Rogue Group Attacks Nanotechnology in Mexico

Standard

Here is a link to my latest article on AQBlog, titled “Rogue Group Attacks Nanotechnology in Mexico” , published on Aug 10th, 2011. Please feel free to visit and comment. Here is a verbatim copy of it in case you prefer to read it on my personal blog, though I recommend actually going to the site because of additional content, other blogger’s articles, etc.

_____________

The anarchist group known as ITS (Individualidades Tendiendo a lo Salvaje or “Individual actions bordering on being savage” as it would roughly translate in English) gained notoriety in Mexico on Monday (August 8th) when they claimed responsibility for a home-made explosive device that detonated in the hands of Tec de Monterrey Estado de México professor Armando Herrera Corral on the first day of school of this semester. A second device was found in another university (Instituto Politécnico Nacional) the next day; luckily authorities were able to remove and defuse it.

Through its blog “Liberación Total” ITS claims that it is an organization against all forms of domination. Radical language against the neoliberal model is of course included, with the usual blurb about the United States dominating the world, cultural and economic imperialism, etc. ITS states that nanotechnology will lead to the downfall of mankind and paints a fatalist picture of the future where artificial intelligence will take over and control mankind. Tempting as it may seem, we really shouldn’t blame Arnold Schwarzenegger and those Terminator movies for the existence of this group.

In the communiqué where they claim responsibility for the attack at Tec de Monterrey, ITS denounces universities in Mexico, claiming they “aim to prepare minds that don’t only want a piece of paper that credits their studies, but to graduate people who truly contribute to scientific knowledge and development of nanobiotechnology, in order to obtain what the system ultimately wants: total domination of everything which is potentially free.” They go on to say that scientists who claim to be investigating benefits for all of mankind are lying to us and that their true intentions are purely based on self-indulgence. The cherry on top is an isolated line in between paragraphs : “No matter what they say, Ted Kaczynski was right.”

I normally try to respect other ideologies, no matter how much they differ from my own. I believe that is the key to social understanding. However, as with other forms of fanaticism, you lose all respect when your methods for promoting that ideology involve harming other human beings, especially when it is so evident that you don’t have your facts straight. The data provided by the “Liberación Total” blog in different sections is biased and questionable at best. Here are some clear examples:

At one point they quote Nobel laureate Harold Kroto saying “if we turn back the clock to 1910 and avoided investigating in chemistry during the twentieth century, we would not have napalm or the atomic bomb.” This quote is taken out of context and cut in order to use Kroto’s title and present him as somebody against nanotechnology. When Kroto mentioned this he was actually making a case for nanotechnology investigation; his last statement is that without science we would “also not have computers, mobile phones or many other appliances.” In fact, according to Enriquez Cabot, Kroto’s work on nanotechnology will allow for the creation of “a molecular motor [with which] you can power machines that float (literally) on a speck of dust.”

ITS then pinpoints Tec de Monterrey University and Tec Professor Laura Palomares, “who in 2009 was recognized by the Academy of Mexican Science for using nanomaterials in developing an artificial virus which would cure certain sicknesses.” What’s wrong with this? According to ITS and their extensive scientific knowledge, “in any given moment it has been proven that this could create more sicknesses as a reaction to the substance.” Fact: today nanotechnology is being tested for (among many other medical applications) the effective drug delivery without harming healthy cells, with a very positive outlook. That is, nanotechnology could open the door to a definitive cure of cancer among many other ailments.

One last example of skewed ITS arguments: in their communiqué they quote Dr. Gary Small saying that excessive use of the internet causes “damages to the functioning of the brain and reducing personal skills to establish face to face conversations.” Once again, they fail to include the part where Small praises the digital era and mentions that thanks to the Internet we are “heightening skills like multi-tasking, complex reasoning and decision making.

If anything, Mexico’s investment in technological development and innovation is late at best. In a world where capacity to compete will be based more and more in knowledge and less on natural resources, ITS would propose abandonment of the little effort being made to catch up.

How far behind is Mexico? Ownership of knowledge and the result of research and development can easily be measured by the amount of patents registered in the U.S. and Europe Patent Offices. In 2010, the U.S. registered 107,792 patents and South Korea held 11,671. Mexico? 101. Fact: the U.S. state of North Dakota holds more patents than the whole of Mexico.

And isn’t it ironic that the only way ITS is able to effectively coordinate their attacks and link with other anarchist groups in the world, is through the use of the Internet? They mention that through the Tec bombing, their intention was to gain notoriety. In that effect, they’ve been very successful. They are now famously ridiculous.

*Arjan Shahani is a contributing blogger to AQ Online. He lives in Monterrey, Mexico, and is an MBA graduate from Thunderbird University and Tecnológico de Monterrey and a member of the International Advisory Board of Global Majority—an international nonprofit organization dedicated to the promotion of nonviolent conflict resolution.

Advertisements

Mexico’s Supreme Court Versus the Military

Standard

Here is a link to my latest article on AQBlog, titled “Mexico’s Supreme Court Versus the Military” , published on Jul 21st, 2011. Please feel free to visit and comment. Here is a verbatim copy of it in case you prefer to read it on my personal blog, though I recommend actually going to the site because of additional content, other blogger’s articles, etc.

—————————————-

Last week, Mexico’s Supreme Court of Justice (SCJ) ruled that military personnel accused of human rights abuses will no longer be court-martialed and will now face a civil trial. Though the decision might seem like a triumph for human rights activists, a much larger problem looms behind this smoke screen.

Mexican President Felipe Calderón’s war against drug cartels has increasingly involved the use of Mexico’s military. In hot spots like Nuevo Laredo, the military police has virtually assumed all of the law enforcement responsibilities, after 900 local transit and police officers were suspended pending toxicology exams and criminal investigations. And it doesn’t end there. Soldiers are posted in virtually all conflict-ridden areas in the country, cracking down on drug cartels in order to pursue a safer country where local law enforcement has proven ineffective.

This is all the more intriguing because in Mexico, ensuring domestic civil security is not part of the military’s responsibility. They have filled this gap due to their sworn allegiance to the President—one that they have not threatened to overrun since they committed to Mexico’s first post-revolution civilian government under Miguel Alemán in 1946.

The legislature and the SCJ have argued that since the military has essentially taken over control of policing local conflict areas in Mexico, military personnel should not be exempt from civil law and “protected” by military proceedings. It is unfortunate, however, that those in the lawmaking and justice system apparently have no knowledge of regional history or applied comparative politics.

Mexico’s armed forces have become, by default, the only trustworthy entity to which civil society has given the authorized monopoly to use violence. State and municipal law enforcement police bodies are plagued with cases of coercion, corruption, involvement in illicit activity, and ties to organized crime. While the military should be applauded for combating the war on organized crime, the very need for its involvement evinces the precarious state of civilian rule. This brings a possibility of a military coup into the picture—a fatalist option, of course, but the end result of analysis that has explained virtually all military seizures of power in Latin America for the last 100 years.

Comparative politics expert Martin C. Needler developed a framework comprised of five variables which if present, heighten the possibility of a military coup: (1) loss of military hierarchy; (2) loss of military prestige/status; (3) imposition of military budget restrictions; (4) internal order disrupted; and (5) national stability endangered. Needler has successfully applied his analysis to explain Pinochet’s Chile, the military junta in Ecuador, the unwillingness of the armed forces to protect Árbenz’ Guatemala from Honduras’ invasion, the removal of Villeda Morales in Honduras, the overthrowing of Arnulfo Arias in Panama and Víctor Paz in Bolivia—just to name some examples.

Few people would argue against the fact that Mexico faces unstable circumstances and that the ongoing conflict with drug cartels has spun into internal order disruption. We can already check two of Needler’s boxes.

Further, the Supreme Court’s decision second-guesses court-martial proceedings and undermines the very military legal system that military personnel honors and swears by every day. The SCJ ruling places Mexico’s soldiers at risk of becoming victims of the same failed justice system. The verdict hangs the military out to dry by placing them in the hands of easily corruptible judges and magistrates, some of which are on the payroll of the drug cartels. Clearly, this move affects the military’s position with regards to both hierarchy and status.

At least President Calderón is pouring funds into the military budget, so that excludes one of the variables in Needler’s model (Mexico’s current defense expenditures account for 0.5 percent of its GDP, third place in all of Latin America behind Brazil and Chile). Still, we end up having four out of five motivators for seizure of power. The least this should do is raise a few eyebrows in the highest levels of the three branches in Mexico’s government.

This is not just a question of who is in power. I firmly believe that the SCJ decision puts Mexicans at risk by placing hurdles in front of the forces asked to protect the citizenry. When a soldier pulls a trigger, the only thing going through his or her head should be the objective at hand—not the possibility of being considered a civil criminal. Mexico’s soldiers are trained to make those judgment calls, and if this needs improving then the system should work on training them better instead of tying their hands down.

Arjan Shahani is a contributing blogger to AQ Online. He lives in Monterrey, Mexico, and is an MBA graduate from Thunderbird University and Tecnológico de Monterrey and a member of the International Advisory Board of Global Majority—an international nonprofit organization dedicated to the promotion of nonviolent conflict resolution.

Twitter saves lives in Mexico

Standard

Here is a link to my latest article on AQBlog, titled “Twitter saves lives in Mexico ”

http://www.americasquarterly.org/node/2576  , published on Jun 10th, 2011. Please feel free to visit and comment.

Here is a verbatim copy of it in case you prefer to read it on my blog, though I recommend actually going to the site because of additional content, other blogger’s articles, etc.

___________

The situation of widespread violence in our border states stemming from drug cartel wars and the federal government’s attempt to combat them is well known.  But I would like to share a story of success that truly symbolizes the strength we can find in social unity when coping with the present state of instability.

The people of Monterrey (located in the northeastern part of Mexico) used to consider the southern part of Texas both their playground and their place for shopping. Even after NAFTA made most consumer products readily available within Mexico, the custom of taking a weekend trip to the Rio Grande Valley or destinations such as San Antonio, Austin or Corpus Christi remained.

That is, until people became too afraid to travel on the Mexican highways near the border. The past couple of years have seen a sharp decline in tourists willing to risk their lives to pass through towns like Reynosa, Nuevo Laredo, Río Bravo, and Matamoros—all overrun by the cartels. In Monterrey, too, people are less willing to be out on the town after hours. They are afraid of being caught in the middle of a fight between rivaling cartels or criminals and authorities.

However, due to the proliferation of new social media (specifically Twitter) people are now better equipped to cope with their fears. Local anonymous heroes have emerged and created accounts such as @TrackMty, @SPSeguro and @MAGS_SP that are used to warn people about risk zones and specific attacks in real time. Each citizen who follows these users becomes a non-official reporter. And with the widespread popular response to these new accounts, the result is eyes and ears everywhere of people willing to invest a couple of minutes to warn others of danger and lessen the possibilities of innocent people being caught in the crossfire.

Here’s how it works. The person witnessing an attack tweets it to one of these accounts, which is then re-published to a massive audience.  Thanks to this non-paid service we have been able to avoid a number of risky situations by rerouting our course while going from point A to point B. For example, in a matter of seconds, a warning shared by @TrackMty reaches a 40,000-person audience.

The local newspaper EL NORTE, spearheaded a similar strategy for securing highway travel during holiday seasons by promoting the use of a series of hashtags (keywords) on Twitter such as #carreteralaredo and #carreterareynosa (the highways to Laredo and to Reynosa) for reporting incidents on these main roads going to major border towns.

I have witnessed this Twitter warning system firsthand. In traveling through Laredo with my family recently I felt a bit more protected every time a notification came in from a traveler a few miles in front of me noting that there was no danger ahead. With no hidden agenda and nothing to earn from it, users I have never met such as @Gabsinelli, @labellayellibro and @lacandanosa kept me and my family safe during the trip. All I can do is publicly thank them for it. Following suit, I repaid the favor and used the appropriate hashtags to provide similar information for the benefit of those traveling behind me.

The social media boom has sparked revolutions in some countries. In Mexico, it brings us together and provides an opportunity to show solidarity in our common challenge facing urban violence. When credibility in state and municipal law enforcement is as tarnished as it is in Mexico, civil society finds new ways to try to secure itself.  

To all of those who selflessly participate in this chain of collaboration and communication for the better good, thank you.

*Arjan Shahani is a contributing blogger to AQ Online. He lives in Monterrey, Mexico, and is an MBA graduate from Thunderbird University and Tecnológico de Monterrey and a member of the International Advisory Board of Global Majority—an international non-profit organization dedicated to the promotion of non-violent conflict resolution.