Sunday, February 01, 2009

Mexico's military in Tijuana

Sandra Dibble at the San Diego Union-Tribune has a very interesting piece on the Mexican military's law enforcement role in Tijuana, which is getting hammered by drug cartel-related violence. There have been a number of problems, most of which seem to be connected to the fact that the armed forces are simply not used to local law enforcement--they don't know how to deal with people properly (so conduct illegal searches), don't know how to protect a crime scene, etc.

In general, employing the military to do law enforcement is a bad idea. It encourages mission creep and stunts the development of civilian institutions.

However, when cities are under attack and local police are ineffective and/or corrupt, I wish I had a better answer. A recent poll showed 92% approval in Tijuana for the presence of soldiers on the streets. At the very least, it is occurring at a time when Mexico political system is liberalizing, so there should be considerable public scrutiny.


jd,  7:07 PM  

Seems a bit bold to just assert prima facie that the Mexican political system is liberalizing. It's obviously better than it was during the priato, and may even be s-l-o-w-l-y continuing to open, but it seems like the story of the last five years in Mexico is closer to stagnation than liberalization. Read the columnists in just about any paper, any day, and you'll get a litany of complaints about lack of reform in many political institutions, most obviously the parties, at least in this electoral season. And Calderon has hardly been a great leader in this respect: witness, among other things, his nonaggression pact with Elba Esther Gordillo, unwillingness to spend an ounce of political capital to hold governors like Ruiz and Marin (who aren't even in his party) accountable for their actions, etc. Seems like one has to adopt a pretty long view to be able to unequivically state that Mexico is liberalizing.

Heather 11:56 AM  

i've been living in mexico for the past year doing dissertation research and liberalizing isn't a word i would use either. it seems to me that some of the rules of the game have changed under the PAN presidents, but the subnational and institutional authoritarian pockets seem to be proving durable (and, from what i understand, the authoritarian governors are not just old PRIistas like Ruiz and Marin), my experiences seeing the judicial system at work have been nothing short of terrifying, and the degree to which the narcos are part of the state and have the ability to carry out targeted killings very quickly and efficiently - it all looks a little depressing from here. i would also add that while the military becoming more involved in border towns may be viewed by the local population in one light, increasing military presence in southern mexico to fight the drug war may strike more people as much less appealing.

Greg Weeks 6:56 AM  

Both of you argue "It isn't liberalizing, but..." then note a way in which the system has liberalized. I would just say we should not confuse liberalization with democracy, or assume it is quick, painless, or easy.

jd,  5:59 PM  

Greg, I think you should read our comments more slowly, because I don't see much in the way of concessions to liberalization. There is no question that Mexico has democratized, and that's what both comments do concede. But the institutions still stink, and the government shows no particular interest in improving some of the system's most noxious elements (like the caudillo governors). It does seem to be interested in shifting some things in the justice system, but time will tell on that.

In case one point in particular is not clear: a nonaggression pact with Elba Esther Gordillo is a BAD thing.

No one thinks liberalization is quick and easy. The point is that Mexico democratized, and then...pretty much has stagnated. I don't even think this is controversial.

Greg Weeks 7:32 PM  

Liberalization precedes democratization, so if "there is no question that Mexico has democratized" then by definition there is also no question that it has liberalized, regardless of whether the institutions stink or if there are bad people.

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