<i>"The Name of Our Country is América" - Simon Bolivar</i> The Narco News Bulletin<br><small>Reporting on the War on Drugs and Democracy from Latin America
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“Plan Mexico” Claims its First Victims in the Murky Floodwaters of Tabasco

With an Entire State Under Water, Calderón Has Troops Searching Cars for Drugs Instead of Helping


By Greg Berger
Special to The Narco News Bulletin

November 1, 2007

Villahermosa, the capital of Tabasco State, is currently underwater. The heaviest rains in memory have thrust the waters of at least seven rivers in the State above their banks. In many neighborhoods in the capital, rooftops are the only thing peeking out of the flooded waters from the Grijalva river, and in other barrios houses have sunk completely below the depths. Just like we saw in New Orleans in the days following Hurricane Katrina, countless lives have surely been swallowed by the muddy waters.

But just like the tragedy that struck in Louisiana, this disaster is not entirely natural. It is a tragic natural occurrence whose effects might have been mitigated if not for a Mexican government so dangerously prostrate to the Bush administration, that it signed away its most basic responsibilities to its citizens by agreeing to a 1.4 billion dollar package from the U.S. to “fight drugs” that has been dubbed “Plan Mexico.”

What, you may ask, is the connection between Plan Mexico and the heavy rainfall in the Mexican Southeast?

Mexico’s military has, in recent years, been deployed during natural disasters to assist in relief and recovery efforts, as in the aftermath of the eruption of Popocatepetl volcano in 2000. The practice is controversial, since the army has long been associated with human rights violations. Many people, especially in poor, rural, and indigenous Mexico mistrust their presence. But in recent years, authorities had taken note of this and begun to deploy soldiers without guns. Though by no means an indication of a “kinder gentler military” – the army continues to abuse its citizens – the use of soldiers during disasters provided a glimpse of what a Mexican government truly willing to serve its people might look like.

Then Felipe Calderón came to power amid credible allegations of electoral fraud, and the “soft” facade of the “kinder, gentler” Mexican military disappeared.

Virtually from his first days in office, Calderón deployed the army throughout rural Mexico to “fight drug trafficking.” This has essentially meant sending heavily armed soldiers to patrol dense urban areas throughout the country, from Tijuana to Cuernavaca to Morelia, while simultaneously setting up military checkpoints throughout the countryside where vehicles are illegally stopped and searched. This absurd initiative has not curbed the flow of drugs, and violent drug-related crime has actually increased since the program began. What has happened though, is increased harassment and abuse of innocent Mexican citizens. In eerie resemblance to the behavior of the U.S. army in Iraq, Mexican soldiers shot dead five family members including three children in Sinaloa state last June when they failed to slow down for one of Calderón’s checkpoints.

Many critics believe that the project is in fact a convenient cover to redeploy soldiers to regions of potential social upheaval, such as Oaxaca, Chiapas, and Michoacan. During last year’s civilian uprising in Oaxaca, for example, it was in this state that citizens formed the Popular Assembly of the Peoples of Michoacan, modeled after the APPO in Oaxaca. When it seemed as though the Oaxacan uprising might spread, Michoacan seemed a likely place for the struggle to continue. Curiously, Michoacan was the first State to which Calderon deployed troops “to fight the drug war” once in office.

The project was applauded by the U.S. government from the beginning, and led to an agreement between Bush and Calderon this very week to provide 1.4 billion dollars from the U.S. to Mexico to continue the program. The project is already being dubbed “Plan México” in the press, in reference to “Plan Colombia,” the devastating military aid package given to Colombia which has provided resources to a brutal military that works together with right-wing death squads, and irreparably scarred the countryside by indiscriminately blanketing hundreds of thousands of acres with toxic herbicides. “Plan Mexico,” the first anti-drug collaboration program of a similar scale to be proposed since, was approved by Calderon without his consulting Mexico’s congress, let alone seeking a vote of approval.

What does all this have to do with Tabasco’s flood? Tabasco Governor Andres Granier made the rounds of TV and radio outlets lamenting the lack of manpower to help in evacuation, rescue and assistance efforts. Specifically, he decried the fact that only 5,000 soldiers have been sent to the state (which is now 80 percent covered in water) whereas in 1999 when the last flooding event occurred, 20,000 troops were sent in, although the crisis was much less severe. Why isn’t the federal government deploying troops to Tabasco? Because they are far flung throughout the countryside, away from their barracks, on a wild goose chase to catch the drug kingpins that cynical President Calderon knows they will never find – since in many cases they are protected by the politicians and military officers supposedly trying to catch them.

The use of soldiers in disaster response is controversial, and could arguably never truly work. But nevertheless it’s the best large-scale human resource the Mexican State has at its immediate disposal, and that manpower is being sadly squandered as Tabasqueños drown and starve. Rescue workers are confronting chaos in Tabasco as they pull terrified children from the rooftops of their inundated homes. Local authorities’ resources are stretched far beyond their capacity, and they are in desperate need of help. 15,000 extra pairs of hands would save many, many lives. Instead, the soldiers that could be there are busy ripping apart the contents of the pickup trucks of poor Indians at checkpoints in Chihuahua, as their superior officers cavort with the real drug traffickers.

That’s why it is true and correct to say that on this eve of Dia de Muertos, when Mexicans across the country prepare to honor the spirits of their deceased family members, Plan Mexico is claiming its first victims.

1.4 billion dollars destined for Plan Mexico. It’s an astounding sum. Is it more than just a futile exercise to imagine what those resources might do in months to come for the indigenous people, the campesinos, the low-paid oil workers, and the rest of the Tabasqueños who have now lost the remainder of what little they owned in life? People in the United States contemplated the same issues as the Blackwater corporation’s mercenaries pissed away the resources that could have saved lives in New Orleans after Katrina. What could be a more illustrative example of the willingness with which Mexico’s current leaders have allowed the United States to shape its domestic priorities?

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The Narco News Bulletin: Reporting on the Drug War and Democracy from Latin America