A while back we had posted a story of a shooting that happened in Anahuac concerning a shootout where ten people were killed. The information was sketchy and the military had said through the local media that they had killed a total of eight sicarios and also that two soldiers had died during the confrontation. Here is part of the story:
"There is a woman with an identification badge from Delphi and a man that lives in Anahuac," said Garza and Garza. "Each one of them was carrying a weapon, one was carrying a "cuerno de chivo" AK-47 and the other had an AR-15. They had in their possession between 400 and 500 rounds for the AR-15 and "cuerno de chivo."
We eventually got pictures of the sicarios and we immediately started to question the segments of events while getting many e-mails that among the sicarios there were two innocent people killed. Eventually the Mayor of Anahuac would claim in a press conference that the couple that were killed were innocent bystanders.
One of the many e-mails that caught our attention early on from the incident came from a "common citizen" who had figured out some inconsistencies about the events leading to the shooting. Through follow up investigation we were able to determine to a degree that perhaps on that day, two innocent people were killed by soldiers in the heat of battle. Perhaps we will never know what really happened that day, but it sure is nice to find out.
Anyhow, my whole point of all this is that some people do have legitimate concerns about what is happening in Mexico and the people who suffer the horrible violence that is gripping Mexico.
I present to you Gerardo:
When I was a child our family would spend our summers in Villa Aldama, Nuevo Leon, a politically and socially conservative town where my mother's family lived. In the summer of 1964 to be exact there was a general election underway in Mexico.
On the day of balloting I was out on the street playing with my brothers and cousins when several 2 1/2 ton trucks filled with armed troops drove into the town and proceeded to patrol the streets. Suddenly the streets emptied as all the inhabitants fled to their homes, some in a state of panic. Every one except my brothers and me.
I remember the screams of the women "la tropa la tropa" to this day.
As kids our only experience with military displays had been with Army and National Guard units marching in parades in South Texas where universal admiration and pride has always been the norm. Finally our father, a distinguished WW II combat veteran of the southern Philippines campaign and Okinawa, where he earned his Purple Heart and Bronze Star came running from an uncle's home and gathered us, then ran with us back to the safety of my uncle's home.
This made quite an impact on me, that my father who had conquered his fears would feel his children were at such risk. Our father explained to us later that day "You guys don't understand, this isn't the United States"
It's hard for people in the United States to understand the ambiguous feelings with which the people of Mexico view their armed forces. How initially polls suggested that the population supported the use of the military against drug cartels and how that support has now largely disappeared.
To be sure there is a sense of nationalistic pride in the military forces as an institution but when it comes down to boots on the ground on your street those feelings can suddenly turn into doubt and fear. These feelings are mostly universal in Latin America from Argentina up to Mexico.
In Latin America the armed forces are answerable only to their own chain of command and in the best of times to the executive branch of government. Thus their actions are made with impunity to any form of civilian oversight.
Ethical and criminal corruption within the military in Latin America has always been a problem. Training, especially within the officer and nco levels are usually insufficient within the sphere of law enforcement tactics and respect for human rights.
Even government human rights commissions have little or no power over military abuses, be they accidental or premeditated. Since early in the 20th century the military in Latin America has had no external enemies with which to contend. The main purpose for the military is to protect the nation state from internal enemies. At this they have been brutally efficient. In most of Latin America the military is the strongest government institution.
How does this translate to the military's role in Mexico's war against the drug cartels? In all the areas where the Mexican army has been pitted against the drug cartels civilian casualties have soared and the rule of law, to the degree that it existed previously, has mostly disappeared.
To be sure many of these civilians have been cartel members and many of these deaths can be attributed to cartel on cartel violence but Mexican society now views the level of innocent civilian deaths, "collateral damage", as unacceptable.
Another victim of this violence has been the "truth". Case after case of innocent civilians killed by the military and covered up as cartel casualties have been revealed by the public and leaders of civil society and even admitted to by the federal government but in none of these many cases has any soldier or officer been brought to justice as far as can be known.
The cause of many unexplained cartel member and common criminal deaths are suspected by much of the public as being extrajudicial killings by military death squads. This belief , whether rumors or fact, also adds to the climate of fear and distrust of the military.
Corruption by drug cartels within the military, always a problem, is seen to be increasing and is evident by the insertion of Mexico's naval infantry (marines) as the vanguard of armed actions against the cartels and the relegation of police and occupation duties in northern Mexico and other affected areas of the country.
Some see the return to the barracks by the army in Cd. Juarez as a reversal of President Calderon's policies but this may only be a shift in forces to other areas such as Tamaulipas and Nuevo Leon.
So for Borderland Beat readers in the U.S. who find the general response to the role of Mexico's military in the drug war as perplexing, contradictory and even cowardly just remember those words " You guys don't understand, this isn't the United States".