Monday, October 12, 2009

Six Ideas for Re-thinking the War in Mexico

The Security Situation has Worsened, and Mexicans are Desperate for Policy Change... Any Policy Change

by Sabina Berman, Proceso
source: Narco News

All debate ends when the first gunshots are fired. When the boots of the first battalion hit a city's streets, a forced silence falls over the civilians. A fearful silence that entails two hopes:

First: God willing, the best will win the war and it will be quick. Second: Whoever wins, let it be quick.

This is a universal effect of war that expectedly occurred in Mexico three years ago, when the current administration sent the Mexican Military to the cities, defying the very definition of war.

War is a rapid and intense movement of soldiers and tools of destruction in order to achieve a rapid objective.

But in light of the results (the escalation--rather than reduction--of robbery, extortion, and kidnapping of the civilian population), another normal effect of war is occurring:

Being that war's goal is a rapid result, if war is prolonged for more than three years it devolves into something else.

Typically, war devolves into a daily and confusing slaughter. It installs itself as a barbaric form of life where civilization has lost. Therefore, inevitably, another rule that every war entails:

The longer a war goes on, the more unpopular it becomes.

Ask the people of Juarez, who received the Mexican Military with jubilation, if they still want soldiers on their streets. Ask the people of Monterrey. Ask the people of Morelia.

Now they yearn for the old status quo, which was bad, because this is worse. The opinion is widespread: As bad as cartels fighting amongst themselves might be, it is now coupled with two other bad things. The cartels have been "dehumanized;" that is, their violence has become blind. And the Military, supposed agent of civilized life, is violating both civilians' and criminals' human rights.

In other words, for millions of Mexicans the so-called war has turned into a way of life amidst extreme violence.

A State that places all of its power in the Military ought to know that if it doesn't win the war, it will be declared impotent.

That's what's happening in the militarized cities: the Military's persistence in the streets while daily life is getting worse seems to demonstrate the State's incompetence, and the people become demoralized and drown in desperation. Now there's no one to turn to, say the people of Juarez. If the Military failed, nothing can fix this.

Well, that's not true. The Mexican Military has not failed because it lacks the capacity to fight wars. It has failed because it lacks a strategy to use its military superiority.

The Mexican Military has been sent to cities without broad and clear objectives. It has literally been sent to "occupy territory" and almost nothing else. In fact, it has been prohibited to use its maximum ability to fight wars.

With its tanks parked and its bazookas confined to barracks, the military is used as a kind of extraordinary police for concrete missions, where it tends to have rapid success. But later the soldiers are returned to "not doing anything" in the streets. Yes: to simply occupy them.

In Juarez they are seen futilely strolling down the sunny streets. They are seen pulling over drivers because they aren't wearing their seatbelts. They have been seen making a U-turn over a traffic island in order to avoid confrontation with a convoy of narco vehicles.

One night in Juarez, I saw how the soldiers took shelter in a hotel, with explicit orders to do so, while narcos were shooting at each other in the street.

For how much longer will the generals tolerate being used as emergency police by politicians who know nothing about war? For how much longer will they tolerate the strain on their prestige and trust? For how much longer will this war without strategy continue?

Which brings us to a fact of war that has been proven a thousand times:

It is not the most numerous and best-armed group that necessarily wins a war; rather, it is the group that is best articulated and most sure of its objective.

Even after three years of war, nobody knows what the State's objective is--not even the Military or the government knows.

Eliminate robbery, kidnapping, and extortion of the civilian population? That's an objective that all civilians appear to agree with.

Completely eradicate drug trafficking? Get rid of every single criminal? Those are two objectives that appear to be impossible given the drug trafficking industry's monetary value: $40 billion dollars annually according to a statistic recently published in the United States. Moreover, there is an enormous reserve of people who appear to be willing to take the place of the dead in the narcos' ranks. These are two objectives that even the US government rules out in practice in its own confrontation with drug trafficking, where instead it attacks drug dealers and crimes against civilians.

Or to find a new equilibrium between crime and the State, in favor of the State, and drawing the line on crimes (no more kidnappings and extortion of civilians)?

That's an objective that even organized crime seems to be willing to accept, according to what can be deduced from what Servando "La Tuta" Gomez, head of the La Familia cartel, said when he called for peace dialogues on television in Morelia this past August 15.

With great manliness, the Secretary of the Interior replied that same day: "The government does not make pacts with narcos." One would have hoped that, out of respect for what is viable and out of respect for other people's lives, he would have first consulted with residents of Mexico's militarized cities.

Translated by Kristin Bricker

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