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The Militarization of Politics

by Luis Hernández Navarro
Mexico City, Mexico


Felipe Calderon (president of Mexico) has made the war against drug trafficking the central theme of his government. The battle with organized crime has given his leadership the legitimacy that the ballot box denied him. The militarization of politics has given him the tools to administer the country with emergency measures. The politicization of public security has allowed him to reconstruct the chain of command.

In the same way that the 11th of September, 2001 allowed George W. Bush to make war the formative power of a new neoconservative order, the battle against the drug cartels has made it possible for the Mexican chief executive to try to consolidate and perpetuate his government. But, instead of sending troops to Iraq and Afghanistan, the Mexican head of state has taken them out of their barracks to take up positions on national territory.

The army is in the streets in many parts of the country, performing functions which are not theirs to do. It has set up patrols, de facto curfews and searches. Military commanders hold police positions. In what appears to be the dress rehearsal for what it is thinking of doing in several northern states, in places like Ciudad Juarez, Chihuahua, a situation exists which is very close to a state of emergency, not decreed by Congress.

Day after day, Felipe Calderon presents himself to the media as the commander-in-chief of a great national crusade. National propaganda presents him as the defender of the Mexican family. His movements around the country are organized in great stealth. His public acts are protected by elements of the Presidential Guard. Petitions or protests against him are silenced by the police.

In the short term, the politicization of public security has brought the chief executive positive results. Polls show him at reasonably acceptable levels, although they have fallen steadily in recent months. Violent expressions of social discontent, which existed in 2006, have ceased.

Among the first casualties of this war we are living are human rights. The legal framework has been transformed in spite of them. Among the macabre stories each day of decapitations, abandoned bodies and “pozoleros” (people who dissolve dead bodies), the assassination of social leaders barely counts. The criminalization of social protest advances every day.

It doesn’t seem to matter to the chief executive that the militarization of politics has eroded and degraded them. It would appear that he doesn’t care about the full-blown economic crisis, with national production stagnant, unemployment growing, and the escape valve of migration to the U.S. choked off, his margins for maneuver are reduced. The only glimpse of a way out is to intensify this war even more.

The most recent episode of the politicization of public security is the repeated warnings about the involvement in organized crime of seven (state) governors who are all members of the PRI (Partido Revolucionario Institucional) -- warnings elaborated by particular leaders and legislators of the PAN (Partido de Acción Nacional). True or not, these accusations, instead of actually fighting organized crime, demonstrate the desire of the “blue and white” (the colors of the PAN) to use the anti-drug offensive to hit out at their electoral rivals.

For Felipe Calderon, the immediate future is bitter. All the polls predict victory for the “tricolor” (the green, white, and red tricolor of the PRI) in the next federal elections. The loss of the PAN majority in the House of Representatives (Cámara de Diputados) will signal a death certificate for Calderon’s six-year term -- still so young (editor: Calderon began his presidency December 1, 2006).

The only possibility for the PAN to come back, electorally, in the short term, appears to be to unleash a furious media campaign which ties prominent PRI politicians to drug trafficking, so as to destroy their legitimacy. The PAN has a lot of experience in negative electoral campaigns, and Antonio Sola, the president’s chief advisor on these matters, continues to be highly valued by the “man in Los Pinos” (the official palace-residence of Mexican presidents).

For Calderon, pursuing an option of this nature would involve his being left with no allies, and putting his already precarious ability to govern in serious risk. To not do it would mean losing the majority in San Lazaro (editor: the San Lazaro legislative building) placing him in a very difficult position for the 2010 elections when a third of the governors are up for reelection, and leaving him caught in the PRI’s nets.

In 2006, PAN and the power groups did not hesitate to polarize the country and bring it to the edge of violent confrontation. Nevertheless, despite the fact that PRI is not Lopez Obrador (editor: the presidential candidate of the PRD/Partido de la Revolución Democrática who ran for president against Calderon in 2006), there’s no reason the situation would be different in 2009. Even more so if the route the president has chosen is one of increasing the presences of soldiers on the streets, of keeping them far from their barracks, and putting them to work in civilian jobs.

Luis Hernández Navarro is the Opinion page editor and a columnist for La Jornada. This article originally published (in Spanish) in La Jornada.

This article
translated from Spanish by Nic Paget-Clarke and irlandesa.

Published in In Motion Magazine March 30, 2009

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