A series of 2009 diplomatic cables released by WikiLeaks discloses discussions between the United States and Mexico concerning the militarization of the war on the drug cartels there.
The dispatches, dating from late 2009, show that "a state of exception" -- roughly a state of emergency that would bend civilian rights in light of military operations --for certain areas came up in discussions between the U.S. government and Mexican Secretary of Defense Gen. Guillermo Galvan Galvan.
One cable attributes to Mexico's defense secretary the suggestion of invoking "Article 29" of Mexico's Constitution to give more solid ground for military intervention in the cartel fight. The government had launched its 2007 offensive without much legal cover. By 2009 it was concerned following reports about army abuses, which included alleged torture and arbitrary detentions, brought by the Mexican government's independent human rights commission.
Two U.S. embassy officials praised Mexico President Felipe Calderon for persistence. In January of this year, according to the Los Angeles Times' reading of the cable, the authors recognized challenges in managing "unwieldy" and "uncoordinated" law enforcement agencies, interagency rivalries, corruption, low prosecution rates and a "siege" mentality with some agencies that were otherwise doing a good job. But Calderon was considered politically vulnerable because of his administration's inability to halt the violence and contain the rising death toll, and his public approval was tumbling.
Since then, the Calderon government has been responsible for capturing or killing key cartel capos, extradited large numbers of gangsters to the United States to face charges, and the Mexican congress has denied one of its members the traditional fuero, an immunity, in order for him to face charges of complicity with drug traffickers. The landmark actions took place within the 18-month window that the Calderon government had said it needed before presidential politics would take over and to avoid passing the war to the next administration.
Generally, the WikiLeaks disclosures fly in the face of what many considered to be overly optimistic reports and instead peeked at internal workings and challenges facing the Calderon administration.
The backdrop to the WikiLeaks cables was a U.S. Defense Department report about eight months before, saying the U.S. military might have to intervene in the war on the cartels. The U.S. government was antsy, reflected in a January 2009 Joint Forces Command report that categorized Mexico as "weak" or a potential "failing state." By 2009, the leaks attributed its fears to the concern the Mexican government had of possibly losing territory to the narcos.
The leaks put perspective on the bi-national stiff upper lip during a critical period. To curb the drug cartels, the Calderon administration had called on the military and Mexico's better-trained forces. This raised speculation about a move against political opponents; hence the upset on both sides of the border over what the Article 29 discussion was really about.
However, interpreting the leaks requires some new level of mental maturity. Bytes of information, like the cables represent, are not kibbles for pit bulls, nor do they represent the whole picture.
In a telephone conversation with President Barack Obama, Calderon told the Mexico City press that he had protested imprecise information contained in the disclosed cables. Obama was said to have lamented the effect the leaked documents had in Mexico.
Whatever legal consequences will follow for Julian Assange and WikiLeaks, they have turned a flashlight on top-secret communications that show how people on the ground meet and let out feelers about unvarnished strategies and approaches to the difficult, violent situations they influence. This is not turf the public often gets to see, except in history books 20 years after the fact.
We have had an exposure to the chatter that takes place before the medals are passed out and how protagonists run for cover when a policy disaster is about to happen.
Jose de la Isla writes a weekly commentary for Hispanic Link News Service.