Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Rice Refuses to Rule Out Deployment of Armed US Agents under Plan Mexico

During a recent visit to Mexico, the US Secretary of State discusses Plan Mexico, security cooperation, and the war on drugs

US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice refused to rule out the deployment of armed US agents to Mexico under Plan Mexico during a recent visit to Mexico. While US and Mexican officials have been adamant that US military forces will not be deployed to Mexico, agents from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms (ATF) and Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) will be deployed to Mexico, Central America, and the Caribbean as part of the initiative. Now the big question on everyone's mind is, "What other US agents will be deployed, and will they come armed?"

Reporters questioned Rice about the possibility of armed US agents on Mexican soil on at least three separate occasions during her visit to Mexico. Each time she avoided answering definitively.

In an October 23 interview, Rice told Televisa's Leonardo Kourchenko that some aspects of the Merida Initiative, also known as Plan Mexico, can already go forward. Kourchenko responded, "Armed agents, for instance."

Rice replied: "Yes. And so we think that this is--" Then she corrects herself: "Armed agents? No. We're going to respect Mexican law, and the Mexican Government is in control on this issue."

Kourchenko pushes for a more concrete answer. "There won't be American agents armed in the Mexican territory?"

Rice stumbles to avoid a yes-or-no answer yet again: "We will--the Mexican Government has complete control over how this is carried out. But this is to make Mexican security forces more capable, not to impose American security forces on Mexico."

Later, in a press conference with Mexico's Foreign Relations Secretary Patricia Espinosa, reporters pose the armed agents question to Rice again: "With regards to the arrival of the United States companies and the Merida Initiative, what relationship will the Mexican Government have with the private contractors from the United States? And I would like to ask you, in particular, will we allow armed personnel to be here in Mexico?"

This is a very important question. The day after George Bush signed Plan Mexico into law, leaked videos appeared in the press that depicted US-based private contractors teaching torture tactics to Leon, Guanajuato, police as part of the war on organized crime. Government officials from Calderon's PAN party paid for the training and publicly defended its legality and usefulness after the tapes hit the international press. And while both Mexican and US officials have publicly stated that no US soldiers will be deployed to Mexico under Plan Mexico, Mexican critics have argued that the US Defense Department is skilled at using private contractors to fulfill military functions, often with disastrous consequences. So how does Rice respond the third time reporters ask her if the US government will deploy armed agents to Mexico?

"Well... on the matter of migration and [inaudible] policies. The problem--we all have problems with migration. We and Mexico have discussed this issue. In fact, the President has been a major proponent of comprehensive immigration reform in the United States.... I sincerely hope that comprehensive immigration reform will come in the United States in the next administration. It really needs to."

Rice goes on to rail against Cuba, and then wraps up her answer by declaring how proud she is that Mexico and the United States are friends.

Secretary Espinosa then steps up in an attempt to answer the question without really answering it: "In no way will there be any North American agents armed in our country that will be performing activities that are limited by our law for the Mexican Government officials."

The big question, then, is: what activities are limited by Mexican law, and--perhaps more importantly--which ones are not?

One of the stated purposes of the Security and Prosperity Partnership (SPP)--of which Plan Mexico is a significant component--is increased cooperation between various militaries and law enforcement agencies. As a result of the SPP, Canada and the US signed an agreement on February 14, 2008, that allows both countries' troops to cross into the other's territory in the event of an emergency.

Secretary Rice's trip to Mexico included work on a similar cooperation agreement between Mexico and the United States for emergency management in the case of natural disasters and accidents. The details of the agreement have not been released, and it is unknown if the new agreement would permit US troops to cross into Mexican soil in the case of an "emergency."

However, Mexican troops have already been deployed to the United States in response to a national disaster. Following Hurricane Katrina, 196 uniformed Mexican soldiers helped out with relief operations in San Antonio, Texas.

"No Other Way"

During her visit, Rice shed some light on the Bush administration's priorities in the war on drugs in Mexico. Despite numerous criticisms that law enforcement strategies for dealing with the drug trade are bound to fail if the demand for drugs is not addressed, the Bush administration did not prioritize treatment in Plan Mexico. Bush's original proposal contained no money for drug treatment in Mexico, and Congress added only a nominal amount for drug treatment in its plan. Plan Mexico has not been met with a corresponding increase in funds for drug treatment in the US, which is the primary market for drugs that pass through the Central America-Mexico corridor.

When asked if a military/law enforcement strategy is "the proper and right strategy" to combat the drug trade, Rice responded, "I see no other way than to be very tough on organized crime, to be capable of dealing with these very violent people who are trying to terrorize the population, who are trying to carry out their criminal activities. I see no other way."

Dr. Rice has obviously not read studies that show that drug treatment is much more cost effective than law enforcement strategies.

Rewriting History

Rice also rewrote Mexican history during her interview with Televisa in order to justify President Felipe Calderon's highly controversial use of the military to combat drug cartels and perform police duties in the war on organized crime. When asked for her opinion on Calderon's military strategy, Rice told Televisa, "Mexico is a democratic country with a democratically elected president who has gone to his people, gone to his legislative branch, and developed this strategy."

There are several factual errors in Rice's statement. The first is regarding Calderon's status as a "democratically elected president." Calderon took the presidency thanks to massive voter fraud in 2006. Urns stuffed full of uncounted votes turned up in dumpsters in zones that overwhelmingly supported opposition candidate Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador. Vote tallies were padded in favor of Calderon. Entire pro-Calderon precincts were counted twice in the final tally. Ballot boxes were found stuffed full of illegal votes. In some polling places, there were more illegal votes than actual voters. Narco News has demonstrated that these fraudulent practices combined clearly tipped the election in Calderon's favor.

Rice is also incorrect when she states that Calderon went to the legislative branch to develop his military strategy. Far from being a plan developed along with the legislative branch, Calderon deployed the troops without seeking Congress' approval first. Calderon's strategy of utilizing the military for policing functions is highly controversial, to the point where some members of Congress have considered revoking Calderon's authority to deploy troops without congressional approval. It's not even clear if Calderon's use of the troops is legal: Gen. Jose Francisco Gallardo notes that the use of the military in civilian police jurisdictions violates Article 21 of the Mexican constitution.

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