Thursday, March 31, 2011

Much of What Is Wrong in American Conceptions of Mexican Public Security, in One Piece

Via Joshua Frens-String, this piece from Rep. Michael McCaul is a doozy. For starters, the intro:

On Feb. 15, Jaime Zapata and Victor Avila identified themselves in Spanish as U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents and pleaded for their lives moments after members of a Mexican drug cartel forced their vehicle bearing U.S. diplomatic plates off the highway in Central Mexico. The cartel members responded by firing more than 80 rounds from automatic weapons, killing Zapata and wounding Avila. This event instantly changed the landscape of our nation's involvement in Mexico's bloody war.

For the first time in 25 years, the cartels are targeting American law enforcement.
As far as I know, the story that they were positively identified as American agents by the people blocking the road, then riddled with bullets as a consequence of their being American agents, has not been verified. It was contradicted by the initial arrestees. McCaul later says that he talked to Avila, but perhaps tellingly, he doesn't say that Avila told him this is how it went down, only that the attack was evil. McCaul was also pushing this version within hours of the incident, well before a complete picture was possible, which doesn't speak well of his credibility. To me, the more logical explanation --given that they were driving a big SUV with tinted windows and that diplomatic plates aren't very conspicuous identifiers-- is that the initial shooter squeezed the trigger because of nervousness about who was driving the car, not because he wanted to kill a couple of American agents. If McCaul is incorrect, shame on the Houston Chronicle; they just lied to their readers. But even assuming that McCaul's account is absolutely correct, to say that Mexican gangs are targeting --in the ongoing, continuous action sense of the word-- American law enforcement is also a stretch. One person was killed six weeks ago. Another agent was killed 25 years ago.

Mexico is in danger of becoming a failed state controlled by criminals.
Aaaaaaaaaaaaaahhh!! Idiots in the Congress, idiots in the Congress!! I thought this had been dealt with two years ago, but evidently not. I'll just recycle this comment from December 2008:
I have a hard time believing that the people who ask if Mexico is on its way to being a failed state have spent a lot of time here. Here's the Fund for Peace's brief definition of a failed state, which is based on 12 social, economic, and political factors:
One of the most common is the loss of physical control of its territory or a monopoly on the legitimate use of force. Other attributes of state failure include the erosion of legitimate authority to make collective decisions, an inability to provide reasonable public services, and the inability to interact with other states as a full member of the international community. The 12 indicators cover a wide range of state failure risk elements such as extensive corruption and criminal behavior, inability to collect taxes or otherwise draw on citizen support, large-scale involuntary dislocation of the population, sharp economic decline, group-based inequality, institutionalized persecution or discrimination, severe demographic pressures, brain drain, and environmental decay.
Mexico has a crime problem that manifests itself in state dysfunction, but it does not have a general state-legitimacy problem. There is no erosion of legitimate authority to make collective decisions, no inability to interact with the international community, nor is their any sharp economic decline because of the state's failure to exercise authority. There's no large-scale involuntary dislocation, no severe demographic pressure, nor is there institutionalized discrimination of Mexicans as a result of the war on drugs. And even if you latch onto the few areas where the comparison between Mexico and Afghanistan (or Haiti or the Congo) isn't laughable, it doesn't really offer you any insight into either nation. So please, journalists in the American media, cut it out. It's cheap, it's lazy, and it's untrue.
Still basically holds today. There is more dislocation of people, though I don't think what we see today qualifies as "large-scale involuntary dislocation". Finally, the Congressman's proposal:
I believe we should explore a joint military and intelligence operation with Mexico, similar to the 1999 Plan Colombia. This plan aimed to destroy that country's cocaine trade, eradicate its cartels and restore its economic and national security, and we certainly saw results.


It is time for the United States to show serious commitment to this war on our doorstep. Without attacking the cartels at their roots, our borders will continue to be an expensive Band-Aid on a wound that will not heal.

As far as Colombia, there were improvements (though more than anything with regard to the threat from the FARC, a group that has absolutely no corollary in Mexico), but it remains the world's foremost cocaine producer and it is far more violent than Mexico. Not exactly the success he makes it out to be.

Lastly, McCaul, in his effort to explain how to attack "the cartels at their roots", never once mentions corruption, institutional improvement, or rule of law. That's akin to explaining football without mentioning blocking, tackling, or the pigskin. Like many American commentators, he is constitutionally incapable of envisioning a solution that does not rely on heavy US involvement, which is unfortunate, because without Mexicans pursuing the necessary reforms of their own volition, US aid is going to be wasted. People who don't recognize this are either not genuinely interested in a safer Mexico, or they haven't thought very deeply about the problem.

Update: I should add that a significant portion of the piece calls for Mexican gangs to be added to the State Department's terrorist list. Boz has more here. I lean toward thinking that's not a great idea, but I don't have terribly strong feelings one way or the other. More than anything, however, I just don't think it really gets at the problem.


Burro Hall said...

You're beautiful when you're angry.

pc said...

Probably more red-faced though.

Charles Pergiel said...

I dunno, but I suspect that there are big monetary interests who are interested in keeping Mexico screwed up, and I suspect the US government is probably in cahoots with them. There is the drug trade, which is making someone a lot of money, but I suspect we are talking about something even bigger than that. I mean, look at Haiti. It looks like a disaster, but people are still squabbling over it. If there wasn't any money to made, they wouldn't be wasting their time. Shoot, Mexico is way ahead of Haiti, so you can bet a ton of money is being siphoned off into somebody's pocket.