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The Mexican Army is Running Amok
(Charles Bowden, Mother Jones, June 17, 2009)
The military has again flooded northern Mexico, ever since President Felipe Calderón assumed office in December 2006 with a margin so razor thin that many Mexicans think he is an illegitimate president. One of his first acts was to declare a war on the nation's thriving drug industry, and his favorite tool was to be the Mexican Army, portrayed as less corrupt than the local or national police. Now some 45,000 soldiers, nearly 25 percent of the Army, are marauding all over the country, escalating the mayhem that consumes Mexico. In 2008, more than 6,000 Mexicans died in the drug violence, a larger loss than the United States has endured during the entire Iraq War. Since 2000, two dozen reporters have been officially recorded as murdered, at least seven more have vanished, and an unknown number have fled into the United States. But all numbers in Mexico are slippery, because people have so many ways of disappearing. In 2008, 188 Mexicans—cops, reporters, businesspeople—sought political asylum at US border crossings, more than twice as many as the year before. . . . The entire Mexican north has become a killing field. In Palomas, a nearby border town of maybe 7,500 souls, more than 40 men have already been executed in the past year, and several more have vanished in kidnappings; a mass grave was discovered in May. Some of these murders are by drug cartels. Some of these murders are by state and federal police. Some of these murders are by the Mexican Army. There are now many ways to die. . . . There are two Mexicos. . . . There is the one reported by the US press, a place where the Mexican president is fighting a valiant war on drugs, aided by the Mexican Army and the Mérida Initiative, the $1.4 billion in aid the United States has committed to the cause. This Mexico has newspapers, courts, laws, and is seen by the United States government as a sister republic. . . . It does not exist. . . . There is a second Mexico where the war is for drugs, where the police and the military fight for their share of drug profits, where the press is restrained by the murder of reporters and feasts on a steady diet of bribes, and where the line between the government and the drug world has never existed. . . . Here is what a wise man knows: that certain people—the cartel leaders, the corrupt police, the corrupt military-these things cannot be written about at all. That other people should be mentioned favorably unless they are caught in circumstances so extreme that the news cannot be suppressed. Then, the blow is softened as much as possible. Nor are investigations favored. If someone is murdered, you call the proper authorities and you print exactly what they tell you. But you don't poke around in such matters. . . . This is the reality of Mexican reporting, where a person is inside but outside, where a person knows more than the public but can only say what is known in code and this code had better not be too clear. . . . On February 13, 2008, he notes in an unbylined story that "heavily armed commandos" (Emilio now estimates a convoy of 700 men and 100 vehicles) swept the area from Palomas down to Casas Grandes. In Ascensión they ransack the house of Emilio's friend, a guy who runs a pizza parlor. The friend is given the ley fuga, the traditional game of the military where they let you run and if you can dodge the bullets, you live. His friend is mowed down in the street in front of his home. That night 20 people vanish from the area and only one ever returns, a Chilean engineer who is saved by his embassy. The others simply cease to exist. . . . But then memory can be a very short-term thing here. Within an hour or two of a killing, there is no one left to describe the murder. In a day, it is a dim memory. In a few days, it is beyond recall except when talking in private to the closest friends and family. This loss of memory is not because of cowardice. It is the wisdom that comes with survival. . . . But there is another way of looking at the facts on that ground that is un-Mexican with its fetish of a pyramid of power going back to the Aztec emperors, and un-American with our conviction that every place is kind of like our nation only with unsafe water and spicy food. Maybe, the center no longer holds. In the last 10 years, since the death of Amado Carrillo Fuentes, head of the Juárez cartel and first among equals in the drug world, the industry has fragmented into independent baronies and smaller outlaw bands. Since the collapse of the PRI, the ruling party that lasted more than 70 years, Mexico's civil society has also fragmented, with power leaving the capital and recombining with the narcogangs. The Army, the largest gang, is not attempting to seize the bankrupt and withering state, but grabbing market share in a place whose two largest industries are supplying American drug habits and exporting millions of people. Cartels once imposed constraint of trade. But like soda-pop CEOs, the generals now angle to increase their share of the skyrocketing domestic drug market. And of course, the United States finances this move, via the Mérida Initiative, in the delusion that it is shoring up a republic south of the Rio Grande. We are staring into the future but using old prescription glasses. Murderous cholos on the corner in Juárez and troops marauding and robbing in the disguise of a Mexican drug war may be writing the future while President Obama and President Calderón wander in their bunkers of power, and cling to the fantasies of the ancien régime.

posted by Lorenzo 2:48 PM

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