Caught in the crossfire: Militarization of Mexico

Credit: U.S. Air Force/Master Sgt. Adam M. Stump, USAF

by Adrienne Wiebe

In the last four years, the governments of Mexico and the United States have taken a military approach to what are essentially policing and civil problems: organized crime, drug trafficking, undocumented migration and poverty.

Upon taking office in December 2006, President Calderon of Mexico declared war on drug cartels and deployed 50,000 troops inside the country.

Since then, there have been an estimated 60,000 deaths in battles between the military and the cartels, and between the cartels themselves as they fight for control of lucrative trafficking routes. An increasing number of innocent people are caught in the crossfire.

Mexico is now portrayed as a threat to U.S. national security. Since 2008 the U.S. has provided some $700 million in military and security equipment and training to Mexico under the Merida Initiative.

In addition to official military aid, U.S. arms suppliers sold $177 million worth of weapons to Mexico in 2009, more than any other country in the world. Moreover, a large portion of the weapons used by Mexican drug cartels originate from U.S. gun sellers.

In the last year, many Mexicans have begun to question the purpose of this “war.” They maintain the war is unwinnable as long as the drug market to the U.S. is so incredibly profitable; it is estimated to be worth $30-50 billion dollars a year.

“The war is not against the narco-traffickers; it is against the Mexican people,” according to Manuel Gomez, a human rights worker from Chiapas at a December forum at SERAPAZ, an agency supported by MCC.

Militarizing Mexico by putting the armed forces in communities to fight the drug war also puts them in a position to suppress grassroots social movements. Government forces have been linked to violent responses to communities struggling with national and international corporations seeking to exploit natural resources, such as minerals, water, land and oil.

There has been an alarming rise in reports of human rights abuses against the civilian population by the military forces and other Mexican authorities

The criminalization of civil action is evident in the weekly reports of threats, detentions and disappearances particularly aimed at human rights defenders and community organizers. For example, in the first two weeks of December, three human rights defenders and members of the peace movement were killed.

The peace movement that emerged last year in Mexico, mobilized by Javier Sicilia (a Mexican writer) whose own son was killed by armed actors by mistake, is an expression of the growing national dissatisfaction with this bloody war.

At the forum at SERAPAZ, Pietro Ameglio, a leader in the peace movement, summed it up saying, “They say they will create peace through war. We know this does not work. At this moment, we urgently need to stop the hand that kills; then we can begin to address the roots of the problem.”

Adrienne Wiebe is the Latin America/Caribbean policy analyst for MCC. She works and lives in Mexico City. 

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