organized crime, noting that with the approval of the Mérida Initiative a foundation is now in place to start a Security Plan between Mexico and Central America that will include bilateral and multilateral strategies. It is estimated that there will be some USD $953 million slated for concrete measures within the plan.”

Indeed, Plan Mexico spending report says, “The Merída Initiative envisions strengthening and integrating security from the US Southwest border to Panama…. It is not enough for us to focus solely on the Southwest border of the United States. By supporting our southern neighbors’ efforts to secure their territory, we are able to create a much more secure area that extends to Panama….” It is becoming more and more clear that the Mesoamerica Project, announced during the debate over Plan Mexico, is a militarized version of Plan Puebla-Panama, and Plan Mexico will arm it.

The Specifics: The Devil’s in the Details

Unlike previous drafts of Plan Mexico, the spending plan omits any explicit funds for private contractors. This is most likely due to the scandal caused by videos showing a US-based contracting firm training Mexican police in torture tactics, which were leaked just one day after Bush signed Plan Mexico into law. However, the spending plan includes copious amounts of training provided by unspecified trainers, so private contractors—both foreign and Mexican—are not off the table.

The spending plan also does not mention the deployment of US Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms (ATF) agents to Mexico, although it does say that the US will deploy at least one ATF agent to Central America and the Caribbean. However, like contractors, omission of any mention of ATF deployment to Mexico does not preclude the possibility. Previous versions of the Plan did explicitly call for the deployment of ATF agents to Mexico under Project Gunrunner. Project Gunrunner was slated to receive extra funding apart from Plan Mexico under a scrapped version of the Iraq Supplemental Funding bill in order to prepare the ATF for the deployment of its agents to Mexico to track and stem the flow of illegal firearms. Given that an estimated 90% of drug cartels’ weapons come from the US, it’s likely that the US government continues to consider Project Gunrunner to be a regional security priority.

Plan Mexico funding is broken down into four categories: Economic Support Fund; International Narcotics Control and Law Enforcement; Nonproliferation, Anti-Terrorism, Demining & Related programs; and Foreign Military Financing. Mexico will not receive any money for Nonproliferation, Anti-Terrorism, Demining & Related programs.

Foreign Military Financing

Plan Mexico will provide the Mexican government with armament in order to support Felipe Calderón’s war on organized crime. This war has been a disastrous failure by every possible measure.

There are currently 40,000 federal soldiers and 5,000 federal police deployed to battle drug cartels in eleven states. Since Calderón declared open war on organized crime a year and a half ago, over 4,152 people have died drug-related deaths, 87 unresolved formal complaints of crimes against journalists have accumulated in the Mexican Attorney General’s office, Mexico’s National Human Rights Commission has documented 634 cases of military abuse, and the country’s homicide rate has increased by 47%. Contralínea magazine reports at least 223 disappearances during Calderón’s term so far: 23-30 political disappearances and approximately 200 cartel-related disappearances.

Despite the skyrocketing violence, the war on organized crime seems to have had minimal impact on drug trafficking. Jorge Luis Sierra, a specialist in defense economics and politics at Washington’s National Defense University, told Contralínea that drug seizure levels in Mexico have remained constant at about 10% of the estimated drug flow that passes through Mexico to the United States.

Bush and Calderón have ignored all evidence to the contrary and declared the war on organized crime an initial success. Plan Mexico is designed to support this war exactly as the Mexican government is currently carrying it out. In addition to the armored vehicles, bulletproof vests, and related “technical assistance” provided under Plan Mexico’s narcotics section, Foreign Military Financing (FMF) will give Mexico several aircraft.

Plan Mexico 2008 funding marks the first year in recent memory that Mexico will receive FMF funds. Up until now, Mexico was cut off from receiving US military assistance because it is a party to the Rome Statute, which established the International Criminal Court (ICC). Countries who are party to the Rome Statute can only receive US military aid if they enter into an Article 98 agreement. According to Just the Facts, a joint project of the Center for International Policy, the Latin American Working Group Education Fund, and the Washington Office on Latin America: “An “Article 98” agreement is a bilateral pact wherein countries pledge not to seek the prosecution of U.S. citizens in the International Criminal Court.” However, Just the Facts notes, “The President is allowed to waive application of the law if he determines it to be in the U.S. national interest.” This is likely what happened in order to authorize military aid under Plan Mexico, because Mexico has thus far expressed no desire to enter into an Article 98 agreement with the United States.

The Defense Department’s Security Cooperation Agency, which administers the FMF program, defines Foreign Military Financing as “the U.S. government program for financing through grants or loans the acquisition of U.S. military articles, services, and training.”

Mexico will receive $116.5 million of the total $120.5 million Plan Mexico FMF funds for 2008.

FMF funding will provide up to two CASA 235 aircraft. “In addition to up to two aircraft, the package provided will include logistics support (primarily spare parts and limited technical support) for three years. Funding will also support transition training (training for experienced pilots to fly a new type of aircraft) for Mexican pilots.” The spending plan says that these aircraft “will enable SEMAR [the Mexican Navy] to conduct maritime surveillance over the eastern Pacific Ocean and the western Caribbean Sea thereby increasing the GOM’s [Government of Mexico’s] maritime domain awareness….. [the aircraft] will also provide SEMAR’s surveillance and coordination functions, increasing its ability to seize illicit cargo and deny the use of Mexican waters to transnational criminals and terrorists.” CASA 235 planes have the ability to use night vision equipment, two computers to transmit and receive information from a military base or control center, and room for 57 soldiers with all of their equipment or 48 parachutists. CASA 235s can also carry six anti-ship missiles and two MK46 torpedoes or Exocet M-39 anti-ship missiles.

Mexico will also receive up to five BH-412 EP (Bell Helicopter) medium-lift utility helicopters along with a logistics support package for two years for new aircraft and possibly four Mexico-owned helicopters already in service. This includes training for pilots. BH-412s are designed to rapidly deploy military forces, which, according to the spending plan, will “establish security needed for successful interdiction of arms, drugs, and persons.” BH-412s carry 1-2 crewmembers and 13-14 soldiers and are equipped for day and night flight.

FMF funding will also refurbish and completely equip two Cessna Citation II C-550 surveillance aircraft for the Mexican Office of the Attorney General (PGR). Cessna Citations have radar and cameras. They can be outfitted with weapons and often are when they’re used in the war on drugs. In 2001, Cessna Citations provided by the US government and piloted by Peruvian pilots under the direction of CIA agents killed a US missionary and her baby in Peru when they were mistaken for drug traffickers.

Plan Mexico will provide an undetermined number of ion scanners “to support the efforts of the Mexican Navy (SEMAR) and Mexican Army/Air Force (SEDENA) to control their national territory and the southern approach to the United States.” The ion scanners come with a standard maintenance package. The spending plan notes that they’re “capable of detecting both explosives and narcotics” and will be “used by SEDENA to help detect illicit drug and arms trafficking through remote areas of Mexico and will support the GOM’s [government of Mexico’s] effort to mount a robust interdiction system via land routes.”

Ion scanners analyze the size of molecules to test for the presence of drugs. They are widely used in US prisons and by the US Coast Guard to quickly scan bulk shipments. They produce many false positives, and are currently considered by prison scholars to be a way to harass and intimidate prison visitors by providing an excuse to refuse them prison access even if the visitor does not have drugs in their possession. Drug molecules can be picked up and stay on humans and their clothing even though the human with the positive result may have never had drugs in her or his possession. Furthermore, ion scanners cannot tell the difference between drug molecules and non-drug molecules that are the same size. As a result, a study by Kay Lumas found that 91% of ion scanner tests produce false positives. According to Lumas, false “positives can occur with baker's poppy seeds, herbal products, natural body enzymes (i.e. melanin, the natural skin pigment which causes the skin to turn dark can cause false positive for marijuana), and from common medications.” This means that people with higher levels of melanin, such as Blacks, indigenous people, and Hispanics, will show false positives. The US Department of Justice expands upon Lumas’ list of false positive-causing substances: “an innocuous substance such as prescription medications, over-the-counter medications, perfumes, lotions, herbal products, poppy seeds, chlorine baby wipes and gas[oline] fumes can be identified as an illegal narcotic substance.” Lumas also notes, “The equipment must be calibrated with actual drugs (cocaine, amphetamines, marijuana, opiates and PCP) at regular periods” and that “improper maintenance of the equipment can also cause false-positive readings.”

The spending plan says that the ion scanners will be used for “rapid, preliminary assessments of suspicious items that security forces could encounter while conducting routine or counternarcotics/counterterrorism operations.” We can only hope for the sake of Mexicans, especially those with darker skin, that ion scanners won’t be abused in Mexico like they are in the US.

Economic Support Fund

The Economic Support Fund (ESF) is “for job-creation programs, reductions in government control over domestic markets, development of transparent judicial systems that promote the rule of law, training of the media and public officials, and strengthening the efforts of local nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) to offer critical services to target communities,” according to Citizens for Global Solutions.

The ESF is usually administered through the US Agency for International Development (USAID), the US’ bilateral international development agency. USAID’s stated purpose is “furthering America's foreign policy interests.” USAID has its roots in the Marshall Plan, which laid the foundation for leveraged structural adjustment of sovereign economies in a decolonized world.

USAID is widely considered to be even more unaccountable to aid recipients than the IMF and the World Bank, even amongst the Washington Consensus institutions. When challenged on the World Bank’s track record on gender and post-conflict resolution in 2004, Ian Bannon, manager of the Conflict Prevention and Reconstruction Unit of the World Bank, said to a room full of NGO representatives in Washington DC, “At least we’re not as bad as a certain bilateral development agency whose offices are down the street.”

USAID will most likely administer Plan Mexico’s ESF funding, as all Mexican ESF funding falls under the heading “Governing Justly and Democratically,” a USAID objective. USAID’s website says that Governing Justly and Democratically (GJD) aims to “strengthen institutions of representative democracy, such as political parties, legislatures, executive agencies, media, and civil society.” While USAID has played an important role in reforming the Mexican judicial system over the years, in 2008 ESF funds to Mexico will jump to $20 million dollars under Plan Mexico—almost 13% of USAID’s total GJD funding in Latin America and the Caribbean. In 2007 ESF funds to Mexico totaled $11.35 million, making 2008 a 76% increase over 2007 due to Plan Mexico.

According to the spending plan, ESF funds will support “implementation of Mexico’s new judicial reforms.” In this respect, Plan Mexico will fund exchanges between Mexican and US judges, as well as training for Mexican police, prosecutors, and other officials. Funds will also help law schools and bar associations develop curricula “regarding changes that will be required under the new justice reforms in Mexico.”

The spending plan makes no attempt to hide that the Mexican government undertook many of these new judicial reforms to pave the way for Plan Mexico: “In an unprecedented move, the Government of Mexico is devoting significant resources to this fight and continues to move forward on important judicial and law enforcement reforms designed to magnify the cooperation provided under the Merída Initiative.”

Plan Mexico’s ESF funds will also attempt to influence school children, the media, and NGOs. While it’s not specifically listed under the ESF heading—instead, it’s tucked away in the “Merída Initiative Strategic Goals, Objectives, and Indicators” section in the back of the spending plan—Plan Mexico funds will “expand the USG [US government]-funded National Strategy Information Center’s (NSIC) Culture of Lawfulness program (that partners with Mexican police and schools) to the media and NGOs to influence attitudes about the rule of law.” While it sounds innocent enough, the NSIC has a dark history that includes work with the CIA. Political Research Associates writes:

The National Strategy Information Center (NSIC), founded in 1962, was the first right-wing think tank to address such issues as national security strategy, low-intensity conflict, operations of intelligence agencies, political warfare, and the role of nongovernmental groups, especially labor unions, in furthering foreign and military policy goals. Over the past four decades, NSIC has worked with the CIA and other U.S. intelligence agencies in studies of political and psychological warfare and in their collaboration with conservative labor union operations, especially in Europe and Latin America. In addition to the support it has received directly or indirectly from the U.S. government, NSIC depends on grants from right-wing foundations. Launched with start-up funding from the Coors family, NSIC has in recent years depended on the Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation.

The ESF will also provide “training to police, prosecutors, and other officials to implement internationally-accepted standards and Mexican law in human rights” and “training to human rights NGOs and civil society on the code of criminal procedure, as well as on international, regional, and national laws protecting human rights in order to build NGO capacity to properly monitor and document human rights violations…. The Mexico office of the United Nations High Commissioner on Human Rights (UNHCHR) will be asked to work with the Mexican government and non-governmental entities to strengthen observance of human rights norms” [emphasis added].

US government-driven human rights training is particularly ironic to Mexican civil society. Mexican human rights organizations are often the only thing standing between human rights violators (who often work for or with the government) and impunity. Furthermore, as the editorial board of Mexico’s national daily La Jornada argues, “The United States’ demand to verify respect for human rights in other nations constitutes a grotesque and absurd pretension, taking into account that, on a global scale, the superpower is the principal violator of such rights.” Given the irrefutable proof of systematic human rights violations and torture in Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo Bay, the CIA's use of “extraordinary rendition” to disappear and torture suspects in “black sites,” and ICE’s drugging of deportees with overdoses of dangerous psychotropic drugs, the US’ desire to train Mexican human rights NGOs in international human rights law and monitoring human rights abuses would be tragically comical if its true aim weren’t so obvious: “properly” monitoring human rights violations under Plan Mexico probably means monitoring them as the US and Mexican governments see fit.

International Narcotics Control and Law Enforcement

Like its counterpart in Colombia, Plan Mexico is principally an anti-drug initiative on the surface. Felipe Calderón’s war on drug cartels and organized crime is the pretext for pumping hundreds of millions of dollars in armament, training, and US agents into Mexico, Central America, and the Caribbean. As such, the bulk of Plan Mexico funding is concentrated under International Narcotics Control and Law Enforcement (INCLE).

Just the Facts defines the Bureau for International Narcotics Law Enforcement Affairs, which oversees INCLE funds:

Within the Department of State, the Bureau for International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs (INL) designs and carries out international counternarcotics policy and programs, while advising and coordinating other U.S. agencies’ overseas anti-drug activities. INL provides aid and training to the governments and security forces of countries in which drugs are produced or transported. INL's program combines economic and security assistance, aiding civilian and military agencies with counternarcotics responsibilities. Types of aid include training, technical assistance, equipment and arms transfers, development assistance (particularly “alternative development” aid to encourage cultivation of legal crops), and aid to administration of justice and domestic drug demand-reduction programs. State Department INL officials themselves may manage assistance programs, or INL funds may be transferred to other government agencies like US Agency for International Development or the Drug Enforcement Administration.

The Plan Mexico spending plan says that INCLE funds will “support the development of the GOM’s [Government of Mexico’s] institutional capacity to detect and interdict illicit drugs, explosives and weapons, trafficked/smuggled persons and individuals seeking to enter the United States to conduct terrorist activities.”

Mexico will receive $263.5 million of Plan Mexico’s $293.3 million in INCLE funds. Mexico’s $263.5 million is a whopping 39.7% of INCLE funding for the entire Western Hemisphere, according to a FY2008 INCLE estimate provided by Just the Facts. In 2007, Mexico received $36.678 million in INCLE funding, making 2008’s $263.5 million a 618% increase over the previous year. Prior to Plan Mexico, Colombia was the INCLE powerhouse, receiving 68% of the Western Hemisphere’s INCLE funds in 2007. Mexico, on the other hand, received one tenth Colombia’s funding in 2007. Just the Facts estimates that Colombia will receive $247,097,704 in 2008 INCLE funding, meaning Mexico’s funding will rival or may even top Colombia’s funding.

Mexico’s INCLE funding falls under two headings: “Peace and Security” and “Governing Justly and Democratically.” Peace and Security funding amounts to $180 million, while Governing Justly and Democratically amounts to $59.5 million.

The erroneously-named Peace and Security funding will help Mexico increase its ability to spy on and track its citizens, employees, and visitors and then share this information with the United States government.

To draw Mexico into US politicians' politically popular yet economically unfeasible fight to stem immigration flows into the US, Plan Mexico’s Peace and Security funds “will build on existing programs to expand and modernize its [Mexico’s] immigration databases, document verification systems, and equip and train its border rescue/safety personnel.” The spending plan does not, however, specify what equipment it will provide to Mexican border rescue/safety personnel.

Plan Mexico will also enhance support to and cover “maintenance costs” for the joint Mexico/US “Operation Against Smugglers (and Traffickers) Initiative on Safety and Security” (OASISS) project, which targets human smuggling. In announcing the implementation of OASISS, Customs and Border Protection Commissioner Robert C. Bonner said, “By exchanging critical information, coordinating enforcement operations and jointly targeting cross border criminal activity we will yield a more safe and secure border.”

OASISS was inaugurated in 2005 in the midst of an anti-immigrant frenzy in the United States. That year, the vigilante organization Minuteman Project captured national headlines with its armed patrols of the US’ southern border. Operation ICE Storm rounded up hundreds of undocumented immigrants in the US, and the US government expanded the border fence/wall along the Mexico/US border.

Plan Mexico will expand OASISS to cover the entire Southwest US border. The Plan will also “provide the Mexican National Migration Institute (INAMI) with the tools and training to help build a robust information technology network [and] implement biometrics standards.” Tracking immigrants’ biometric characteristics like fingerprints will help harmonize Mexico’s immigration standards to the much-criticized US standards, where all visitors are fingerprinted and photographed upon entry.

A large portion of Plan Mexico’s Peace and Security section focuses on increasing various Mexican agencies’ domestic spying capabilities. Plan Mexico will “provide the Mexican Office of the Attorney General's office (PGR) with training and technical assistance in developing forensic, electronic, and undercover evidence in complex cases involving organized crime, corruption, narcotics trafficking and financial crimes.” The Center for Analysis, Planning, and Intelligence Against Organized Crimes (CENAPI), the PGR’s intelligence unit, is specifically targeted for funding and support. Activists have strongly criticized the PGR for its involvement in military and police operations in Zapatista territory, its repeated attempts to charge activists from the Popular Assembly of the Peoples of Oaxaca (APPO) with Brad Will’s murder, and its refusal to prosecute police who raped and tortured political prisoners in San Salvador Atenco in 2006. The US government seeks to encourage this repressive behavior by providing the PGR with undercover and electronic surveillance training and technical assistance.

Plan Mexico also seeks to “enhance data management and analysis capabilities of the Mexican intelligence service (CISEN).” To achieve this aim, it will “equip [CISEN] interview rooms with monitoring technology, a telecommunications network, support forensic computer analysis.” CISEN is a domestic spy agency that is notorious for its actions against activists, including coordinating or participating in military operations in Zapatista territory. In February 2008, a CISEN agent was detained in Zapatista territory while he was posing as a reporter, a practice that puts real journalists’ lives at risk because armed groups may falsely accuse them of being government agents.

Plan Mexico also seems to be setting up the Mexican Financial Intelligence Unit to implement a financial spying program similar to that of the Bush administration. Even though the Bush administration came under fire in 2006 for secretly monitoring wire transfers, its Plan Mexico spending report includes “both software and hardware to modernize its [Mexico’s] systems to process, analyze, and correlate money flowing through the financial systems looking for anomalies to investigate.” Keeping in mind that one of the INCLE funding’s stated goals is to “facilitate the bilateral sharing of strategic and tactical information relating to on-going investigations,” this section of the spending plan will not only increase Mexico’s spying capabilities; it will also expand the US government’s intelligence reach.

Plan Mexico also includes money for mobile non-intrusive inspective equipment to the Department of Public Security (SPP in its Spanish initials), the Department of National Defense (SEDENA), and Mexican Customs. This includes the establishment of a K-9 training academy for all Mexican civilian law enforcement agencies that would train both dogs and their handlers.

The bulk of the Governing Justly and Democratically section of the INCLE funds are dedicated the Mexican judicial system. The most troubling funding falls under “technical assistance in prison management.” This funding will “provide training to all levels of management, corrections officers and support personnel at Mexican prisons on developing a new maximum security prison, programs to reduce overcrowding, improvements to security, enhancements to offender rehabilitation, and a dedicated corrections training academy.”

One stated objective of Plan Mexico prison initiatives is to “sever the influence of incarcerated criminals with outside criminal organizations.” The proposed maximum security prison, along with the harmonization of Mexican prison norms with those of the United States, are not likely to sever incarcerated drug cartel members’ ties to and communication with their counterparts on the outside due to the pervasive influence of the cartels throughout all levels of the Mexican government. The Mexican intelligence agency CISEN has stated that the drug cartels’ control likely extends from local police forces and legislatures up to the federal Congress. However, these prison reform measures could have an impact on common criminals’ and political prisoners’ contacts with the outside world, as they wield practically no power within the police or government.

Narco News has documented the numerous successful movements to free Mexican political prisoners. Political prisoner solidarity in Mexico is dependent upon communication with and the leadership of political prisoners themselves. Activists and human rights observers visit political prisoners. During these visits, groups or delegations are often permitted to visit with political prisoners as a group, instead of the one-on-one visits that are common in higher security prisons in the US. Political prisoners also legally raise money for their prisoner organizations and families by passing hand-made crafts such as hammocks and purses to activists during prison visits so that the activists can sell them. Many of these central tenets of successful political prisoner solidarity in Mexico are impossible in US prisons, and as a result the US political prisoner solidarity movement is noticeably less vibrant and successful.

The Plan Mexico spending report includes an unspecified amount of money for drug treatment in Mexico, but it most likely won’t be much. Even though studies have found that drug treatment is much more cost-effective than enforcement, earlier Plan Mexico proposals only dedicated $15.2 million, or 3.8% of total Merída Initiative funds for Mexico, to drug treatment.

Defeating Plan Mexico

By focusing on enforcement strategies that have clearly increased violence in Mexico and on the border rather than treatment programs that are proven to be more effective, the United States and Mexican governments further their militarization aims at the expense of their citizens. Rather than investing in its own economy during a period of economic crisis, the US government has chosen to fund yet another endless war that only benefits defense contractors. Similarly, despite massive marches in protest of the food crisis, Mexico continues to divert funds from the countryside to a deadly war that has thus far only succeeded in driving up drug prices.

However, all is not lost. There is still a limited amount of time for the US Congress to remove or change the most destructive aspects of Plan Mexico. Furthermore, funding has to be renewed every year, giving activists another chance to defeat Plan Mexico in the next round of funding. While conservative forces’ attempts to militarize Mexico would likely continue with or without Plan Mexico, defeating Plan Mexico would deal a significant blow to the most aggressive project within the Security and Prosperity Partnership and would therefore hamper the militarization of the continent.

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