Monday, February 14, 2011

Officials “gaffe” in calling Mexican drug war an “insurgency”

By "Radical" Russ Belville on February 10, 2011

A new report is out entitled “Drug Violence in Mexico: Data and Analysis Through 2010″ by the Trans-Border Institute.  Among its findings:

Recently released official figures on homicides associated with organized crime report levels of violence that are significantly higher than those tracked by media accounts, which were previously the only source of information publicly available.

Usually governments tend to downplay embarrassing statistics compared to the media.  Here the government has worse news than the media on drug war murders.

Four years into the administration of President Calderón (2006-12),34,550 killings have been officially linked to organized crime, a dramatic increase from the previous administration of President Vicente Fox (2000-06) when 8,901 cases were identified.

If there were 4,427 drug war murders last year in Connecticut, a state with roughly the same population as Chihuahua, or 2,738 murders in San Diego, a city with roughly the same population as Juárez, do you think the legalization debate would be farther along?

For comparison’s sake, the total death toll of coalition forces in Iraq and Afghanistan combined since the beginning of those wars is 7,078.  Twice as many Mexicans were murdered in drug war violence just last year than soldiers killed in ten years of Middle East war.

Mexican drug war deaths have totaled 43,451 in ten years; whereas, the US Army suffered 38,221 deaths through the entire Vietnam War (Marines = 14,841, Air Force = 2,592, Navy = 2,565).

And those deaths are even spreading to Americans - two teenagers were gunned down in a car lot just this week.  A missionary lost his wife to gunfire as he ran an illegal roadblock.  Five Americans were killed in one week in Juárez.  Overall American deaths in Mexico’s drug war totaled 56 in 2008, 79 in 2009, and 92 in 2010.

In 2010, levels of violence greatly surpassed the levels seen in previous years.  84% of all homicides from organized crime in 2010 occurred in just four of Mexico’s 32 states (Chihuahua, Sinaloa, Guerrero and Baja California).

Chihuahua State, Mexico’s largest with about the area of Michigan and about the population of Connecticut, experienced 4,427 drug war murders last year.  Michigan had627 murders total in 2009 and Connecticut had 107.

The top five most violent municipalities in 2010 were Ciudad Juárez (2,738 cases), Culiacán (587), Tijuana (472), Chihuahua (670), and Acapulco (370), which together accounted for 32% of all the drug-related homicides in 2010.

Juárez City is Chihuahua State’s largest with about 1.3 million people, about the size ofSan Diego.  While Juárez had 2,738 murders in 2010, the entire state of California had only 1,972 (in 2009, latest data available).  San Diego had 41 total for the year.  Juárez had 26 murders on January 12th, 2010, a day that tallied 69 murders in Mexico.

Michael Kinsley once said, “A gaffe is when a politician tells the truth.” When confronted with these grim and sobering statistics last year, US Secretary of State Hillary compared the violence to an “insurgency” like we saw in narco-controlled Colombia in the 1980s-90s:

(Washington Post) Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said Wednesday that the surging drug violence in Mexico now resembles that of war-torn Colombia a generation ago, with criminal cartels looking like “insurgencies” battling for control of territory.

“It’s looking more and more like Colombia looked 20 years ago, where the narco-traffickers controlled certain parts of the country,” Clinton said at the Council on Foreign Relations in Washington.

These drug cartels are showing more and more indices of insurgencies,” Clinton said.

Mexican officials were quick to criticize Mrs. Clinton for the comparison.  She has since gone on to downgrade the violence in Mexico from “insurgency” to “messy”.

(El Paso Times) Clinton said there was no alternative to confronting the cartels head-on.

It is messy. It causes lots of terrible things to be on the news,” Clinton said after meeting Mexican Foreign Minister Patricia Espinosa in the postcard-perfect central Mexican city of Guanajuato.

“The drug traffickers are not going to give up without a terrible fight. And they do things that are just barbaric – like beheading people,” added Clinton, who was to meet later Monday with Calderon in Mexico City. “It is meant to intimidate. It is meant to have the public say, ‘Just leave them alone and they won’t bother me.’ But a president cannot do that.”

Now the Undersecretary of the Army Joseph Westphal has also invoked the word “insurgency”:

(Salt Lake Tribune) Speaking at the University of Utah’s Hinckley Institute of Politics on Monday, the second-highest ranking civilian official in the U.S. Army spent most of his lecture explaining the economic and bureaucratic obstacles faced by defense budget makers amid complicated challenges in the Middle East and South Asia.

But in response to a student’s question about strategic blind spots in U.S. foreign policy, Westphal switched hemispheres.

“One of them in particular for me is Latin America and in particular Mexico,” he said. “As all of you know, there is a form of insurgency in Mexico with the drug cartels that’s right on our border.”

“This isn’t just about drugs and about illegal immigrants,” he said. “This is about, potentially, a takeover of a government by individuals who are corrupt.

Westphal’s superiors quickly made sure the Undersecretary corrected his “gaffe” of accurately describing the Mexican situation:

(CNN) In a statement issued Tuesday, Westphal said he had wrongly characterized Latin America as a “strategic blind spot” for Washington.

“My statement also mistakenly characterized the challenge posed by drug cartels to Mexico as ‘a form of insurgency.’ My comments were not and have never been the policy of the Department of Defense or the U.S. Government toward Latin America,” he said.

“I did not speak on behalf of the president, national security adviser, secretary of Defense or any other officials charged with establishing and articulating U.S. policy,” he added. “I regret that my inaccurate statements may have caused concerns for our partners and friends in the region, especially Mexico.”

Or concerns for Westphal’s bosses who want the public to see Mexico’s drug war as violent enough to require another few hundred million taxpayer dollars in Merida Initiative aid to Mexico for guns and ammo and surveillance equipment, but not so intractable that legalization – an “alternative to confronting the cartels head-on” – is considered the most reasonable solution by a majority of Americans:

(Washington Post) The United States currently gives anti-drug aid to Central America through the Merida Initiative, although most of the plan’s money goes to Mexico.

The U.S. Congress approved $700 million for Mexico for fiscal years 2008 and 2009 as part of the initiative. It allotted $175 million for Central American, the Dominican Republic and Haiti in the same period.

For the current fiscal year, the administration has asked Congress to appropriate $450 million for Mexico and $100 million for Central America.

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