In what at first appears to be a contradiction, the fulsome praise lavished by U.S. officials on Mexico’s militarized “drug war” has long been accompanied by warnings issued by many of those same officials that President Felipe Calderón’s militarized offensive against trafficking and organized crime was spinning out of control. Now high-level Mexican military officials are joining that same cacophonous chorus: We’re losing the battle to the traffickers so let’s put more soldiers (and sailors!) on the streets. Never mind that the increased military (and federal police) presence on the streets has ramped up the violence dramatically over the past five years while doing nothing to stem the illicit flow of drugs, arms, money, and sequestered people.
But beyond contradiction, there may be a worrisome logic here. The praise and the warnings may be quite explicitly designed to go together: to bring the offensive against organized crime under the control of the United States and the Mexican military. These contradictory statements, that is, may not be all that contradictory.
U.S. officials seem always to be looking for evidence that would justify the offer of assistance to the valiant but beleaguered government of Felipe Calderón. Last Tuesday, for example, U.S. Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta, a big fan of Calderón’s drug war, said “150 thousand people had died” because of the inter-cartel violence in Mexico last year. He told a Canadian audience: “I think the number mentioned by the Mexican officials” with whom he had just met, “was 150 thousand.” The number seems to have been plucked from thin air.
Panetta’s approximations were made during a press conference called by the defense secretaries of the three North American countries—Mexico (Guillermo Galván), the United States (Leon Panetta), and Canada (Peter Mackay)—during a Trilateral Meeting of the North American secretaries of defense held last week in Ottawa. The meeting was called to intensify three-country cooperation against drug trafficking and to coordinate mutual aid in the event of natural disaster—both considered threats to North American security.
Later in the day Panetta’s misinformation was cleared up (though not to everybody’s satisfaction) by Mexico’s secretaries of defense and the Navy who said they had mentioned that 150,000 people had died last year in all of the Americas as a result of drug trafficking—though even that number is dramatically inflated, even if it includes everyone who died last year from some form or another of drug abuse.
So, was this an honest misunderstanding on Panetta’s part? Well, maybe, but it is clear that U.S. officials have been upping the ante (and the estimated body count) over the last year or so in an (apparent) attempt to get the word out: Something terrible is happening south of the border; it effects our security; we’d better do something about it. Panetta’s misunderstanding comes only a month after Hillary Clinton’s visit to Mexico during which she effusively praised Calderón’s militarized war against drugs, just as her State Department was issuing travel warnings for U.S. tourists in Mexico. Are travel warnings and “150 thousand deaths” new version of “weapons of mass destruction”?
And then there’s the Mexican military, which, as we have already mentioned, has been making similar sounds, and which seems to have similar stakes in the game. Last Wednesday, General Genaro Fausto Lozano, commander of Mexico’s Fifth Military Region, based in Guadalajara, told an audience at the Law School of the University of Zacatecas that Felipe Calderón inherited “a country taken over by organized crime” and that the Army had an obligation to carry out the fight  against the traffickers, kidnappers, money launderers, and hitmen “because this phenomenon could put the Mexican state itself in danger.” He strongly defended Calderón’s decision to put the military on the streets.
A strong opposition to the militarization of Mexico has emerged from civil society—much stronger than anything one hears these days from the opposition political parties. Maybe that will change in the course of this year’s presidential campaign, but for now the principal resistance to the gradual creation of a U.S.-dominated police state comes from groups like the loosely organized Movement for Peace with Justice and Dignity—pacifists on the streets.
For more from Fred Rosen's blog, "Mexico, Bewildered and Contested," visit nacla.org/blog/mexico-bewildered-contested .