“In Mexico it is dangerous to speak the truth. It is even dangerous to know the truth”

November 23, 2009 at 11:13 pm | Posted in Drugs | 1 Comment

In his superb piece on the ‘The Fall of Mexico’, Philip Caputo does an excellent job of demonstrating both the complexity of the situation and the extent to which fear has banished trust, making it increasingly difficult to know the truth, speak the truth, and then to report that truth to others.

He was unable, for example, to determine the exact truth behind competing claims about the army’s motivations – some suspect a slow military coup is taking place, others suggest collusion with drug cartels or a wish to become a cartel themselves. But the absence of truth in one area can lead to truth in another, and what is clear from the accounts compiled by Caputo and human rights groups is that the Mexican military is ruthless, brutal, secretive and completely unaccountable to the people who pay their wages.

He reminds us, too, that it isn’t just the Mexican taxpayer which funds this motley crew; $1.4 billion of American money is funding the militarisation of the war on drugs, and it is going towards an army which has been accused of practicing torture, unlawful detention, enforced disappearance, theft, rape, and murder:

A good example is the case of Javier Rosales, a medical technician who died after he and a friend were captured and tortured by soldiers. Members of his family went to the state justice office and the federal attorney general’s office to file a complaint against the soldiers and demand an investigation. They were turned away because, the officials said, charges of army misconduct fall under military jurisdiction. However, Enrique Torres, a spokesman for the Joint Chihuahuan Operation, told me that the army looks into such allegations only through internal investigations or when formal charges have been filed by state or federal prosecutors. It’s pure catch-22: state or federal authorities will not receive complaints against soldiers, and the army will not investigate unless charges have been filed by state or federal authorities.

Nor was Rosales alone; of over 2,000 complaints made about the military’s conduct, there has been not one prosecution. By abdicating responsibility for conducting the war on drugs, the civilian government lost its ability to regulate the way it’s conducted, so the US is basically funding an institution which is a law unto itself.

Of course, Caputo is also right to ask if the army was suddenly so thoroughly reformed that it became the model of an ethical military, could it overcome the drug cartels? Probably not. “The drug gangs”, Caputo writes, “have acquired a “military capacity” that enables them to confront the army on an almost equal footing.” I don’t know the official definition of a civil war, but this has got to come close.

It’s worth noting that Caputo’s piece is one of a flurry of articles on the situation to have emerged in recent months, and I think there are a number of reasons for this. Obviously, the significant increase in death is highly newsworthy, and the country’s proximity to the United States has made it a growing concern for American media outlets. But I also think there’s a growing understanding that Mexico is reaching a sort of endgame in the war on drugs.

Everything the country has tried up until this point has failed: the responsible police and regional state officials have already been either undermined, corrupted or killed, the media is censoring itself for fear of assassination, and the political class has become discredited, distrusted and enfeebled. With this in mind, the only option Mexico had left if it wanted to sustain the war on drugs was to put everything in the hands of the military and cross their fingers.

It may yet be possible that this approach will work, that the drug cartels will lose a degree of their influence over society and that civic institutions can regain some measure of independence from the forces of coercion & corruption.

But if that approach doesn’t work – and it certainly hasn’t worked yet – that will leave the country with only two options: legalise drugs and let these cartels battle it out in the boardroom rather than in bloody street battles, or adopt a posture of denial, swallow another billion in American aid and watch in dismay as the state loses, with each passing year, more and more of its legitimacy.

Whichever path is chosen will really depend on how much more heartbreak and bloodshed the country’s public can stomach to sustain a war without end.


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  1. […] “In Mexico it is dangerous to speak the truth. It is even dangerous to know the truth” […]

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