Thursday, July 3, 2008

A harbinger of things to come in the wake of Plan Mexico

I'm going to post two videos found over at My Word is My Weapon that depict torture training in Mexico led by US private contractors. My guess is that there will be much more such training on your dime as a taxpayer (thank your Democrat-led Congress as well as President Baby Doc Bush).

As journalist Kristin Bricker states in her introduction of the videos:
Exactly one day after George Bush signed the first year of the $1.6 billion Plan Mexico into law--giving Mexican military and police US training, armament, and resources--videos surfaced showing Mexican police undergoing torture training in León, Guanajuato. The torture training is directed by a British man from an unidentified US private security company.

The videos show the English-speaking contractor directing and participating in the torture of members of the Special Tactical Group (GET in its Spanish initials) of the León municipal police force during a 160-hour training over twelve days in April 2006. Alvar Cabeza de Vaca, the Secretary of Public Security in León, says the participants volunteered to be tortured as part of the training.

In one video, the unidentified contractor drags a GET officer through a puddle of his own vomit as punishment for failure to complete a training exercise:

In a second video, GET officers squirt mineral water up the nose of another officer, a torture technique commonly utilized by Mexican police. The man's head is also shoved into a hole which supposedly contains rats and feces:

She goes on to report:
Mexico's national daily La Jornada was quick to point out that torture is in fact prohibited, contrary to the public security chief's assertions: "Torture is a crime in Guanajuato: in accordance with Article 264 of the state Penal Code, the public servant who 'intentionally exercises violence against a person, be it in order to obtain information or constituting an illicit investigation method,' faces a punishment of 2-10 years in prison."

The existence of a training led by a US defense contractor to teach Mexican police torture tactics in order to combat organized crime and the local government's adamant defense of the program is particularly disturbing considering the US government's recent approval of the $1.6 billion Plan Mexico, also known as the Merida Initiative. Plan Mexico is an aid package specifically designed to support President Felipe Calderón's deadly battle against organized crime. It will fund more US training for Mexican police and military, in addition to providing them with riot gear, spy equipment, and military aircraft. Plan Mexico allows funds for the deployment of up to fifty US defense contractors to Mexico.

This is not the first time US defense contractors have directed torture in foreign countries. During the 2003-2004 Abu Ghraib prison torture scandal in Iraq, US soldiers claimed that defense contractors who ran the prison directed them to torture inmates. Four former Abu Ghraib inmates recently filed lawsuits against CACI International Inc. of Arlington, Va., and New York-based L-3 Communications Corp., formerly Titan Corp., for torturing them.
More analysis about Plan Mexico (or Merida Initiative) from Laura Carlsen:
Part of the strategy for approving Plan Mexico was to portray it as merely a bilateral counter-narcotics plan. This was never the case. The Plan betrays its much more ambitious aims. Note the words of John Negroponte to the OAS General Assembly: “With full funding, the Merida Initiative will provide substantial support over several years to train and equip Mexican and Central American law enforcement. We are committed to this initiative because no country in the hemisphere can be safe from organized crime, gangs, and narco-terrorism unless we are all safe.”

The use of the phrase “narco-terrorism” is not surprising but it constitutes a bad omen for Mexico. When drug trafficking is considered synonymous with terrorism, it opens the door to suspension of civil liberties, pulls the country into the Bush counterterrorism strategy, and obscures the real nature and roots of the problem. Negroponte’s remarks also reflect the removal of the security locus from the national to the regional realm, where the United States calls the shots. In this context, fears of violation of national sovereignty are not exaggerated.

While accusing the opposition of being insensitive to drug-related violence, proponents of Plan Mexico paved the way for an aid package that will likely increase violence and bring it closer to home as the drug war extends to opposition targets like it did under Plan Colombia. It will also fail, just as other applications of the drug war model have failed.

I would like to be wrong on this, but the signs are already there—human rights violations have increased precipitously since President Calderon launched the militarization of Mexican society in response to the violence of the drug cartels. The Merida Initiative applauds this strategy and explicitly aims to reinforce and broaden security measures. It adds U.S. espionage equipment and firepower while providing no significant funding or role for civil society measures or protection of civil liberties. Violence fought with violence has led to nearly double the drug-related deaths this year alone and multiple attacks on grassroots leaders, unarmed civilians, Zapatista communities and women by security forces.

The media focused all of its attention on the counter-narcotics “shared responsibility” aspect of the plan. Most reporters apparently never bothered to read the entire plan and eagerly accepted the spoon-fed connection between the violence on the border they had been covering and the ostensibly benevolent response of the U.S. government embodied in Plan Mexico.


The task we have before is to monitor impact and stop the plan in the next appropriations round. Not condition it, not tweak it, but end it. There are many constructive ways in which an aid package to Mexico could be designed that would increase security and long-term development and human security. Many people were working on drafting legislation that responds to these needs from a civilian point of view until the process was so tragically detoured by Plan Mexico.

It will be an uphill battle to defeat later stages of Plan Mexico. The plan has no clear benchmarks for evaluation. In the case of Plan Colombia, even though studies demonstrate its failure in decreasing the production and flow of illegal drugs it continues to be funded. In both Mexico and Colombia, support has to do with creating a strong U.S. military presence in these countries—a misguided strategy for increasing U.S. influence in the context of Latin America’s widespread rejection of the Bush national security strategy and free trade agreements. Also, defense companies and information technology companies that benefit handsomely from the allocations will lobby heavily.

Moreover, at the recent meeting of Plan Puebla-Panama (PPP)—supposedly a “development and integration project”--President Calderon praised the Merida Initiative and announced he will work to “build mechanisms that broaden the aid to Central American and Caribbean nations…” Backed up by Colombia’s President Alvaro Uribe, Calderon’s inclusion of Plan Mexico and the security agenda as the first point in his statement on the renewed PPP made it clear that the rightwing governments in the hemisphere have every intention of “securitizing” the hemispheric agenda, applying military models to public security problems with the generous help of U.S. taxpayer dollars. This path follows the evolution of NAFTA into a “White House-led” regional security plan under the Security and Prosperity Partnership. In its wake, the root problems facing Mexico—increased drug use, poverty, the fall of real wages, loss of rural livelihoods and emigration, corruption and erosion of the rule of law—have been pushed aside.
This is what neoliberals call "freedom." Expect more torture, raids on indigenous communities (such as those in Chiapas), more disappearances, and so on in the coming years, coupled with more intense grinding poverty. As NAFTA has continued to intensify its death grip both in the US and in Mexico, mechanisms for dealing with the impoverished and displaced people, who tend to understandably get angry at being treated as disposable. Any hints of rebellion will be dealt with by the governments in question by violating human rights and dignity - the intention to deter dissent, rather than to address any legitimate human needs. The only "security" will be that which insures the flow of capital and fortifies the boundaries of the various Green Zones. Prosperity will only go to a relative handful of CEOs. The rest of us are supposed to starve and love it.

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