Aug 2, 2017

There Could be an Upside to Tillerson Dropping Democracy, Justice and Human Rights From State Department Mission

The Washington Post reports today that it obtained a draft of the new mission, purpose and ambition statements for the State Department, under orders to review its definitions from Secretary of State Rex Tillerson. According to the daily, the drafts read:

  • The State Department’s draft statement on its purpose is: “We promote the security, prosperity and interests of the American people globally.”
  • The State Department’s draft statement on its mission is: “Lead America’s foreign policy through global advocacy, action and assistance to shape a safer, more prosperous world.”
  • The State Department’s draft statement on its ambition is: “The American people thrive in a peaceful and interconnected world that is free, resilient and prosperous.”
That's a pretty big change from the past, where key American values included goals for building the kind of world the United States would be inserted in. Peace, justice, democracy and human rights figured in specific references.

There's a good and a bad side to these changes. First, obviously, is the bad side. The exclusive focus on U.S. interests of security and prosperity means that the concepts of mutual respect and self-determination, as well as the above values, have formally been dumped.

It can be argued that the Obama administration set these aside shortly after proclaiming them to be the pillars of his foreign policy at the Trinidad Summit in 2009. From there he and then Secretary of State Hillary Clinton orchestrated the permanence of the coup in Honduras and continued intervention in various forms in other parts of the world.

However, despite the hypocrisy, the U.S. government has occasionally been a voice for human rights, if at least to point out where violations exist. One of the ways the State Department  has pushed foreign countries to respect international norms is by documenting and recognizing concerns for violations in the presentation of the annual State Department Human Rights Reports, which Tillerson significantly decided to snub this year. Its foreign aid continues to be legally conditioned on respect for human rights through the Leahy Law and also loosely linked to the democratic legitimacy of its international partners.

The abandonment of these pillars could have real and long-lasting repercussions in the structure of the State Department and the operation of U.S. foreign policy. It allows relations with abusers like Russia to flourish without limitations as long as there is "prosperity" to be gained, and eliminates the need to censure financial allies like Saudi Arabia.

It could also spell the end to State Department programs like those of the Office of Global Women's Issues, which now lists no upcoming events, or the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor. As the Post article notes, after years the website has now been moved to the low-profile URL web address,

Good Riddance to Democracy Promotion?

So it appears there will be no pretence that the United States actively supports democracy, justice, human rights or peace in the world. This throws the nation back into a neo-realist foreign policy that assumes conflict to be the normal state of humankind and pragmatic self-interest to be the sole guidepost for action. As CEOs fixated on the bottom line and market domination, it's no surprise that Tillerson-- and Trump--naturally buy into this philosophy.

It works for their interests, as a set of dualisms: I Win/You Lose, Good/Bad, In/Out, Friend/Enemy, Victory/Defeat, Might/Weakness that allow insecure people to latch on the supposedly unambiguous demonstrations of superiority.  It embodies a brute male-ness that undermines more traditionally feminine concepts of cooperation, trust and respect, which are considered weak and naive in the framework. It also funnels billions of dollars to private-sector Trump allies in the military-industrial complex and draws new dividing lines between "us" and "them".

What's the possible upside of such a cynical policy in a precarious world?

The possible end to U.S. "democracy promotion" programs.

This term has been an oxymoron since first adopted. Democracy is "rule by the people" with the clear presumption that the people ruling are the people to be ruled. Democracy promotion by a foreign nation is intervention. While a foreign nation may decide to withdraw support or limit its own contact with a government it considers undemocratic, if it attempts to meddle in internal affairs, it is undermining, not promoting democracy.

That's why there was something encouraging in Trump's inauguation speech when he said, “We do not seek to impose our way of life on anyone, but rather to let it shine as an example for everyone to follow."

If they believed it, many foreign nations that have suffered U.S. "democracy promotion" programs-- ranging from interference in their elections to attempted assassination of their leaders-- would have sighed in relief.

Setting aside other criticisms of the new agenda, minimal coherence with the "America First" and foreign policy of self-interest should dictate an immediate cut off of the millions of taxpayer dollars spent on Freedom House, the National Endowment for Democracy, and related institutions. Even their innocuous-sounding programs willfully interfere with grassroots democracy and peace-building and apply highly politicized definitions of democratic action based on U.S. political interests.

Ending these programs once and for all would actually be a huge step forward in fomenting real democracy in the world. And it's a logical step within the framework Tillerson is laying out.

If it doesn't happen, it means the State Department has finally recognized "democracy promotion" for what it has always really been--anti-democratic inteventionism in support of U.S. military and economic interests.

In that case, at least the mask is off.

Jul 31, 2017

Mexico’s ruling party is in free fall

Earlier this month, a massive sinkhole opened suddenly in the middle of a new expressway south of Mexico City, swallowing a car and killing the two passengers inside. There could hardly be a more apt metaphor for the cratering legitimacy of Mexico’s president, Enrique Peña Nieto, and his ruling Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI).

In the context of a global wave of anti-establishment politics, it’s hard to imagine a more establishment party than the PRI, which controlled Mexico with its soft-authoritarian, one-party structure for most of the 20th century. Now the party, once the glue that held the Mexican political system together, fastened tightly to a strong executive branch, is quickly losing its grip.

Jul 19, 2017

Fuel Theft in Mexico has Reached Industrial Scale

TEPEACA, Mexico — The police officers gripped their assault rifles tightly as they stared at the men filling plastic tanks and loading them onto a dozen pickup trucks in a cornfield in central Mexico. Even though a crime was being committed in front of them, the officers said it was too dangerous to move in.

They had to wait until the army arrived to advance because the suspects were better-armed than they were and an earlier attempt to arrest them had been repelled by gunfire, officials said.

Jul 13, 2017

False Suspicions Arbitrary Detentions By Police In Mexico

Arbitrary detention is an everyday occurrence in Mexico and is very often the starting point for persistent serious human rights violations such as torture and other ill-treatment, enforced disappearances and extrajudicial executions. Consequently, the study of arbitrary and illegal detention – a form of deprivation of liberty that can affect anyone – also helps inform an analysis of the conditions that facilitate other human rights violations.

This research analyses the way in which police forces in Mexico carry out arrests,1 in particular in cases where the authorities allege that an individual was caught red-handed; that is, in the act of committing a crime (in flagrante delicto).

Amnesty International’s research found that in Mexico the arrest of people allegedly while they were in the act of committing a crime is not a genuine response aimed at dealing with crime. Rather, it is a means used illegally by the authorities to target those who have historically faced discrimination, in particular young men living in poverty.

Read More

Jul 10, 2017

Spyware Targeted Investigators Seeking Students in Mexico

MEXICO CITY — A team of international investigators brought to Mexico to unravel one of the nation’s gravest human rights atrocities was targeted with sophisticated surveillance technology sold to the Mexican government to spy on criminals and terrorists.

The spying took place during what the investigators call a broad campaign of harassment and interference that prevented them from solving the haunting case of 43 students who disappeared after clashing with the police nearly three years ago.

Jul 6, 2017

Months after deportation, they do what the Mexican government will not

Faced with the decision of the Trump's administration to deport millions of undocumented migrants, is the Mexican government prepared to receive the compatriots? Under what conditions do they return to Mexico after years or decades of living in the United States? What mechanisms would the Mexican authorities have to put in place to support the deported population?
To complement this article, you can watch the following interview from Hecho en America with Ana Laura López, a deported migrant, spokeswoman for the "Deportados Unidos en la Lucha"; and Marco Antonio Castillo, director of the Institute of Research for Social and Cultural Practice.

The sliding doors opened, and suddenly Roger Perez was back in Mexico.

Spanish boomed over the airport loudspeaker, and men swaggered past in dusty boots and cowboy hats.

Thanks to U.S. immigration authorities, Perez, 21, had been trapped on a plane for hours with his wrists and ankles shackled. Now, he was a free man. But as a deportee to a country he hadn’t seen since he left as a young child, the freedom felt scary, not sweet.

Trembling, Perez shook the hand of a Mexican government official, who explained how he could apply for unemployment benefits. Then he took a business card offered by Diego Maria. “We’re here to help you,” it read. “Together we’re stronger.”

“Hey, man,” Maria told him in English. “I was deported too.”

Read more

Jul 4, 2017

The billionaire and the airport: could his last act in Mexico City ruin Carlos Slim

In what is likely his last great urban intervention, the billionaire is constructing a massive new airport. The $13.4bn project is highly complex and controversial – can he pull it off?

It is sometimes hard to tell where Carlos Slim stops and Mexico City starts. He controls most of the mobile phone, landline and internet markets. His telecoms company, Telmex, installed the city’s surveillance cameras. Grupo Carso, his flagship infrastructure conglomerate, runs the city’s principal water treatment plant. His bank, Inbursa, is Mexico’s sixth largest. He even owns the city’s only aquarium.

In 2015 Slim’s companies accounted for 6% of the entire country’s GDP, according to the Mexican media outlet El Universal. These holdings run parallel to a vast network of strategically located retail properties. But more than anywhere or anyone else, the 77-year-old tycoon and sometime world’s richest man has grown with the capital. Like a ghost in a shell, Carlos Slim has become part of Mexico City’s urban fabric.