The United States is offering a new solution to the on-going drug war in Mexico. The Federal government has proposed to establish a training center in Colorado that will specialize in training Mexican soldiers and officers for dealing with the on-going drag war that is wreaking havoc across Mexico.
The drug war has already claimed the lives of over 65,000 people since 2006. The idea may have merit as recent efforts to train troops in Iraq and Afghanistan have bore some fruit; however, the checkered past of similar institutions, such as the infamous “School of the Americas” calls into question the wisdom of establishing a new institute.
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The Pentagon’s plan involves the creation of a specialized command and training post in Colorado to focus on training elite units within Mexican armed forces. Among other tactics, the U.S. will aim to teach counter-terrorism tactics learned in Afghanistan and Iraq. The U.S. military feels because the increasing scope and complexity of the on-going drug war, the specialized training will prove vital in curbing violence.
The School of the Americas stands as one of the most infamous institutions in the history of U.S. Foreign Policy. The school was sold to the public as aiming to provide military training to military leaders from across Latin America who would then use their training and influence to help stabilize their nations and build a foundation for prosperity.
Unfortunately, in reality the School of the Americas trained many of Latin America’s most notorious military leaders, including Manuel Noriega, and countless other members of “death squads.” The school is now called the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation (WHINSEC).
When the Pentagon was forced to release the training manuals used at the School of the Americas to the public many human rights advocates were horrified to learn that official documents actually advocated the targeting of civilians, extra-judicial executions, torture, blackmail, and other methods of war that violate human rights and even the Geneva Convention. These methods would seem to stand not only in the face of international law but also the spirit of America and its constitution.
Still with the drug war still raging on in Mexico, despite a vast military intervention, both the United States and Mexico are desperate for solutions. Violence has been spilling over into the U.S. on an increasing basis and many parts of Northern Mexico are now considered too dangerous to travel through. This has prompted the call by the U.S. military to establish the training camp in Colorado. While the United States may have good intentions with this new training program, the record of similar institutions calls into question how effective this program will really be.
For one, Mexican soldiers have already been known to flip sides. For example, the Los Zetas cartel, now arguably Mexico’s most violent cartel and powerful cartel, actually started when elite soldiers broke away from the military and decided to form their own drug cartel. Providing Mexican soldiers with advanced skills and training might help, so long as they remain committed to the drug war. Should some of the soldiers end up switching sides, the damage would quickly out weigh the benefits.
Another factor to consider, given that Mexico’s military has ascended to a position of near total power in Mexico there is a risk that any new skills and training could be used to oppress innocent Mexican civilians. Allegedly, the United States actively encouraged this through the School of the Americas though the results of such tactics were questionable at best. In a new era of social media and increasingly vocal NGO’s the potential for serious backlash has only increased.
Whether or not the new training program turns out to be a positive factor in the Mexican drug war will likely depend on the type of training provided. In Afghanistan and Iraq, for example, the battle for “hearts and minds” became a major influence and impacted the training provided to soldiers.
Arguably, such training has likely helped influence the positive development of relatively stable military and police forces in both Iraq and Afghanistan. Still the poor track record of the School of the Americas has many critics within the United States and Mexico already panning the idea.