The independent online Mexican journal Regeneración makes an appropriate home for Gabriel Ramirez. A long-time progressive activist and organizer, Ramirez regularly offers readers an astute analysis of Mexican politics grounded in the nation’s history and committed to advancing México’s continuing effort to become a democratic nation of, by, and for working people. We spoke with Ramirez to get his take on the relationship between Mexican President López Obrador and México’s military.
The US press has been blasting AMLO for “militarizing” his country. Has the army been expanding?
Just as the army in the United States has been expanding! Just look at the US militarization of the border. But México historically has had another reason for expanding the army: We sit on the border of an imperialist country that has never had a problem using armed force to compel México to comply with its orders.
AMLO inherited a war between drug gangs in collusion with the institutional and non-institutional US and Mexican neoliberal framework. With neoliberalism, we went from a failed state to a narco-state. And México has to face the consequences of the US-led drug war on real people: hundreds of thousands of Latin Americans dead, disappeared, and displaced. Stopping the effects of the war imposed by the empire remains a conflictive and bloody process with no easy solutions.
The US press critique — that México has undergone a “militarization” — reflects mainly the media’s intimate relationships with US neoliberals who wholeheartedly support their “Mexican” neoliberal accomplices who’ve been removed from power by a popular electoral insurrection.
The army has been the enforcer of that “narco-state.” Why can’t AMLO appoint new, honest generals?
The problem in México isn’t the generals or the army. Elements of the army and high-ranking figures have been involved in episodes of repression, corruption, and drug crime. But the army doesn’t hold an independent position on the political scene.
Felipe Calderon, as president, with his defense minister and Navy secretary
In México today, AMLO — unlike the neoliberals and unlike the PRI of the old days — has stopped the systematic use of force to repress or persecute.
The current situation certainly has many contradictions. Remember that AMLO won the presidency not just with social movement backing, but through a broad alliance of various sectors. At the same time, he has positioned his administration as a left government.
The electoral coalition that is Morena allows anyone to register as a member and run for office, a political tradition that started with the PRI, and that’s why today Morena lawmakers in the legislature include people from the left and social movements as well as people from the right, the garbage of the Earth! Morena has become infested with chapulines, people who have jumped into Morena from one of the conservative parties.
Can you say more about the connections between the Mexican military and the drug cartels and the generals’ connection to the arms industry?
The trial of García Luna, former Mexican President Felipe Calderon’s head of México’s equivalent to the FBI, shows the links that existed at the highest levels between the Calderón government with the drug traffickers. But what about the North American connections? We don’t yet know their full extent.
Drug trafficking has steadily increased over the last 36 years. The state of Sinaloa has been México’s traditional center for drugs, particularly heroin. Before Calderón, the narcos and the government had a pact. They shared drug money, a relative peace reigned. But the neoliberals wanted in on the action when they came into office. They broke the pact. This led to more violence.
In addition, we had special forces in México who had received training at the School of the Americas, the training academy that the US Department of Defense runs, and its subsidiaries. The School for the Americas has produced some of Latin America’s worst human rights violators.
Mexican military personnel, for example, learned through this training the terror tactics of the kaibles in Guatemala, a special operations unit specializing in counterinsurgency, and later transferred those tactics to the Mexican drug war.
The drug trade and the corruption associated with it — and not the size of the military — make up the heart of the problem México faces.
Photo: School of the Americas Archives
How otherwise to explain how the US and Mexican governments don’t seem to know how to simply follow the money? How can the US be able to produce a nuclear weapon but not know how to look into a safe deposit box in Barbados! The US and Mexican governments should be addressing the narco problem by going straight to its source. They’re not.
When AMLO first took office, he criticized the military culture and formed a new police force called the National Guard, headed by civilians. But the National Guard now operates under military control. Why?
Remember that we remain in a war situation. We have, for example, an emergency in our morgues, with around 50,000 unidentified bodies. In addition, we’re seeing the demands for justice against those responsible for acts of political repression tied to the drug war. AMLO’s government, over its four years in office, has made progress, but much remains to be clarified.
The AMLO government felt that creating a new National Guard would be a solution to the infiltration of the police at all levels by narco-neoliberalism. But we in the left believe this National Guard needs civilian leadership that can deliver clear public accounting and submit to civil law. Under a military structure, you must obey a command. A civilian structure would be independent from the military.
The military’s role has expanded into civilian projects, such as building an airport and overseeing the construction of the Tren Maya. Human Rights organizations have expressed alarm.
President López Obrador at the 2020 ribbon-cutting for the Mayan Train/Presidencia, Gobierno de México
Having the army in charge of civilian projects happens regularly in other countries. Using the military does not automatically bring human rights abuses. Take the subway system in México City. The military presence there protects riders, and no one has been killed by the security forces in the Metro.
You have to understand that today we have a well-intentioned government under AMLO. His greatest achievement has been changing México’s federal budget. He’s vastly increased spending for social programs and expanded the human right to a decent life.
AMLO has been working to fund these social programs through money recouped from corrupt officials. But the corrupt system remains. Eliminating it within a few short years would be impossible.
We have begun to transform ourselves, but the road ahead remains long, especially if the US-imposed drug war and the corruption around it continue, corruption that includes the arms industry as well as financial institutions and politicians.
You don’t see news about this within the empire!