When Felipe Calderón decided to use the army to confront drug trafficking groups head on, very few voices protested that determination. Two facts justified the strategy: local police lacked the capacity to confront the power of these organizations and the federal forces didn't have full confidence to perform the task. As a result, the political as well as civil society, explicitly or silently, signed a blank check for the president to act with all the weight of the state against this expression of illegality.The only thing that jumped out at me as questionable here was, "the nature of their responsibilities tends to separate them from this objective". That's surely true, but it implies that the army worked with a heavy hand that would not have been out of place on a battlefield. That's incorrect. Had they been committed in combat, the alleged abuses would be war crimes. Or in other words, the problems of the Mexican army go beyond the decision to use it for domestic security tasks.
In December we'll be three years from that decision. Over that time span, networks, fiefdoms and agreements between officials and criminals have been taken down. Nevertheless, the intensive presence of military forces in the streets has also had harmful consequences. Despite demands that the soldiers respect human rights, the nature of their responsibilities tends to separate them from this objective.
Within that context, toward the second half of Calderón's term, political leaders are beginning to propose a revision of the army's role. The panista coordinator in the Senate, Gustavo Madero, yesterday recognized that the country is obligated to reflect so as to establish limits to the participation of the armed forces. Perredista Carlos Navarrete acknowledged that including the army in combating crime has brought with it violations of human rights.
On the other side of the spectrum, priísta deputy Francisco Rivera Bedoya, president of the Commission of Public Security, came out in favor of soldiers redoubling their efforts, while panista Jorge González Betancourt trusts that they are capable of respecting civil guarantees.
These declarations, for now, offer an indication of the fracture of consensus that existed among the political class on this topic. For now it seems prudent to document that fact.
Tuesday, July 14, 2009
El Universal on the Army
Here's El Universal's editorial on the uproar over army abuses: