Mar 28, 2012

Laura's Blog: Panetta Declares 150,000 Deaths (give or take) in Mexico's Drug War

The Mexican daily La Jornada ran a somewhat confusing front-page article today, headlined "150,000 Deaths in Mexico for Narco-Violence: Panetta". The paper notes that the US Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta made the statement at the first meeting of defense chiefs from Canada, the United States and Mexico, held in Ottawa on Mar. 27.

It goes on to quote Mexican Minister of Defense Guillermo Galvan using different figures:
Galván said the war on drugs "has cost the lives of 50,000 Mexicans" and warned that the cartels that operate in the country have links in both Canada and the United States. Likewise, he pointed out that the most recent official statistics released in January of this year in Mexico, indicate that since 2006 47,500 people have died as a result of violence stemming from drug trafficking.
Since the official number is closer to 50,000, the Americas Program decided to track down the 150,000 statement.

It seems that the Canadian press confirms that the figure 150,000 was used, with some attributing it to Panetta and CBC to Mexico's Defense Secretary Guillermo Galvan. The general consensus among press present at the Ottawa trilateral defense meeting is that Sec. Panetta said it, while citing the Mexican government as the source. The DoD has not clarified to date, although CNN is tweeting that Panetta says that's the figure the Mexican officials gave him--with no time frame attached. Mexican officials jumped in, issuing a communique saying the figure refers to all of North America, according to the La Jornada article. 

Amid the who-said-what confusion, what's interesting about this apparent lapse is:

1) It doesn't seem to make much difference to the Sec. of Defense Panetta whether the number is 50,000 or 150,000. The sloppiness about the difference of 100,000 human beings could contribute to the way in which Mexican lives seem pawns to U.S. security strategy--a perception that is widespread here and of particular concern to many Mexicans, especially on the border;

2) The emphasis on the "bloody drug war" is being used to intensify the threat perception and support the need to regional-ize the response, under U.S. direction. 

The important issue underlying the attention-grabbing headline is how the newly strengthened alliance between the three countries will relate to respond to Mexico's undeniable crisis. Mexico has historically been reticent, to say the least. about U.S. involvement in its national security. The Pentagon is aware of this political fact, prompting curious disclaimers like this one.

The Calderón administration significantly changed that situation by opening the door to a far greater degree of U.S. government and private security sector involvement in Mexico. 

The other question is whether this tripartite military alliance will attempt to consolidate  the failing  current drug war model--focused on interdiction and enforcement and heavily promoted by the U.S. government and the outgoing Calderón administration. If so, it will be working against the will of a growing number of Mexicans (and some U.S. citizen groups) who want to see some major changes to stop the bloodshed.  

Watch for more fallout from this trilateral defense meeting in the weeks between now and the North American Leaders Summit on April 2. The vague announcement of a mechanism for closer alliance probably refers to the U.S. Northern Command, but it's unclear. NorthCom posted the joint statement from the March 27 trilateral defense meeting. Here are the conclusions:

Our meeting today has established the framework necessary to build North America's resilience by pursuing a practical agenda built on sustained trilateral cooperation on issues related to defence. We intend to:

- Develop a joint trilateral defence threat assessment for North America to deepen our common understanding of the threats and challenges we face.

- Explore ways to improve our support to the efforts of civilian public security agencies in countering illicit activities in our respective countries and the hemisphere, such as narcotics trafficking.

- Explore how we can collaborate to increase the speed and efficiency with which our armed forces support civilian-led responses to disasters.

- Continue to work together to strengthen hemispheric defence forums.

The last point is especially vague. In the interests of informing the public in all three countries about issues that closely affect their taxpayer dollars, their sovereignty and their safety, we'd like to know more about the mechanisms and proposed forums for regional security cooperation--if anyone out there has additional information, please send to or post here.

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