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The Impact of President Felipe Calderón’s War on Drugs on the Armed Forces: The Prospects for Mexico’s “Militarization” and Bilateral Relations

Authored by Dr. George W. Grayson.

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In the absence of honest, professional civilian law-enforcement agencies, President Felipe Calderón assigned the military the lead role in his nation’s version of the “War on Drugs” that he launched in 2006. While the armed forces have spearheaded the capture and/or death of several dozen cartel capos, the conflict has taken its toll on the organizations in terms of deaths, corruption, desertions, and charges by nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) of hundreds of human rights violations. The nation’s Supreme Court has taken the first step in requiring that officers and enlistees accused of crimes against civilians stand trial in civil courts rather than hermetic military tribunals. As if combating vicious narco-syndicates were not a sufficiently formidable challenge, the government has assigned such additional roles to the Army and Navy as overseeing customs agents, serving as state and municipal security chiefs, taking charge of prisons, protecting airports, safeguarding migrants, functioning as firefighters, preventing drug trafficking around schools, establishing recreational programs for children, and standing guard 24-hours a day over boxes of ballots cast in recent elections. Meanwhile, because of their discipline, training, and skill with firearms, security firms are snapping up men and women who have retired from active duty. The sharp expansion of the armed forces’ duties has sparked the accusation that Mexico is being “militarized.” Contributing to this assertion is the Defense Ministry’s robust, expensive public relations campaign both to offset criticism of civilians killed in what the Pentagon would label “collateral damage” and to increase contacts between average citizens and military personnel, who often constituted a separate caste. Dr. George W. Grayson examines the ever wider involvement of the armed forces in Mexican life by addressing the question: “Is Mexican society being ‘militarized’?” If the answer is “yes,” what will be the probable impact on relations between the United States and its southern neighbor?

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