By Tania Arroyo
Mexico’s rapid increase in violence in recent years has generated the emergence of new social movements and civil organizations, as well as strengthened the already existing social discontent. Groups have begun to speak out, but their efforts have still been based on spontaneity and improvisation. Despite this, civil organizations and social movements alike have adopted a common stance against the Mexican administration’s acquiescence to the U.S. government: “No to the militarization of the country.”
In this context, representatives of SERAPAZ and SIPAZ, both civil organizations working in the establishment of peace, expressed their concerns about Mexico’s militarization in an event entitled “A Pact of Mexican Civil Society: For a Peaceful Mexico with Justice and Dignity” that was held at the John Hopkins of Advanced International Studies (SAIS) last week.
“A result of this war against drugs has been a criminalization of social movements. Under the pretext of killing criminals, activists are being murdered,” said Thomas Zapf, a political analyst and writer for SIPAZ. Miguel Alvarez, president of SERAPAZ, pointed out that while Mexico appreciates the support given from the United States, he believes that “both the NAFTA and the Merida Initiative have brought more problems than benefits. It is with these cooperation agreements that the militarization of the country has been exacerbated.”
Finally, Mauricio Salazar, special counsel for SERAPAZ, stated that the government’s strategy to deal with organized crime should first consider attacking unemployment and the lack of education, “However,” he said, “the government seems to be doing the opposite. Recently 44,000 workers took to the streets when, by decree, the NGO Compañía de Luz y Fuerza del Centro disappeared. That is how the government is creating the future migrants, and I’d add the future criminals, because lack of employment opportunities forces young people to join organized crime. ”
In general, the three leaders spoke out strongly against the militarization of the country – and rightly so. By conservative estimates, this war has cost the country 1.16 billon pesos – approximately $9.5 billion – equivalent to 8.9% of GDP. At least 35,000 people have lost their lives since President Calderon took office.
More than a democratic state, Mexico is now a militarized state controlled mostly by organized crime. Although the last two presidents of Mexico have been supporters of U.S. foreign policy mainly based on the war against organized crime, this militarized strategy doesn’t seem to be yielding any results. Now Mexico has soldiers in the streets but little chance of ensuring respect for human rights – a prerequisite for any democracy.
However, civil society organizations in Mexico and the social movements that are now emerging with force, like the Caravan for Peace with Justice and Dignity, should work on a joint strategy that allows them to incorporate more and more effective participation in society to put pressure on governments to heed social justice. Although few in Mexico outside the government seem to be supporting this “war on drugs,” the Report on the Americas reports that only 6.4% of people actively participated in a social protest in 2010. This is not nearly enough to reach our objective.
As Miguel Álvarez said, to find an accurate solution to the problem of violence in Mexico, Mexican and U.S. civil society need to work together. “We need your help,” he said, “to develop more accurate diagnosis and to redefine our concept of peace. Hopefully this can help Mexican citizens understand that to ensure peace and reverse the militarization of the country is not just a matter of government, but also a matter in which the participation of society is fundamental.”