Tag Archives: Drug War

Summit of the Americas

23 Apr

Summit of the Americas

Summit of the Americas

Leaders from the Summit of the Americas

The leaders who participated in the Summit of the Americas

Last weekend the leaders from thirty-three countries in the western hemisphere convened in Cartagena, Colombia. It was a vital political event which was marred by the actions of US officials. Although the scandals of the US secret service is what overshadowed the politics, in the media, what happened at the actual summit is of more importance.

Don’t mistake me, I’m not saying the secret service scandal is not newsworthy. The rumor is that eleven US secret service agents who were in Colombia before Obama, to set up security, solicited prostitutes and then would not pay them afterwards. What this scandal is is embarrassing. These are people who were sent to Colombia not only to secure the president’s safety but to represent the US. They definitely reinforced the ‘Ugly American’ stereotype. Many are calling the scandal a metaphor for US’ government’s treatment of Latin America, which I can’t disagree with. US government officials come in and support sex trade in a country where more than likely these prostitutes were forced into prostitution, are minors and/or have to resort to prostitution to feed their children. (For more information of sex trade in Latin America check out Esclavos Invisibles ) This is a serious situation and needs to be investigated but the policies discussed during the actual summit need more attention then they are getting.

This Cartagena summit was the sixth summit, the first was in 1994. The summit was a critical event for US relations in Latin America. Many political analysts say that the US’s influence in Latin America is steadily decreasing, and after the summit I would agree. The summit ended with no final decisions made. This was largely due to the US standing firm in its outdated ways while Latin American leaders disagreed with them. This is in part due to Latin America’s decreasing dependence on US trade and investment. “It seems the United States still wants to isolate us from the world, it thinks it can still manipulate Latin America, but that’s ending,” said Bolivian President Evo Morales, “What I think is that this is a rebellion of Latin American countries against the United States.”

Relations with Cuba is where divide was most apparent. The US and Canada were the only countries at the summit that were opposed to inviting Cuba to future summits. All the other countries refused to agree to continue to exclude Cuba. In fact, Ecuador’s president, Rafael Correa did not attend the summit in protest to the exclusion of Cuba. A crowd outside the summit protested for the closure of US’ Guantanamo base. Many in the United States agree that the United State’s stance towards Cuba is outdated and defected. Many of the Latin American leaders believe that in order to democratize Cuba you must interact and participate with it. Which I agree with, as long as human rights and democracy must be promoted during dialogue.

I don’t believe that the US’s poor showing at the summit was directly Obama’s fault. In fact, many of the Latin American presidents applauded Obama for genuinely listening to concerns and being polite. He was able to break the stereotype of US Presidents being arrogant and authoritative. (Side Note: This stereotype always reminds me of the Billy Bob Thornton scene in Love Actually ) And while I do find Obama’s Latin American policies thus far the most frustrating part of his term I cannot entirely blame him for taking an outdated stance on issues brought up at the summit. Although Obama did make changes to Cuba policy, it was not enough and he still supports the embargo. However, it is election year and Obama needs Florida’s vote and the embargo is strongly supported by the anti-Castro population in Florida. Unfortunately, even if Obama did want to take a new stance on policy he doesn’t have the room to with the election coming up.

Another hot button issue at the summit was the drug war and drug policy. It has become apparent that several Latin American countries have become fed up with the violence plaguing their countries due to US drug demand. Countries like Ecuador, Brazil and Colombia have started the decriminalization of drug possession. The big influence in the drug legalization talk has been Guatemala’s newly elected president Otto Perez Molina. President Santos of Colombia has also agreed that drug legalization should be considered. But the US took a firm stance against legalization or decriminalization. The fact is US drug consumption and US arms trade has made Latin America, especially Central America, increasingly violent and dangerous. Homicide rates due to drug cartels and drug trade is on a steady rise in many Latin American countries. While this is a problem created by the US, Latin America needs to focus on corruption as well as failed policy in order to start reducing drug trade.

The one subject that the US did want to focus on was the newly signed Free Trade Agreement between the US and Colombia. The agreement was finalized while Obama was in Cartagena and will be implemented May 15th. The United States is patting itself on the back for demanding improved labor rights in Colombia before signing the agreement. Colombia is the most dangerous country for trade unionists, labor organizers are constantly being murdered. Labor and human rights groups insist that the promises made in the Labor Action Plan have not been fulfilled and human rights abuses and labor organizers continue to be assassinated. When Obama was first running for president he said that he would not support the Free Trade Agreement with Colombia due to the high violence against unions, however once again the US feels they can put a band-aid on a large wound and ignore the problem.

What the summit was was a reminder of Latin America’s increasingly progressive policies, and the United States’ ancient stance on policies in the western hemisphere. Latin America is breaking away from the traditional way of doing things, becoming less dependent on the US. After the summit it was evident that the US is loosing influence in Latin America. It is hopeful that Latin America is gaining independence from Washington, and is now willing to stand up against the US’ bad policies. My hope is that after Obama wins the election this year he will take a stronger stance against US outdated policies in Latin America. Because even as Latin America becomes less dependent on the US the two regions will always need each other, geography dictates it. Hopefully, the next summit will be much more productive, and with far less scandal.

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What the Heck is going on in Mexico?

13 Jul

Last week, I was out having drinks with a group of people when I discovered one of the girls in our group was from Mexico City. I was quick to ask her what she thought of the Peace Movement and Javier Sicilia and then I was shocked when she had no idea what I was talking about. Realizing no one in our group had any idea what I was talking about and seemed slightly curious I immediately dived into my summary of what has been happening south of our border. In retrospect, I should not have been so surprised that no one, not even the girl from Mexico, was informed of Mexico’s politics. After all, many people here in the United States do not pay attention to our own politics, let alone those of other countries. But being a scholar of international affairs, more specifically Latin America I believe that people should be informed.

In California, a huge amount of our population is of Mexican descent and not only do we share a border with Mexico but our beautiful state used to be Mexico. Yet, our news ways are filled with news of the Middle East and not nearly enough with what is happening right near us. The general public appears to be aware that Mexico is currently dangerous due to something about drug cartels, but does not seem to be well-informed beyond this.

To me, the story starts in Ciudad Juarez, a border city that can be seen from Texas. Juarez saw a huge surge of population increase when maquiladoras started appearing in the city. Maquiladoras are factories for TNCs (Trans National Corporations) that exploit Mexico’s cheap labor. Despite the terrible working conditions of the Maquiladoras Mexicans see the work as an opportunity to receive a better income to support their families. In the late 1990s when these maquiladoras started showing up is also when the femicide in Juarez started. Young women, most of who worked in the factories, started being brutally murdered and disappeared. Due to police impunity, investigations into the murders have been a joke and even though arrests have been made the murders have continued. In 2005, the number of murdered girls was close to four hundred and it has only gone up since there. (Juarez femicides could be a blog of its own there is so much information. However, I feel it must be mentioned when speaking about Mexico’s violence. For further information, a good book on this is The Daughters of Juarez: A True Story of Serial Murder South of the Border by Teresa Rodriguez . )

In 2006, Mexico’s current President, Felipe Calderon, was elected and he launched his anti-drug campaign. The Drug War is a military campaign against organized crime, i.e. against the drug cartels. The problem with the Drug War is that it is combating violence with violence and in the process the murder of innocent citizens has increased. Since Calderon launched the Drug War there has been over 40,000 murders and over 5,000 disappearances related to the war. It is not just the cartels who are responsible for the violence but also the corrupt military, hired to protect the people. Even though it is widely known that the military is a huge reason for the violence only one solider has been committed for human rights abuses.

Then in late March, it seems that the Mexican Drug War violence pulled its last straw, at least for one father, who also happened to be a nationally known poet. After Javier Sicilia’s young son, Juan, and friends were murdered because two of the men had reported an extortion attempt, the poet took to national airways. He asked his fellow citizens why as a public they keep enduring this senseless violence, why the Mexican people were not uniting against the impunity. The people who were mourning in their homes, scared of speaking out about their family member’s death he called to the streets to mourn in unity. Sicilia called his fellow citizens to civil resistance and nonviolent action, he called his people to awaken and speak out against injustice. Sicilia quickly rallied several mourning families and soon they started filling public spaces in Mexico. They gathered, all holding plaques of the names and pictures of loved ones who fell victim to the war. With encouragement from Sicilia they were no longer afraid to speak about the injustice murders of their family members. The people organized marches between Mexican cities demanding the right to walk peacefully through the streets of Mexico, demanding the violence to end. Sicilia rallied Mexicans fed up with the violence to push for an end to Calderon’s war on drugs.

In the beginning of June, right as this movement for peace, led by Javier Sicilia, was gaining momentum a peace caravan was planned. The Caravan of Solace, as it was titled, was over 1200 miles that traveled through the cities hit hardest by the Drug War. The caravan, whose numbers fluctuated, stopped in over ten cities. As the caravan traveled they stopped in each city to hold rallies where Sicilia and relatives of victims would speak to the crowd. In these rallies the main goal of ending the drug war was repeatedly emphasized. The Caravan’s last stop was in Juarez, “the epicenter of pain”, as Sicilia called it, where a national pact was drafted. The National Pact was drafted by civil society groups from around the country, hundreds gathered in downtown Juarez to hear the pact’s points being read. Sicilia was criticized by some that what was read in Juarez was just a draft of the pact but he defended it by saying that the pact needs further consultation in order to draft a final, more serious document. Sicilia has said that he hopes the National Pact will be strong enough and backed with enough public strength that the government will not be able to ignore it.

On June 23rd, came a victory for the National Peace Movement when Javier Sicilia and other victims of the drug war met in a public meeting with President Calderon, an event which is rare in Mexican history. Sicilia stated the reasons for the meeting: to ask Calderon for an apology to the nation and victims’ families, to find justice, to end the war, to legalize certain drugs and protection for journalists. Calderon agreed to an apology for the death of innocent victims but not for the death of criminals. In response to Sicilia’s criticism of the Drug War Calderon continued to defend the war saying, “I would rather be judged, albeit unjustly, for having acted than for having done anything at all.” Although Calderon set to his ideas and stuck by his war he was able to hear the victim’s stories and thoughts. One positive outcome of the meeting was the creation of an office for attention to victims, which will use seized money from drug trafficking to install a plaque with the names of victims of the war. Both Sicilia and Calderon agreed the meeting was positive and to have another meeting in three months.

Reviewing all of this, some people in the United States might see this as Mexico’s problem, might think that their hands are clean of this problem; yet, this is not at all the truth. The drug cartels are selling their supplies to the US, in order for gringos to continue their addiction. Money from drugs offers Mexicans an opportunity at a lot of money they would most likely not have the opportunity to elsewhere. The United States’ policies toward drug control are all backwards; they are focused on incarcerating drug offenders. As a result, jails in the US are overcrowded with people charged with minor drug violations. The US first needs to focus on the source of the problem and make drug rehabilitation its priority. Instead of spending all of its money in jails the United States needs to divert money to drug rehabilitation programs and campaigns against drug use. I think very little drug users here in the US think that they are responsible for the thousands of deaths in Mexico, but they are just as responsible as anyone else. Perhaps a campaign visually linking the two would be effective, for example, an ad showing a teen consuming drugs next to a dead body in Mexico’s desert. But, instead of focusing on these policies the US is throwing its money to Mexico’s Drug War, which is helping to fund the impunity and corruption.

Another US policy contributing to Mexico’s violence is gun control. Because people here believe that it is their constitutional right to own a machine gun, gun control has been weakened and it is easy to have access to deadly weapons. Almost all of the guns used by Mexico’s drug cartels are from the United States. What gives cartels even easier access to weapons from the Free Trade Agreement between the US and Mexico which not only makes the drug cartels life a lot easier but also hurts farmers in the process. The US needs to revamp its entire approach to drug control and its relationship with its southern neighbor.

Skeptics think there is little possibility of success for the Peace Movement thinking the government will be unwilling to change and move in the right direction. Yet it is important to remember the incredible parts in this story, a poet, and a father, with no prior political background has united an ailing nation to speak out against violence and unite in nonviolent conflict. In no way am I doubting that the Peace Movement has a long way to go, but for only starting four months ago it has made significant progress. It is no secret that it will take a lot of work to change Mexico’s situation, but when the whole society is united it will be hard for the government to ignore their demands for too long. Unfortunately, even if Mexico does change its policies and stops the Drug War there is also great change that needs to happen in the United States. If both countries partner together, both the governments and citizens, to find a lasting, sensible solution to drug violence than perhaps one day Mexicans can walk safely in their streets and no longer live in constant fear for their lives.