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On Mexico, Terrorism, Cross-Border Violence, and U.S. Interests

Mexico cannot speak with diplomatic forked tongues on these and other issues and expect the U.S. taxpayers to remain silent on the political sidelines.

The folks at Mexican Trucker Online recently took issue with my characterizing the Zapatista Liberation Army (EZLN) as a terrorist organization, adding that I was also implying in a post on cross-border violence that “Mexico has no sovereignty in matters contrary to America’s interests. I find this interesting since most rabid righties preach about sovereign rights of this nation when they go off on their rants.” A response to Mexican Trucker follows.

Just because the State Department has never listed the EZLN as a terrorist organization, does not mean that it is not. Placing aside the terrorist listing process, a mechanism in much need of updating and reform, the EZLN has used kidnapping, bombings, torture of non-compliant Mexican nationals, seizure of government buildings and private property by force, and infrastructure destruction, as a means to an end. These are the same methods employed by other terrorist groups such as the FARC, ETA, Hamas, and Hezbollah, to name a few.

Despite the Zapatistas peace accord with the Mexican Government, it continues to maintain a paramilitary presence in southern Mexico and is growing a political network throughout Mexico. On this latter point, it has even managed to host fund-raising events in the U.S. The Zapatistas also have a vast international support network that is supported by NGOs. The EZLN also maintains direct links with terrorist groups and terror-sponsor countries such as Cuba. The Zapatistas also receive material support from Cuba’s intelligence service. Again, for reasons only known to the U.S. State Department, it does not list the Zapatistas as a terrorist organization. But the record reflects differently and we cannot ignore it.

The peace process has kept some of the violence at bay, but the Zapatista Army continues to organize and spread its influence beyond Mexico’s southern region. As recently as January 2006, the EZLN announced a new effort called “The Other Campaign” that formally expanded Zapatista political presence in all of Mexico’s 31 states – including six along the U.S./Mexico border. Prior to this, the U.S./Mexico border region already had many challenges to deal with including illegal immigration, gang activity, and drug cartels. An EZLN political presence is this area is a recipe for even more instability and long-term challenges to both of our countries. Mexico’s response to the EZLN has also failed to stop other violent groups from organizing. Take, for example, the EPR.

EPR FlagAround since about 1996, the Popular Revolutionary Army (EPR) announced last year its solidarity with the ZapatistaLiberation Army, while promising not to interfere with the Zapatista programs. Despite its recent bombings of oil and gas pipelines in Mexico, as with the EZLN, the EPR is not listed as a Foreign Terrorist Organization by the U.S. Department of State. The EPR has claimed credit for attacks on a Sears department store and on September 11, 2007 claimed credit for a series of bombings that brought 60% of Mexico’s steel industry to a grinding halt.

Mexico is an ally of the U.S. and it is in our national interest to work together with our NAFTA partner. We share many common goals and strong bonds. The millions of Americans of Mexican ancestry living in the U.S. serve a cultural bridge to Mexico. And, indeed Mexican trucker, what the Mexican federal government decides to do about its internal problems is a matter for Mexicans, not the U.S. The Mexican electorate shall judge whether it is being successful or not.

However, when Mexican national problems begin to directly impact the U.S., and when U.S. taxpayers begin to invest hard-earned tax-dollars in Mexico, the U.S. Government has an obligation to oversee that our monies are invested in ways that will benefit both of our countries. Mexico can always reject or return the funds. Moreover between friends and allies, we can always disagree; yet, for some reason, when the U.S. raises issues of concern such as cooperation on U.S./Cuba policy or illegal immigration, Mexican officials wrap themselves in the “sovereignty” banner and ask that we not interfere in “internal matters.”

Mexico cannot speak with diplomatic forked tongues on these and other issues and expect the U.S. taxpayers to remain silent on the sidelines. Mexico does not have major problems with indigenous terrorism, but there are pockets of concern of interest to the U.S. and to other Central American countries. Transnational violence is not a new phenomena and, with the spread of Zapatismo to the northern Mexican states, can only increase.

Rather than sue the U.S. at the World Court for violations of international law, or engage with state sponsors of terror such as Cuba, Mexico should work directly with the U.S. to address issues important to it. That is how how allies and partners work together to resolve challenges of mutual interest. Mexico has not been doing so in some key areas and U.S. taxpayers have an obligation to call them on it until the Congress or the Executive does something about it.

One final note, the folks over at Stratfor have a related and good post about transnational violence that is well-worth a read, “Mexican Cartels and the Fallout from Phoenix.”

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