The Impact of President Felipe Calderon's War On Drugs On The Armed Forces: The Prospects for Mexico's "Militarization" and Bilateral Relations by George W. Grayson
Respondents to public opinion polls have long ranked the Army among Mexico’s most respected institutions, along with the Roman Catholic Church and universities. There has not been a president with a military background since 1946, no retired or active duty officers hold a governorship, and—above all—the armed forces obey civilian leaders. Unlike many Latin American nations, Mexico has not suffered a coup d’état for nearly 100 years. In the absence of honest, professional civilian law-enforcement agencies, President Felipe Calderón assigned the military the lead role in his nation’s version of the “War on Drugs” that he launched in 2006. While the armed forces have spearheaded the capture and/or death of several dozen cartel capos, the conflict has taken its toll on the organizations in terms of deaths, corruption, desertions, and charges by nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) of hundreds of human rights violations. The nation’s Supreme Court has taken the first step in requiring that officers and enlistees accused of crimes against civilians stand trial in civil courts rather than hermetic military tribunals. As if combating vicious narco-syndicates were not a sufficiently formidable challenge, the government has assigned such additional roles to the Army and Navy as overseeing customs agents, serving as state and municipal security chiefs, taking charge of prisons, protecting airports, safeguarding migrants, functioning as firefighters, preventing drug trafficking around schools, establishing recreational programs for children, and standing guard 24-hours a day over boxes of ballots cast in recent elections. Meanwhile, because of their discipline, training, and skill with firearms, security firms are snapping up men and women who have retired from active duty. The sharp expansion of the armed forces’ duties has sparked the accusation that Mexico is being “militarized.” Contributing to this assertion is the Defense Ministry’s robust, expensive public relations campaign both to offset criticism of civilians killed in what the Pentagon would label “collateral damage” and to increase contacts between average citizens and military personnel, who often constituted a separate caste. This campaign is evident in recruiting videos, advertisements in Twitter, and the portrayal of combat successes on YouTube. Creativity infuses the outreach programs, which are aimed at average people and often take place in connection with parades and other ceremonial extravaganzas. Obliging pilots encourage adults and children to hop into the seat of a recently-landed helicopter; other wide-eyed youngsters grasp the controls of anti-aircraft weapons; admiring onlookers are invited to shake hands and have photos taken with nationally prominent military athletes; in Veracruz and other ports, residents are given tours of ships, landing craft, and submarines. The Army has gone out of its way to tout opportunities for women, who traditionally filled posts as nurses, secretaries, translators, doctors, and dentists. Now the Defense Ministry has opened all of its instructional institutions, including the Heroic War College (Mexico’s version of West Point), to females.