Tuesday, October 4, 2011

No Paramilitaries in Mexico?

As noted in last Thursday’s brief, the emergence of a group known as the “Mata Zetas” or “Zeta Killers” in Veracruz, Mexico has sparked concerns about the rise of paramilitary groups in the country. In a recently uploaded video of the group on YouTube, its members declared themselves to be “the armed wing of the people,” a “paramilitary” force which does not extort, kidnap or otherwise harm the public interest. In response to the media attention that this drew, the Mexican government downplayed the group, even denying that paramilitary groups exist at all in the country. From the Washington Post:
Mexico’s security spokeswoman, Alejandra Sota, said Thursday that there is no evidence that paramilitaries operate in Mexico — meaning groups supported by the state or powerful backers or composed of ordinary residents who seek rough justice.“We stress that [the Mata Zetas] are criminals who belong to a criminal group that wants to seize control of the criminal activities of another criminal group,” Sota said....In Mexico, vigilante justice is not uncommon, but it is mostly spontaneous eruptions against thieves, rapists and hometown killers.
However, while it may be true that the drug war has not resulted in the rise of paramilitaries on the scale of Colombia (a point which is excellently argued here by InSight Crime’s Elyssa Pachico), Mexico is not completely free from paramilitary groups. According to UN security consultant Edgardo Buscaglia, the country is home to some 167 paramilitary organizations, most of which are in the service of wealthy ranchers and businessmen. In a recent interview with Proceso magazine, Buscaglia claimed that their main function is to fill in the void left by the state’s inability to adequately ensure “life and property,” although some are on the payroll of local politicians as an auxiliary security force.
It is also worth noting, however, that many existing paramilitary groups in the country have an ideological component to them as well. This is the case in Chiapas, where paramilitary organizations sprang up in response to the 1994 Zapatista uprising and the movement’s subsequent nonviolent community organizing throughout the state. Armed groups such as the Organization for the Defense of Indigenous Rights and Farmers  (OPDDIC) and Mascara Roja have been targeting Zapatista-affiliated communities for years, generally with impunity. Indeed, adherents of the latter group were implicated in the 1997 massacre of 45 men, women and children in the village of Acteal.
For Calderon’s administration to claim that there are no paramilitary organizations in the country is not only false, but a slap in the face to those whose lives have been directly affected  by paramilitary violence in the country.
News Briefs
  • Following the Calderon government’s meeting with Javier Sicilia's Movement for Peace with Justice and Dignity last June, the president himself called for another meeting to take place in three months. Now, according to EFE, it seems that he wishes to include other groups, proposing a “broader gathering in which other social groups would also participate.” The peace movement balked at the suggestion, and has canceled a proposed meeting for October 7. Sicilia, for his part, is fuming, and has accused the government of seeking to “dilute” the movement.  
  • The AP has picked up on a development that many Mexico analysts have long been saying: Calderon’s security strategy has resulted in the dominance of two groups: the Sinaloa Cartel and the Zetas. As these two drug trafficking organizations emerge as the main forces in the country’s criminal underworld, some are predicting a massive government takedown of the two in the coming years.
  • The Mexican Supreme Court’s ruling in July that opened the door to more military prosecutions is taking effect. On Monday the country’s military announced that it would be discharging two soldiers accused of kidnapping a 13-year-old girl, and would turn them over to civilian court.
  • Colombian ex-president Alvaro Uribe has continued to distance himself from the “false positive” scandal, in which soldiers killed civilians and then dressed them in FARC uniforms, this time claiming that many of the victims’ mothers had admitted to him privately that their sons were involved in “illegal activities.”  Speaking at a political science forum in Bogota, Uribe also claimed that the phenomenon was nothing new, but that his administration had created a safe space to denounce the crime.
  • Semana has an interesting piece on political campaigning in Medellin ahead of the country’s October 30th local elections. According to the magazine, many candidates have been prevented from campaigning in neighborhoods around the city by threats from area gangs. The Green Party and the Alianza Social Independiente have been disproportionately targeted.
  • In a move likely timed to coincide with Ecuador’s  push to improve its relationship with the U.S., Ecuador’s government has claimed that the media distorted comments made by President Rafael Correa last week that the U.S. has financed corrupt police forces there. According to AFP, in the initial interview Correa claimed to have no proof that the U.S. was behind the country’s police coup last year, but the comment was not published by local press. No word yet as to whether or not Correa will sue Diario Hoy, which initially published the story, for $30 million.
  • Despite the fact that several of her cabinet officials have been plagued with a series of messy corruption scandals in recent months, Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff has seen a rise in approval ratings, reports Reuters. According to a poll by Ibope survey firm, Rousseff's approval rating has risen by 4 percentage points since July, with 71 percent of Brazilians supporting the leader.
  • Peruvian President Ollanta Humala received an unlikely endorsement yesterday from ex-President Alan Garcia. In an interview with Peru’s El Comercio, Garcia claimed that the president was “doing things far better” than those who didn't vote for him expected.