P>More than 80 members of an "elite counter-narcotics" force within the Mexican Army are under investigation for corruption, and more than a dozen have already been charged or detained. According to the Washington Post, more than 40 of the troops have been removed from their station at the Mexico City Airport due to allegations that they have taken hundreds of thousands of dollars for shepherding drug shipments as well as illegal aliens past customs.
The special force, which goes under its Spanish-language acronym GAFE, came into existence in 1996 in response to frustrations over corruption within both the police and military structures in Mexico. Many of the officers involved (around 10% of the total personnel) in the program were brought to the U.S. for training at a cost of over $28 million to U.S. taxpayers, according to the Post. The corruption in Mexico was so ingrained, in fact, that over the past two years, both the nation's Drug Czar and the brother of former President Salinas have been implicated.
Lt. Colonel Darley at the U.S. Pentagon told The Week Online, "None of (the most recent report) is wholly unexpected. In fact, what we've seen is that anything touched by drugs and drug money becomes corrupted. It's not just a Mexican problem, we see the same thing all over the world. Even here, you can look at the problems in the Florida police force, in the New York police force. So it's not a matter of saying that Mexico is a corrupt society. There are millions of Mexicans who hate the drug trafficking, and there are plenty of honest politicians and military personnel and police, many of whom have died fighting against it."
"No one, and this certainly includes the Department of Defense, believes that this (the drug trade) is a problem that will be solved militarily. What it comes down to is a moral issue, and moral choices that are made by individuals. But having said that, we do feel that we are having some impact. We've intercepted tons of drugs which were therefore kept off the streets. But if you ask, 'can we stop the flow through interdiction,' the answer is no. But you can't just throw up your hands. It's a matter of registering disapproval through our actions and, if nothing else, there's value in fighting the good fight. And, if you look at the destruction that drugs do to our society, this is certainly a good fight."
But some critics disagree with that moral equation.
Eric Olson of the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA) told The Week Online, "International counter-narcotics efforts have been singularly ineffective in large part because they are so militarily-focused. The U.S. has tried to fight this problem as a war. Specifically, when we look at Mexico, the military was brought more deeply into anti-drug efforts because of the perception that the civilian police were widely corrupted and that the military was not. The fact is, however, as indicated by these recent reports, that the process of counter-narcotics itself is corrupting. And so if the Mexican military wasn't corrupted before, it is now. Also, by putting more responsibility in the hands of the military, we have further weakened civilian institutions there, which is the opposite of what we should be striving for in our foreign policy, which would be to build and strengthen civil institutions.
"The Mexican military is problematic in that it is not a transparent and accountable institution. When they commit human rights violations, as they are prone to do, it is nearly impossible to hold them accountable to civilian authorities."
"The broader view, of course, is that anyone who has taken an objective look at our international counternarcotics policy has concluded that it doesn't work. What we need, clearly, is a much broader public debate on the issue and a focus on harm-reduction here at home."
You can visit the Washington Office on Latin America on the web at http://www.wola.org.