Browsing articles in "Foreign Aid"
Oct 14, 2011
Center for Democracy and Civil Society

What Iran Can Do for Mexico

In the wake of the alleged foiled iranian plan to assassinate the Saudi Ambassador to the U.S., here comes Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, suggesting once again that Mexican drug cartels should be designated terrorist organizations. That was quick.

Ros-Lehtinen, who is not, how should we put it… “appreciated” in many Latin American circles, is far from the first to come up with this idea. But she was without a doubt very fast in using the opportunity to revive it, while everybody else seems more preoccupied with figuring out what to do about Iran.

Yesterday, the chairman spoke about “the threat posed by the narco-trafficking networks (…) as ready-made networks to facilitate and support other terrorist activities throughout the Hemisphere, including right here in the United States”.

There shouldn’t be much argument about whether the threat exists. However, it is debatable how appropriate and beneficial it would be to label the cartels as terrorist groups.

First of all, they don’t care. At all. It wouldn’t be comparable to designating a government agency or a political group as terrorist. These are not organizations that enjoy any sort of legitimacy anywhere, and they already operate in the shadows. Preventing them from doing legitimate business, trips, propaganda, or from establishing international connections won’t have any impact over their operations. Charging them with an extra crime will not stop them _there are sufficient laws around. The death penalty? They are in it to kill or die already.

 Second, Mexicans have a point when they say the connection between cartels and terrorists is being overblown. If the accusations are solid, they point more to the use of individual hitmen than to a pervasive organizational linkage. The supposed plotters wanted mercenaries, and the brutal Mexican cartel members just happened to be available.

 Third, cartels have few political objectives beyond getting politicians out of their way. They are not using violence to attain an ideological goal. What they want is to control the market. Its business. And, in that sense, as the Mexican based analyst Alejandro Schtulmann observed, these “criminal groups have no interest in upsetting the U.S.”. The terrorist label has little place here.

That being said, some good could come out of the discussion if the U.S. starts to worry a little bit more about the extent to which Mexican drug cartels operate in its territory. Few would go as far as Rick Perry, who said he would consider sending American troops to fight in Mexico (Mr. Perry, did you ask the Mexicans if they support that??). But more resources could come in handy.

Sep 24, 2011
Center for Democracy and Civil Society

Hope for Prosperity in Libya

There’s been plenty of discussion these last days about the state of life in Libya and the hope for positive change and development in the nation’s post-revolutionary future.  However much it may have dominated the circles of news media, the hope for democratic development appears to rank significantly below the Libyan people’s desire for economic change and opportunity, in a nation heavy with oil wealth contrasted by poverty.  While the nation’s leaders and the international community are hard at work struggling to script a path toward democracy, it seems clear that any future politicians would do well to echo sentiments of prosperity already present in rhetoric from prospective leaders.

Future investments in education, infrastructure and a sustainable economy are critical in presenting tangible and comprehensible change to the populace.  As discussed in my last writing on youth and economic opportunity, of central importance in developing the nation’s future is finding some way to mobilize that sector of the populace, often pointed to as a critical factor in the move toward revolution.  Of particular concern in any path forward must be careful consideration of what trajectory is desired in the nation’s distribution and concentration of wealth.

As the world’s strongest industrialized countries swear on “concrete actions” to assist the Middle Eastern and North African nations of the Arab Spring on their way into what they hope is a democratic transition, it is important to consider the real life factors which contribute to democracy palatability.    Beyond noble principles of governance and the innate good of a people contributing to their own rule, the opportunity to live in basic comfort is nothing to overlook in the success or failure of governmental transition.  As democratic development is no longer blessed with the benefit of being “the only game in town,” measures of accountability and responsible governance should be central in any hope of fostering democratic growth.  In working to support the development of democracy in the MENA region, the international community could do little better than presenting democratic development as a road toward stable and sustainable economic growth.

Sep 13, 2011
Center for Democracy and Civil Society

Strained Relations in the Arab Spring

When I first read articles months ago suggesting that freedom from authoritarian governance in the Middle East would mean trouble for Israel, I scoffed and blew them off as little more than fear mongering.  Unfortunately more and more these days given the state of recent events, I worry that I may soon be eating my words.  As relations with Turkey continue to sour, suddenly and steeply, the current developments in Egypt’s relationship with the Jewish State are worrisome to say the least.  There’s little reason to expect that any of the states involved desire rising tensions or the many dangers which accompany them, it’s hard to argue that things don’t currently look to be headed steadily in the wrong direction.

To a degree the souring ties between Egypt, Turkey and Libya appear indicative of a larger problem, one which has been recurrent in Western nations’ reactions throughout the Arab Spring and threatens to impact relations in the area for the foreseeable future.  As nations struggle to determine their future trajectories and to build their governments, the involvement of those powers historically tied to overthrown regimes has earned a great many negative responses.  Here Israel seems to slip time and again into practices popularized in a much different era of Arab-Israeli relations.  Few things strike as more dangerous at the moment for Israel, the United States, the European Union, or other interested parties than pursuit of “business as usual” policies.

If nothing else, now is a wise time to reexamine the political behaviors of the past in planning how governments intend to orient their relationships with the Arab world.  As current approaches appear increasingly unsustainable, nations intent on assisting the development of quality and representative governance in the region are met with new challenges in determining how to do without drawing public hostility.  Assisting these nations seems the only responsible decision, yet doing so in the least invasive way possible is now necessary rather than just preferable.

Sep 7, 2011
Center for Democracy and Civil Society

The Mexican Drug Dilemma

ADDITIONAL INFORMATION: Whatever the ultimate results of the War on Drugs, the drug abuse program of governments and private institutions will continue to help people who want to live drug-free lives.


Mexican president Felipe Calderón didn’t just have a gruesome reminder of the state of his drug war strategy when a gang attack against a Monterrey casino left over 50 dead last month, supposedly after the owner refused to pay extortions to drug cartels. He also had the dark perspectives of his party (PAN) for the 2012 elections rubbed in his face, less than a year before the country goes to the polls.

More than 40,000 were killed in violent incidents since he took office in 2006. While the body count continues to rise, it becomes increasingly obvious that PAN’s promises of redemption after taking over the presidency in 2000 failed. And it becomes increasingly likely that government will go back to the PRI‘s hands.

It shouldn’t be so difficult for the PRI, which dominated mexican politics for around 70 years in the 20th century, to get their style back in the corridors of power. They’ve remained strong in Congress and at the local level anyway.

Regardless of who wins, in 2012 and beyond Mexicans will have to deal with a controversial question: should they go back to some sort of truce with the drug cartels, in the name of stability? If indeed the PRI wins, comparisons with the scenario during the 1980’s and 1990’s, when they allegedly had deals with drug lords, might be more recurrent, particularly if the bloodshed increases.

The slaughter at Monterrey already spurred renewed discussions about a truce. The hawkish former president Vicente Fox (PAN) suggested they might not have an alternative but to cut a deal with drug bosses. Calderón and the PAN reacted with criticism, even passing a motion to censor Fox. And, for now, the PRI’s aspiring candidates were not seduced either.

It seems to some that Mexico is trying to be another Colombia, that had a military/police approach to its drug problem and lowered violence numbers in the long run (while creating other problems). But the wars of Mexico and Colombia are hardly comparable. Mexico does not have today the resources and US support that Colombia had. “Plan Colombia” had estimated US$ 6 billion pouring down their streets and actual American presence. Mexicans are lucky to count with part of the Merida Initiative, of US$ 1,4 billion for Latin America, plus some training, vehicles and equipment.

Not that there would be any appetite in Mexico right now for an increase in American interference in their war, although most support the help that Washington currently provides (link). And it is practically unconceivable that the American public could stomach more involvement abroad, be it financial or military.

From the perspective of a Brazilian who has noticed the difference in the streets of Sao Paulo whenever there is a truce with a drug gang, I wouldn’t discard that option without looking more deeply into it. It’s not as if this would undermine intelligence work and the effort to dismantle criminal organizations. But it can make life easier for people tired of violence. It’s just hard to say if it is ever worth it.

May 21, 2011
Center for Democracy and Civil Society

Public Discourse in Long Standing Conflicts

Courtesy of the Daily Beast & Getty Images

Much has been said over the course of this week about President Obama’s recent speech on the affairs and future of the Middle East.  As with any such presentation, many in the world of political media have gone to great length arguing the minutia of the speech’s content and reading into conspicuous absences among those subjects not touched on.  Despite the noteworthy weight of the President’s words on the future of the region and the commitments the US intends to make toward aiding economic and governmental development, one subject has stood out among the rest.
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Founded in 2004, Democracy and Society is a biannual print journal published by the Center for Democracy and Civil Society at Georgetown University. The D&S Blog provides web-only content, including special reports and investigative series, on issues relating to democracy and development.

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