Monday, August 15, 2011

Sicilia's Big Idea and Its Popularity

Pinche holandés Jan-Albert Hootsen has an interesting column on the problems inherent in Sicilia's movement:
One of Sicilia’s principal goals is to stop the militarization of the country. His movement feels that, by employing thousands of soldiers in 2006 to fight organized crime, the Calderón-administration has led the country into a fight it cannot win, where citizens have become trapped in the crossfire between violent organized crime groups and a law enforcement effort unable to contain the violence. Thousands of serious allegations of human rights violations by the military fuelled this discontent and caused both Sedena (National Defense Secretariat) and Semar (Navy) to lose its traditionally solid public support.

Javier Sicilia’s demands are valid and need to be taken seriously by the Mexican government. There is, however, one problem that his movement might encounter in the future. The Movement for Peace with Justice and Dignity has become an umbrella for a great many social movements, all with their own complaints and demands. Support for his cause comes from disenchanted farmers from Mexico State, women’s rights organizations from Chihuahua, environmental activists from Chiapas and traditional pressure groups such as the Zapatist Army of National Liberation (EZLN) and unions.

One of the groups supporting Sicilia is the now autonomous community of Cherán, in Michoacán state. Since April this year, the (mostly indigenous) inhabitants of Cherán have risen in resistance to the destruction of their environment by illegal logging, which is allegedly sponsored by regional organized crime. When I visited Cherán one week ago, locals implored the federal government to send troops. Perhaps their most serious complaint wasn’t the presence of soldiers, it was actually the absence of the military.
There are definitely a lot of problems with the ongoing use of the military, especially when coupled with a plainly insufficient drive to create a police force capable of replacing it on domestic security issues in the near future. Nonetheless, most people want the military out on the streets, as demonstrated by surveys from several different pollsters, as well as the typical reaction to spikes in violence from local leaders like those of Cherán. Given that, I think Sicilia and co. should focus more on educating the public as to why using the army and marines is a bad idea. His point of view is valid, as Hootsen says, but it's a minority opinion on a relatively simple question.


Richard said...

With due respect to Jan-Albert and yourself, you're forgetting the long history of consensus movements in this country. Single-issue political movements might or might not bring out the crowds (think of the protests from the AMLO people after the Calderón "election"), but broad based, but shallowly supported, movements nationwide — like those spearheaded by the Zapatistas — have succeeded, in large part because the support came not just from voters, but more importantly from intellectuals and Roman Catholic Bishops... the same formula you're seeing in this anti-military campaign.

As it is, without a long track record of multi-party elections, it's impossible to say what the political effect of this present campaign is, but it has the support of the key opinion makers and, like social movements in countries with a longer history of multi-party (or even two-party) politics, does offer opportunities to the opposition.

pc said...

The Zapatistas and Sicilia's movements are so different in so many ways that any meaningful comparison is pretty much impossible. Whatever the case, I'm not quite sure how your argument addresses the basic point I'm making: on the simple question of whether the military should be involved in domestic security, significant majorities stand in opposition to Sicilia's point of view, and he isn't doing much to alter that dynamic, but rather seems to be treating it as though a narrow minority is employing this horribly unpopular policy. Are you saying that his approach will make the 70-80 percent of the population that favors the military vanish?

Richard said...

Are you saying that his approach will make the 70-80 percent of the population that favors the military vanish?

-- it may very well whittle down that percentage, and — more importantly — convince those that make the rules to change their thinking, especially of the elites who affect policy. As it is, the present administration is putting massive effort into propaganda for the use of the military... were that to change (for any number of reasons), the polling numbers would likely change. And, the polls I've seen tend to present the issue as "army or police" (or "army or no army"), not as "drug war or social programs" or "military control or more judges" type of questions.

My contention is that by raising other justice issues, the administration is likely to see less support for its present policy. Comparing the number of those in various movements that share common goals right now against those that accept a policy presented without alternatives doesn't mean the alternatives won't gain popularity and/or acceptance, nor that they won't in be part of various political platforms.

pc said...

"My contention is that by raising other justice issues, the administration is likely to see less support for its present policy."

That may be the case, though I'm a bit skeptical. I guess we'll have to check back in a year or so and see what the polls say then. But I think regardless, he could be doing more to convince the large chunk of people that is on the other side of the fence on this issue.