American Government Insults of Latin America Counterproductive

If the United States’ government wants to truly work alongside the governments of Latin America, they seem to have one major request: treat them as equals and not act as imperial as we have in the past.

Two articles today emphasize this perspective.  The first is from the NYTimes and notes the growing animosity between U.S. and Mexican officials trying to combat the ongoing drug war.  One part of this relationship is that the United States gets to polygraph Mexican officials to attempt to make sure they are not working in collaboration with the drug cartels.  There has been a somewhat humorous response recently from the new regime in Mexico to this action:

“So do we get to polygraph you?” one incoming Mexican official asked his American counterparts.

It is a worthwhile question in all fairness.  And one must ask why the U.S. might balk at this idea?  If we are asking the Mexican officials to confirm they are not working with the drug cartels through polygraphs, shouldn’t we extend them the same courtesy?  What do our officials have to hide that makes them apprehensive about this?  When this action is a one way street, it is rather insulting to the other side no matter how you try to sell it.

The second article from the AP states Bolivian President Evo Morales has expelled USAID, which, as stated in the piece, has a history of undermining regimes in Latin American states even if they were democratically elected.  Part of the reason for Morales following through on this frequent threat was U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry’s flub of calling Latin America the United States’ “backyard”.

Using the word “backyard” to describe Latin America is not necessarily anything new in the U.S. but it is an insult to those countries, something that usually goes unrecognized to the point of it being second nature.  The U.S. has its history of considering people second-class citizens.  But in this case we are considering countries as second-class and, to the shock of no one, they kind of hate that.

The time is long overdue for a change in both language and actions in the United States’ government in regards to Latin America.  If we want a healthy relationship with the region, we have to recognize they are truly our equals and our neighbors and no longer our “backyard”.  The faster this change comes, the stronger the region will be.

Grab-Bag for Today: Gay Marriage, Guantanamo, Mexico Violence, and Drones

Uruguay Legalizes Gay Marriage

The South American country of Uruguay has legalized gay marriage through its Chamber of Deputies.  Good to see a country mature enough to do it through legislation and not have to wait until the court system informs the public what the phrase “equal rights” actually means (looking at you America).  And the good news for Americans is the legislation states “gay and lesbian foreigners will now be allowed to come to Uruguay to marry, just as heterosexual couples can.”  So, if the Supreme Court doesn’t have the guts to legalize gay marriage in the United States when they release their decision, there is always Uruguay!  (Or Canada, Argentina, Denmark, etc.)

Guantanamo Hunger Strikes Worsen, Free People Being Mistreated

How many of these people are already “free”?

We have to continue asking: why is Guantanamo still open?  In a story getting little to no press in the U.S., hunger strikes of prisoners at the base have worsened as the inmates continue to protest their treatment and possible desecration of the Koran by guards.  The truly awful part of this: most of the prisoners have been granted their release but are still there.  As reported in the Guardian, 86 prisoners have been granted their release out of a total population of 166.  Guantanamo has now long been a disgrace to human rights and Obama’s broken promise of closing the base will continue to worsen America’s standing with the rest of the world everyday it stays open and abuse continues of those inside for reasons now beyond comprehension.

Mexico Drug Killings Down 14%! (Note: No Reason For Celebration)

The first four months of President Nieto’s administration have been apparently better then the same four month period last year during Calderon’s term.  The killings due to drug violence have dropped to 4,249 from 4,934.  Impressive!  Just one problem: the “official” count seems to be a little lower than what the actual numbers probably are.  From the article:

Bloody clashes are still common in Mexico and it can be impossible to know how many people died because drug traffickers take their dead away before authorities reach the scene.

In the border city of Reynosa there were at least four major shootouts between rival drug gangs in March. One of the clashes lasted several hours. People reported dozens of dead on social networks and at least 12 were corroborated by witnesses. The official account only listed two dead.

It might be a reason to celebrate a decrease in violence.  Then again, there’s a good chance the “official” decrease is a sham and things could be even worse.  Who really knows?

The U.S. Government Lied About Drone Attacks (with proof!)

Watch out below for the bombs and the lies!

The U.S. government, whether under Bush or Obama, has stated drone attacks were specifically and, more importantly, legally directed at members of Al Qaeda and its allies who were imminent threats to America and were plotting action against us.  In other words, it’s self defense only.  Not true according to this article from McClatchy that examined classified documents from both administrations.  One small piece of info from the long report:

While U.S. officials say the Taliban Movement of Pakistan works closely with al Qaida, its goal is to topple the Pakistani government through suicide bombings, assaults and assassinations, not attacking the United States. The group wasn’t founded until 2007, and some of the strikes in the U.S. intelligence reports occurred before the administration designated it a terrorist organization in September 2010.

This is getting into a very murky legal area if the U.S. is killing members of groups that are not in any way a threat to the U.S.  It is an obvious violation of international law (along with pretty much the entire drone policy) but it brings up the question of what happens when other countries develop the technology and begin using it according to the same legal (a.k.a. not-really-legal) definitions?  Could we justifiably take action against Iran if they used drone attacks against Israeli assets because they viewed them as an imminent threat?  What about North Korea using it against what they view as a threat?

When little evidence is needed to justify what is a threat (as is the case with the drone attacks), how will we be able to say that is not right when the policy spreads?

Chaos in Mexico Gets Worse as U.S. Continues to Dodge Responsibility

To say Mexico has descended into almost unbelievable conditions in recent years is an understatement.  Then again, considering the lack of attention it gets in the U.S. media, the severity of the situation is probably still surprising Americans.  A quick summary of casualties:

A now common scene of brutality in the country of Mexico due to the United States’ drug and gun problem.

An estimated 70,000 people have been killed in drug-related violence in Mexico in the past seven years.

The Mexican government estimates that at least another 26,000 have “disappeared” in that same period.

That quote comes from this article describing the recent execution and displaying of seven men on a roadside in the Mexican state of Michoacan.  Two things should be noted here.  First, many of the 70k+ killed have not just been killed but tortured and mutilated as well.  Second, it is very likely the actual number killed is even higher than the statistics given and the bulk of those killed has come in just the past three years (60k+ roughly).

And now the chaos gets worse.  Vigilante groups are forming and attempting to do the primary job that all governments should do: protect its people.  A group just outside of Acapulco arrested 12 police officers and a former government official believed to be corrupted by the drug cartels.

But evidently even these groups are just as susceptible to bribes and violence as “concerns have surfaced that the vigilantes may be violating the law, the human rights of people they detain, or even cooperating with criminals in some cases.”  And as the article on them states, innocent people are getting hurt by these groups because of their lack of training and coordination.

Some gun advocates in the U.S. might say the groups are a good thing and it is great the citizens are armed enough to protect themselves.  But that ignores the fact the high powered weapons the drug cartels were buying so easily from the U.S. are the cause of these groups forming.  And when you see non-uniformed groups of people carrying high powered weapons at a roadblock knowing drug cartels are everywhere, are you going to stop your car and agree to chat with these strangers?  Probably not and it is no surprise the people who were reported hurt by the vigilante groups were (likely very frightened) tourists.  The chaos is creating more destruction than answers.

There is little doubt the scale of this violence has grown to these horrific proportions because of two major problems in another country.  America’s drug problem and lax gun laws have made the country of Mexico a war zone where groups of people are viciously massacred on a daily basis.  Stemming the illegal flow of guns from the U.S. to Mexico rarely, if ever, receives attention as Congress debates changes in weapon laws.

This violence heavily takes place around the border and has played a role (along with the U.S.’s sluggish economy) in bringing the net immigration from Mexico to zero or possibly negative.  And the even sadder part of this story is the fact the U.S. government and media’s answer to this has been mostly ignoring the issue entirely.

The most stark display of how silent the government and media are on this issue was the fact the Mexican Drug War did not even get a mention in the third presidential debate, a debate solely concerning foreign policy.  I still wonder what the body count must reach to get the same amount of attention as other foreign policy issues.  100,000?  Half a million?  Who knows?

Weapons Debate is Not Only About Saving American Lives

A Mexican checkpoint with heavily armed troops. The fault of the U.S. gun policy.

As the United States government gradually takes its action on the debate over weapons on the streets, another government and country of people are watching closely as to how the laws will change.  The people of Mexico have called for changes to American laws for many years now and have seen the effects firsthand of how the ability to buy such dangerous weapons with ease can turn cities and towns into war zones.

Mexican interest continues now as the debate seems to be drawing closer to some real action on assault rifles and magazine capacities.  Some comments from the Mexican Ambassador are worth noting:

“The Second Amendment … is not, was never and should not be designed to arm foreign criminal groups,” Mexican Ambassador Eduardo Medina Mora told reporters last week.

The end of the (Assault Weapons) ban in 2004 impacted Mexico, he said.

“There is certainly a statistical correlation between the end of this measure and the increase in the firepower of foreign criminal groups, particular those that operate out of our country,” he said.

If we look at the timing of certain events, there definitely seems to be a lot of truth to his statements.  The Assault Weapons Ban expired in late 2004 and two years later former President Calderon began sending Mexican Army troops into the areas where the drug cartels had become too heavily armed for regular police.  Over 50,000 casualties later, the Mexican people are still looking to the United States for changes in weapons policy.

Some may argue the problem is/was the ATF’s Fast and Furious policy allowing guns to walk across the border but I’ve addressed the insanity of this position previously and will quote myself here:

If there wasn’t a problem to begin with, extremely awful policy solutions like Fast and Furious would not have been conjured, much less implemented…Let’s look at what we know.  Fast and Furious allowed roughly 2,000 weapons to cross the border.  However, the Mexican authorities have seized nearly 70,000 weapons traced back to the United States around the same time period.  How many they haven’t seized and are still in circulation is probably anyone’s guess but it’s safe to assume it’s larger than the number captured.  Focusing only on Fast and Furious is the equivalent of a watching a pack of hungry lions running at you in the wild and being more concerned about a mosquito that just landed on your arm.

For the safety of everyone, let’s hope they get changes that matter and legislation that helps damage the weapons caches of the many Mexican drug cartels who arm themselves by abusing the lax gun laws of the United States.

Biggest blow to Mexico drug cartels? It could be on your state ballot. – CSMonitor.com

Biggest blow to Mexico drug cartels? It could be on your state ballot. – CSMonitor.com.

U.S. drug policy continuing to evolve.
U.S. drug policy continuing to evolve.

An important issue on the ballot for just a few states but the implications for drug policy across the United States in the future are tremendous.  The article points out the effects on the drug cartels at this time are not as big as they may seem but it is a step in the right direction to stem the violence in Latin America in the long run.  It is also an incremental move in the U.S. toward the seemingly inevitable legalization of marijuana nationwide.  As the public sees the effect on these states is not as bad as perceived and, in fact, is in many ways positive (similar to the medicinal use of pot), more legalization of the drug will occur and quite a few problems will be alleviated in America, such as the incarceration of non-violent criminals and the massive cost that has on communities and the prison system.  As time goes on, many of the myths surrounding marijuana use will be put to rest for good and we will be able to focus on more important issues in the area of drug policy.

Romney and Obama Silent on a Big Issue in Third Debate

An article in the CSM points out one of the more surprising realities of the third presidential debate: a complete failure on both candidates’ part to mention the drug war in Mexico and the 60,000+ casualties it has claimed in the past six years.  One quote from the article sums up the bizarre nature of this issue and is a reflection on the American media’s attention span:

Mexican academic Sergio Aguayo added, using a more commonly cited figure for Mexican deaths: “They talk about a humanitarian tragedy in Syria (30,000 deaths) and still don’t say anything about Mex (some 60,000). Will they?”

There are lots of elements deserving blame for the failure to address this issue by the candidates.  One is most certainly the media.  The old adage of “if it bleeds, it leads” will always apply but with one caveat.  If it bleeds slowly, it never leads and sometimes doesn’t get the attention it deserves.  There is no doubt the number of deaths in Syria are happening at a quicker pace than Mexico.  But not by much and not by enough to completely ignore the most devastating issue of the country on our southern border.

Debate #3
Debate #3

Another factor is the controversial nature of two domestic issues connected with the Mexican Drug War, the U.S.’s gun and drug policies.  The third debate was about foreign policy so no surprise these issues did not come up.  But both are directly connected with the violence in Mexico and having a debate about the drug war there must include a look about the causes at home.  Unless some reasonable changes are made to these policies, the violence and body count will continue to escalate because of our turning a blind eye as a nation to the Mexican population.

One last obvious aspect to blame would be the moderator of the debate not asking a specific question about the Mexican Drug War.  We could blame Mr. Schieffer but let’s not forget one reality about politicians.  They answer the questions they wanted asked of them and not always the actual question that was asked.  Which means the increasing violence and civilian casualty count in Mexico is so far out of the minds of both candidates that they can spend an hour and a half on foreign policy and not mention it once.

We are left to wonder what the body count in Mexico would have to be to get some attention in a presidential debate solely on foreign policy.

The Myth of Voter Fraud & Those Taking Advantage of the Lies

A great article in the NYT on True the Vote, a national group focused on voter fraud, and their actions in many minority voting districts in swing states. It also covers how True the Vote and similar groups have no proof of the massive voter fraud they claim is rampant across the nation. They are just their to prevent and intimidate the minority vote.

Read Here

 

Use of Torture More Widespread Than Claimed by U.S. Officials

An article from the NYT on a report from Human Rights Watch that claims that torture methods, such as water boarding and stress positions, were used on more detainees than claimed by the Justice Dept.

Read Here.

 

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Labelling All Palestinians Terrorists Thwarts Mid-East Peace

A great piece in the NYT by Paul Thomas Chamberlin, an asst. professor of histroy at the Univ. of Kentucky, outlining how after the Munich massacre of Israeli Olympians in 1972 resulted in all Palestinians wrongfully being labeled as terrorists.

This fact, according to Chamberlin, has been the main hindrance to the Mid-East peace process for the last 40 years.

Read Here.

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Highlights of Fortune’s Fast and Furious Detailed Report

Fortune Magazine published its very in-depth report on the Fast and Furious scandal and the details put a very different complexion on the program and how it has been played out in the media.  The article is long and deserves the time of anyone interested in the debate but there are some noteworthy things that certainly should be brought to the attention of all.

The first factor that should be addressed about this debate is the political party attacking the Obama administration at the moment over this program is the same party that would be attacking the administration if they had taken a different strategy on guns and began calling for stricter laws or taking guns away from any law-abiding citizen.  This is, in reality, one of the only other ways to attack this problem and if that path had been chosen, the NRA would have posited a war had begun on guns and everyone was going to lose their weapons no matter who they were.  The author sums this point up nicely:

But the ultimate irony is this: Republicans who support the National Rifle Association and its attempts to weaken gun laws are lambasting ATF agents for not seizing enough weapons—ones that, in this case, prosecutors deemed to be legal.

So a choice was made considering the environment the ATF had to deal with, part of which is, in Arizona:

Customers can legally buy as many weapons as they want in Arizona as long as they’re 18 or older and pass a criminal background check. There are no waiting periods and no need for permits, and buyers are allowed to resell the guns.

So first off, anyone can buy as many weapons as they have the funds for and then legally resell them with no repercussions.  Clearly, if you are law enforcement trying to stop guns from getting into the hands of the drug cartels of Mexico, this is a colossal problem.  And asking the federal government, with lawmakers so loyal to the NRA and ardent fighters for no restrictions on weapons purchases, to change the law is out of the question.

Another important point is the misconception of how big this program was and how the people at the top of the government should have known better.  We love to believe every one of these types of decisions could be tracked straight back to a certain politician’s signature or comments but clearly that is not the situation here.  The reality of the operation in Arizona:

They were seven agents pursuing more than a dozen cases, of which Fast and Furious was just one.

The key problem pointed out in this article was not the ATF or necessarily their tactics but the wall these agents hit when they tried to go up the food chain of law enforcement to prosecute.  They had plenty of evidence but were blocked because of the reaction attorney’s had toward the lax gun laws in Arizona.

“[P]urchasing multiple long guns in Arizona is lawful,” Patrick Cunningham, the U.S. Attorney’s then–criminal chief in Arizona would later write. “Transferring them to another is lawful and even sale or barter of the guns to another is lawful unless the United States can prove by clear and convincing evidence that the firearm is intended to be used to commit a crime.”

Good luck with that.  I’m pretty sure simply stating “I didn’t know what the guy I sold the guns to was going to do with them” will get anyone off from any charges.  Any gun store owner can make the same claim.  I typically stay away from using single examples to draw a picture of a problem or solution but one given in this article is worth noting to show how tough it was for the ATF to go about prosecuting this gun trade:

After examining one suspect’s garbage, agents learned he was on food stamps yet had plunked down more than $300,000 for 476 firearms in six months. Voth asked if the ATF could arrest him for fraudulently accepting public assistance when he was spending such huge sums. Prosecutor Hurley said no.

The picture that the media has painted surrounding the Fast and Furious scandal is certainly not the reality of the situation.  There are some aspects of this debate we will just have to accept.  Was the result of this program awful?  Certainly.  Was it the fault of the ATF for not prosecuting the people they were tracking?  Doesn’t appear to be true.  Is this program and the problems associated with it more an effect of little to no gun laws and prosecutors unwilling to bring those cases because of the repercussions?  Absolutely.

More information regarding this situation will slowly make its way out with time but one thing is for sure now: this scandal has been much more political than what it seems and has been driven against a Democratic administration by an alleged “liberal” media.  I fail to see why such a friendly media would do that to a supposed friend and, of course, this politically driven scandal over Fast and Furious ignores the bigger story of this whole situation.