Monday, July 13, 2009

The War at Home

Much as I'd rather not beat the Mexico-is-the-new-Colombia meme into the ground, it's worth looking at Ken Ellingwood and Tracy Wilkinson's "Calderon's Drug Offensive Stirs 'Wasp Nest.'" This L.A. Times story portrays a northern Mexico that is now fully militarized and occuped by the federal army.

The force's highly visible presence has caused the local assassins to change tactics, substituting pistols for AKs and beat-up cars for SUVs. In other words, the bad guys now have to get much closer to their targets to kill them, an undoubted benefit--but it remains to be seen how well the army treats Mexican civilians and thus, whether the civilians see the federals as liberators or occupiers.

The signs in the Ellingwood/Wilkinson story aren't encouraging, but then the Mexican army may just be experiencing the same (occasionally lethal) growing pains that U.S. forces met when they faced occupation duties post 9/11:

Activists say soldiers trained for combat, not police work, have run amok at times.

Margarita Rosales, a laundry worker in Juarez, said her son, Javier, 21, was found dead in April after he and a friend were seized by soldiers and federal police after a night of drinking. His body bore marks of a severe beating, she said. Rosales said the friend told her that Javier, an X-ray technician, was singled out because he was heavily tattooed.

"He didn't sell drugs. He wasn't involved in that kind of thing," she said. "If they had found kilos of drugs, kilos of cocaine -- but why? There is no reason why."

Gustavo de la Rosa Hickerson, human rights ombudsman for the state of Chihuahua, said his office has received 200 complaints of abuse by the military, including allegations of suspects being tortured to extract information, wrongful detention and seven killings. Nationwide, complaints against the army tripled between 2007 and 2009.

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