Rogue Group Attacks Nanotechnology in Mexico

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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.

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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.

Mexico’s Supreme Court Versus the Military

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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.

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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.

Bilateral Cooperation Needed in the Crime Fight But U.S. Homeland Security and DOJ Opt Out

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Here is a link to my latest article on AQBlog, titled “Bilateral Cooperation Needed in the Crime Fight But U.S. Homeland Security and DOJ Opt Out

http://www.americasquarterly.org/node/2560 , published on May 31st, 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.

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Despite efforts from various U.S. congressmen to convince their peers that Mexican drug cartels should be classified as terrorist organizations operating within the United States, the U.S. Departments of Justice (DOJ) and Homeland Security (DHS) recently decided against it. In doing so, the U.S. administration missed out on yet another opportunity to show resolve in the fight against binational drug-related crime and violence.

Mexican President Felipe Calderón continues a full frontal assault against the cartels, recently deploying a larger contingent of soldiers to border towns, but the U.S. government apparently has other priorities and/or larger problems to deal with.

The Trans-Border Institute at the University of San Diego writes in its most recent Justice in Mexico report that according to DHS Office of Anti-terrorism Director Grayling Williams, “the mechanisms and laws already in place in the U.S. to deal with drug trafficking are sufficient and the proposed terrorist classification would be unnecessary.”

Although there is no universally agreed, legally binding, criminal law definition of terrorism, the key message behind this decision has less to do with defining the term and more to do with how the government agencies are willing to deal with this growing problem. Classifying Mexican drug cartels as terrorist organizations would set a clear agenda on fighting the drug trade. It would also open up a series of procurement processes for projects combating the issue both within Mexico and the United States.

Such a qualification would also send a clear message to the State Department and the U.S.  Agency for International Development on where to focus assistance funding and contract projects. Equally important, it would show that the U.S. is as serious about eliminating this threat as they were when they decided to add Colombia’s FARC to their terrorist list. It also would set the record straight that providing weapons to these organized crime groups is punishable in the same way that it  is to establish business transactions with terrorists.

Rep. Michael McCaul (R-TX), chairman of the House Subcommittee on Oversight, Investigations and Management—who introduced legislation to Congress on March 30 calling for the government to label six Mexican drug cartels as terrorist organizations—stated that the decision to keep the cartels off the list is a sign of shortsightedness. His response: “The drug cartels are here. The Department of Homeland Security reports that they operate in 276 cities inside the U.S. Only after the murder of ICE [Immigration and Customs Enforcement] agent Jaime Zapata were 450 cartel members arrested in this country.” The cartel’s transactions are simple: they sell the drugs to U.S. users and buy the weapons to bring back into Mexico and service their bloody exchanges with Mexican federal and state police/military forces.

A reliable source from the intelligence community in Mexico, who requested to remain anonymous for security reasons, volunteered that even after Calderón’s attempts to strengthen military presence at the border, more than 10,000 artillery pieces (automatic weapons and grenades mostly) make their way into Mexico from the U.S. every day. The result? Our forces keep trading bullets with the cartels but the U.S. consumers continue to provide them cash flow and the gun sellers operating in the United States continue to arm them.

Nearly a year ago, CNN’s Fareed Zakaria interviewed President Calderón, who then said we needed joint, committed efforts to deal with the drug trafficking issue. Mexico has shown it is ready today but with elections coming in 2012, the resolve shown by Calderón might not remain after the dust has settled.

The window of opportunity could be closing and it’s time for our partner to the north to act, for both our sakes.

*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.

Mexican economy bouces back

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Here is a link to my latest article on AQBlog, titled “Mexican economy bounces back” http://americasquarterly.org/node/2275 and published on March 1st, 2011. Please feel free to visit and comment.

Here is a copy of it:

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Amidst growing national concern and international coverage of the violence in Mexico, a bit of news on the macroeconomic scale talks wonders of our country’s capabilities to overcome even the biggest obstacles.

Last week, Bloomberg ran a story on Mexico being the second economy in Latin America to bounce back from the 2009 recession with the highest pace of growth in the last decade. Our economy expanded by 5.5 percent in 2010.

Granted, it is not China’s double digit performance. But for a country that is largely dependent on an economic relationship with the our neighbor to the north—80.5 percent of our trade is with the United States—and is still facing important trade challenges, the GDP expansion at a 0.2 percent rate larger than expected for the fourth quarter of 2010 is excellent news. In a way, it is also good news for the United States. It shows that consumer spending is recovering in spite of the housing situation and the still present issue of unemployment (9 percent in January).

There are obvious advantages of being one of the United States’ most important trading partners. But it doesn’t take a genius to also see that dependence of over 80 percent of our trade with this partner also puts Mexico at a vulnerable state. This is even more worrying when we’re competing for this trade position with economies such as China.  Since the early 1990s, Mexico has been constantly promoting an open policy on trade. We currently hold 11 trade agreements with 41 countries. But we still need to act on them and actually reap the benefits of spreading our risk by diversifying commercial relations.

Mexico also needs to urgently focus on investing in and then maximizing the returns on innovation. We need to understand that wealth today is based on knowledge and ownership of that knowledge (patents). If we are able to tap into this, then our future will look even more promising than what we were able to do in 2010. I may be overoptimistic but continuing on this track would provide the first steps toward bridging the gap between our poorest and richest. This could go a long way toward reducing the crime that is partly a result of this present divide.

*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.

A New Year’s Resolution for Mexico

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Here’s a link to my most recent article on AQBlog, titled “A New Year’s Resolution for Mexico” http://www.americasquarterly.org/node/2075

 Date published: Jan 5th, 2011 I hope you find it interesting. Please feel free to comment.

Here’s a copy of it:

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Mexico is the second most corrupt country in Latin America. That’s not an award countries usually strive for but it is, according to UNAM’s Instituto de Investigaciones Sociales (the National Univeristy’s Social Research Institute, or IIS), the disgraceful situation Mexico finds itself in at the start of 2011.

On January 3, UNAM released a press package in which they declared that according to Transparency International’s Corruption Perception Index and the Latinbarómetro indicators, Mexico is only led by Haiti as the most corrupt nation in the region. IIS’s Corruption and Transparency Research Coordinator Irma Eréndira Sandoval Ballesteros explained that throughout Latin America “Mexicans are considered extremely corrupt in terms of public and private practices.”

TI’s 2010 Corruption Perception Index report explains that 75 percent of people believe that Mexico’s corruption has increased in the last three years. Political parties, police, Congress, and the judiciary top the list of corrupt institutions in our country (considered extremely corrupt), followed by media, businesses, organized religion and NGOs.

Sandoval Ballesteros reported that while the 2003 creation and further strengthening of IFAI (Instituto Federal de Acceso a la Información y Protección de Datos, Federal Institute for Information Access and Data Protection) has been a significant progress in terms to access to information, transparency has done little in battling corruption and has been marginally useful in creating a public conscience. In her own words, “if Mexico is not a leading nation in political and economic terms, it is because corruption has not allowed it and has become an obstacle to possible progress.”

According to Transparency International, 50 percent of the people surveyed in their 2010 report worldwide consider that anticorruption policies put forth by government are and will be ineffective. This number is rather conservative for Mexico if you look back at recent history and try to identify one big successful case of combating corruption by our government (hint: there are none). This leaves us with an unavoidable truth: lowering corruption levels cannot be left up to the government. Each and every one of us—as members of Mexican society—has to play a part. We should not forget that while political institutions show the worst cases of corruption, businesses, churches and NGOs aren’t in the clear either.

As with many cases, our hope for the future lies in education. And in this case, I don’t mean building better schools, but better educating our children so that they are less likely to be what we are collectively: a corrupt generation which frustrated by the system, turned to its loopholes to try to navigate through it instead of changing and uprooting it.

Now you can tell a child not to be corrupt but this is a lesson we need to teach by example. For this reason, I propose that instead of (or ideally in addition to) losing five pounds, reading more and smiling, all Mexicans declare that our new year’s resolution for 2011 will be to not exercise in any form of corruption. I propose that we no longer bribe public officials to avoid a speeding ticket. No more tax evasion even though we know how badly the government manages its collections (creating one problem does not solve another). No more paying $2 to a street peddler for a pirate DVD movie or a copied music CD (who by the way will give part of his profits to organized crime and drug cartels). No more negligence in our duty to monitor and demand effectiveness from our local congressmen and women, especially in terms of how they allocate funds and determine contracts for public construction. No more questionable practices in the companies we work for (I invite businesspeople to take and abide by the Thunderbid Oath).

Keeping this resolution will cost time and energy of each and every one of us, but we have to believe that our kids will thank us for it. Most corrupt nation, second only to Haiti? This has to be a wakeup call. This has to lead us to action. As Mohandas Gandhi is famously quoted for saying, we need to “be the change we want to see in the world.”

*Arjan Shahani is a contributing blogger to AmericasQuarterly.org. 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.

The United States’ Limited View of the War on Drugs

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Here’s a link to my AQBlog article “The United States’ Limited View of the War on Drugs”, published on April 6th, 2010.
http://www.americasquarterly.org/node/1418

Here is a copy of it:

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It took the deaths of two American citizens and the husband of a diplomatic employee—all tied to the U.S. Consulate inCiudad Juarez—for the Obama administration to apparently take notice ofMexico’s drug problem. Still, it seems that even the rhetoric fromWashington will limit itself as much as it can to address this crisis as long as the bloodshed continues to hit outside ofU.S. national borders.

On March 14all the headlines focused on the targeting of U.S. Consulate employees in the border town ofCiudad Juarez, which has become one of the main stages for drug-related violence in the recent years. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton was quick to respond to these attacks in an unusual address on a topic that had been left off the agenda until recently.

It seems that as long as the victims of drug-related violence did not carry U.S.passports, the Obama administration only cared enough to issue petty warnings to American tourists not to visit our country. Yet when Enriquez, Redelffs and Salcido were gunned down President Barack Obama told the world he was outraged and promised a quick response to the issue. Clinton said that “this is a responsibility we must shoulder together” and subsequently made an official visit toMexico 10 days later. There, she met with key officials in Calderón’s administration to work on a joint solution to the problem.

The promise of a shoulder-to-shoulder collaboration on (in this blogger’s view at least) a problem generally created by the most profitable market for the drug trade filledMexico’s hopes. But we were reminded of former Mexican President Porfirio Díaz’ famous quote “Poor Mexico! So far from God, so close to theUnited States.”Clinton’s visit toMexicoturned out to be yet another example of quick and shallow politics to diffuse a media situation, instead of addressing the real problem head-on.

Reminding us of the $1.4 billion investment the U.S. is making over three years in “a thus-far unsuccessful effort to crush cartels who ship $40 billion worth of illegal drugs north each year” Clinton came to Mexico to accept part of the blame of this problem by saying that the U.S. should crack down on gun control. “These criminals are outgunning law enforcement officials […] And since we know that the vast majority, 90 percent of that [weaponry] comes from our country, we’re going to try to stop it from getting there in the first place,” Clinton said. As always, the question ofU.S. consumption was marginally addressed and no specific strategy to decrease it was put on the table.

In a recent interview with CNN’s Fareed Zakaria, President Calderón said that as long as the largest market for these illicit products is not willing to discuss alternative solutions (such as legalization), debate over these strategies in source countries is futile. Both Calderón and Porfirio Díaz’ words hit right on target.

As long as the Obama administration continues to look at the problems brewing south of theU.S.border as something of marginal importance—deeming his attention only when theU.S.media cares enough to cover the death of Americans—Mexicois left alone to deal with this growing hot topic. $1.4 billion and a promise on gun control are just not going to cut it.

*Arjan Shahani is a contributing blogger to AmericasQuarterly.org. 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.