(Crossposted from Narco News.)
Mexican federal police invade Oaxaca in November 2006 (Photo D.R. John Gibler).
Felipe Calderon - with the ill-gotten title of "president" of Mexico - will meet with US president elect Obama on Monday in Washington DC. A press release from the Obama transition team announced:
WASHINGTON, D.C. - President-elect Barack Obama will meet with Mexico's President Felipe Calderón on Monday, January 12. The meeting will be in Washington, DC at the Mexican Cultural Institute. There is a long-standing tradition, since 1980, of U.S. presidents meeting with the Mexican president prior to being sworn in to underscore the important relationship between the United States and Mexico. This meeting is in keeping with that tradition.
Calderon will meet with outgoing President Bush the next day. "Calderon will also meet congressional leaders and economic experts, according to Calderon's press office in Mexico City."
The first thing that needs to be understood...
... - even though the US media rarely if ever acknowledges it - is that in the point of view of tens of millions of Mexican citizens, Calderon lacks legitimacy as president.
I'm among the journalists and investigators that have documented - including with a 22-page cover story for New Left Review - what unquestionably was a massive electoral fraud that put Calderon in the executive seat in 2006. That wasn't merely a Florida 2000 situation of warring over a few hundred disputed votes. Mexican election authorities added to Calderon's tally or subtracted from his rival's more than 1.5 million artificial votes to rob the presidency from the popular will. This remains an open wound throughout this country of 100 million people and explains an important psychological underpinning of Calderon's inability to bring public security, economic health or democratic rule to Mexico.
The second thing that Obama and his team need to realize is that the US funded "Plan Mexico" (aka "the Merida Initiative") not only isn't working to reduce prohibition-related crime, corruption and violence, but, to the contrary, is increasing the harm done by all three. The Mexican state's supposed "crackdown" on drug trafficking didn't reduce the supply or demand for illicit drugs, but did end in 5,830 murders in 2008, more than double the 2,700 executions in 2007.
It's a very simple mathematical equation: the more money that the US gives the Calderon regime to wage a "drug war," the more deaths and other harms will plague the Mexican people. And those harms, as always, will displace more from their homes and send more crossing the border into the US. It's that simple. Anything else that could be said about the disastrous "Plan Mexico" would be mere elaboration on that point (although we'll keep elaborating and reporting the consequences, for sure).
The third thing the President-elect and his advisors need to understand is that after claiming neutrality in the US presidential election in July 2008, during the September 2008 Republican National Convention Calderon picked sides and trumpeted John McCain over Obama for president, a bizarre incident in breaking diplomatic protocol and one that demonstrates Calderon's famous lack of political savvy and smarts.
Obama probably doesn't care that Calderon praised his rival, but he should care that the Mexican head of state was inept enough to do so at a moment when most world leaders had correctly bet that Obama would win the election. It's a perfect example of what makes Calderon an unreliable and undesirable ally.
As McCain had nominated Governor Palin as vice presidential candidate, Calderon went on national talk radio in Mexico City. Here's the September 1 report from Mexico's largest daily, El Universal, translated to English:
Barely two months from the US presidential elections, president Felipe Calderon evaluated the advantages of the Democratic and Republican candidates, while warning of a possible "return to protectionism" by Mexico's neighbor to the north...
The Mexican president, in an interview on Radio Formula, said that while Democratic candidate Barack Obama enjoys important support from the Mexican community in the United States, it's Republican John McCain that better understands the reality of Mexico...
"I know that candidate Obama has great support from the Mexican and Mexican-American community, and hopefully the agenda he's proposed in immigration reform will be complied with this time... but at the same time I know that Mr. McCain understand the Mexican reality better," he said.
Calderon also expressed his worry about some references during the US campaign to modifying the North American Free Trade Agreement that Canada, the US and Mexico have shared since 1994.
"I'm worried that protectionism has returned in the United States, that canceling or modifying NAFTA is spoken of openly," he said.
Although McCain has defended the benefits of NAFTA, Obama has at times suggested the need to adjust the treaty.
This led the English-language Guadalajara Reporter to editorialize:
Mexico's President Felipe Calderon violated the unspoken, carefully tended tradition that calls for the United States and Mexico to remain neutral regarding each other's presidential elections.
In early September, Calderon made public remarks favoring John McCain over Barack Obama. On the surface, there seemed no reason for this breach of long standing political courtesy between the two neighbors...
Given that a meeting with the Mexican leader has been tradition through four previous presidents-elect, the laudable but Quixotic campaign by the mega-popular Mexican blog El Sendero del Peje (kind of the Daily Kos of Mexico and a real player on the national stage) is unlikely to dissuade Obama from showing up at the meeting. But it's very much worth informing North Americans of the kinds of passionate pro-democracy opinion that detest Calderon throughout Mexico.
The writers are correct in this statement (translated to English):
The meeting set to last between an hour and 90 minutes won't resolve absolutely any of the bilateral problems between Mexico and the United States. The only thing it can accomplish is that Calderon appears in the photo with Obama. Nothing more.
Scroll down that link, through the Spanish part, and read the suggested email to Obama in English. Here's an excerpt:
Now, you may remember vicepresident Al Gore did not want to meet with Colombian President Alvaro Uribe, another right-wing latinamerican president. Uribe is pretty much the same as Calderon. Why do you want to meet with him, then? Aren't you aware that in doing so you are merely helping HIM to try to legitimize his electoral fraud? Because, quite frankly, you are not getting anything out of this meeting. Calderon just wants to take a picture with you.
The Sendero del Peje campaign has an entertaining graphic image for that campaign with Obama holding his famous Blackberry wireless device that translates:
Write to Obama before they take away his Blackberry
Felipe Calderon wants his photo taken with Obama next Monday so he can be seen as legitimate. Everyone, send Obama emails to alert him about the kind of non-entity with which he is going to meet before the Secret Service takes away his Blackberry.
To meet or not to meet is largely a symbolic matter (and it's encouraging that the Obama transition sought to remind that the meeting is a matter of tradition, not a special initiative by the incoming president). The first real test of Obama's policy toward Mexico will come shortly after his January 20 inauguration when he appoints the next US Ambassador to succeed Texan Republican businessman-politician-millionaire Tony Garza to the helm of the Embassy on Reforma Avenue.
During his Friday press conference to announce the appointment of Leon Panetta as CIA director, a reporter asked Obama what kind of people he will be appointing to ambassadorial posts. ABC News' Jake Tapper misunderstood the question and the answer (and the entire matter) as if it's only a choice between a career State Department lifer or a big political donor:
The Democrat admitted that there would inevitably be some donors who end up being assigned ambassador posts. "There probably will be some," he said. "It would be disingenuous for me to suggest that there are not going to be some excellent public servants but who haven't come through the ranks of the civil service."
But the president-elect said that his general inclination is to have civil service "wherever possible" serve in these posts.
"We have outstanding public servants, and I've spoken with secretary of state designee, Hillary Clinton, about the importance of rejuvenating the State Department. I want to recruit young people into the State Department to feel that this is a career track that they can be on for the long term. And so, you know, my expectation is that high quality civil servants are going to be rewarded."
Within his first year in office, former President Clinton appointed five $100,000-plus fundraisers to ambassadorships. More than two dozen of President Bush's $100,000-plus fund-raisers were appointed to ambassadorships.
Both kinds of potential ambassadors - a big money donor or a career civil servant - would be the wrong kinds of picks for US-Mexican relations in 2009. Garza fits the first category and has basically dedicated his time to greasing the trade wheels on behalf of big business, utterly absent on matters of democracy and human rights. His predecessor, Clinton-appointed Jeffrey Davidow, fit the second description (his State Department resume goes back to the 1973 US-backed coup d'etat in Santiago de Chile) and was the worst US ambassador in decades, dedicated to bolstering the most corrupt Mexican officials during his tenure.
What Obama needs in the Mexico City embassy is a high profile political figure - perhaps a former or current member of Congress - with a proven record championing human rights. (Someone like a Panetta or a Robert White, Jimmy Carter's ambassador to El Salvador who in the waning weeks prior to Ronald Reagan's inauguration exposed the assassination of four Catholic nuns in that country. Standing over the ditch they were thrown into, White reportedly said "this time, the bastards aren't going to get away with it.')
The human rights crisis in Mexico already surpasses that in El Salvador in 1980, and on a much larger scale.
In the months after the September 2006 certification of Calderon's fraudulent election, state violence against journalists and social movements has escalated vertiginously.
In October of that year New York cameraman Brad Will was assassinated in Oaxaca. The last images he filmed were of his killers shooting at him. They were members of police forces and the government in plain clothes. But under Calderon's watch, they haven't been prosecuted and instead the journalist's friends have astonishingly been charged with the crime.
In November of that year, federal police stormed into Oaxaca with a orgy of violence rounding up hundreds of dissidents and flying them to a far-away prison in the Northern Mexico state of Nayarit.
Month in, month out, the Calderon regime has since escalated the use of police and military forces to crush peaceful social movements, increasingly with the use of equipment and training funded by Washington through "Plan Mexico."
With the appointment of the next US ambassador, citizens on both sides of the border will get the first view of whether Obama's pledge to change US foreign policy to reflect its highest democratic ideals will apply to the giant country across the southern US border, or whether like Reagan, Bush, Clinton and Bush before him, US policy will turn a blind eye to abuses that lead to gargantuan problems on both sides of the border.
In sum, what is desperately needed is a new ambassador that, first, will prioritize monitoring the grave human rights crisis in Mexico and who will remind the Calderon regime - privately and when necessary through public statements - that cleaning up its act is the prerequisite to further US financial support. Second, it has to be somebody with a pre-existing public profile, who can command media attention and experienced to take the flak when Mexico's corrupt regime attempts counter-attack.
DemConWatch - which was the go-to source of the best info on delegate counts heading into last year's Democratic National Convention - has started a project to track ambassadorial appointments.
Starting in a couple of weeks, that chart will begin to fill up with names.
We'll be watching, too.