I ask this question with no small amount of controversy behind it, as that's what the proposed changes are stirring. But for those of you who aren't familiar with Mexico's National Security Law, here's some background.
The National Security Law was actually only recently established in 2005, during the last year of former president Vicente Fox's term. It came about partly (some would say largely) in response to the increasing threat posed by DTOs. Feeling the Law's provisions weren't strong enough, Calderón initiated changes to it in 2009, saying the law "fails to adequately define the role of the Armed Forces in regulating internal security," and that the proposed changes "will help resolve ambiguity about the procedures for military intervention in Mexico’s internal affairs."
Whether those changes will resolve any ambiguity is debatable, but what is clear is that concern over the potential for human rights abuses by the Mexican military under a changed law has soared.
According to media reports, initiative proposes that the Mexican military would serve “as a last resort, when the Council of National Security determines and the President of the Republic approves” to combat “cases or acts that constitute crimes against national security or impede the competent authorities (the Public Ministry and the Police under its command) to combat these crimes or any others whose consequences may imply risks, challenges, or threats.” The reports go on to say that "members of the political opposition remain deeply skeptical of proposed changes to the law, which advocate, among other things, the monitoring and recording of private communication for intelligence-gathering purposes. Organizations such as Human Rights Watch have drawn attention to frequent abuses by the Mexican military and contend that there is a widespread systemic failure to prosecute human rights violations in Mexican military courts."
Other reports said that opponents to the changes have raised concerns that neither citizens nor Congress will have any say on how and when military force is used. Here's some more from that report:
"Mexican politicians skeptical of changes to the National Security Law continue to criticize the initiative’s broad definition of what activities might constitute a threat to national security and what methods would be used to combat them. The national director of the PRD, Carlos Navarrete, said that the Mexican Senate had approved changes to the National Security Law last year only on the grounds that arbitrary detentions, searches without judicial authorization, and the interception of private communication would not occur. He said that the changes should have the approval of all five commissions charged with reviewing the law. So far, only one, the National Defense commission, has done so."
Members of the Mexican congress are trying to reassure people that there are protective measures in place, but they're having a hard time convincing anyone. To add to the drama, some say that members of Calderón's political party, the PAN, have collected some serious dirt on members of the PRI, which is the main opposition party. That, say some, is putting the PRI in the compromised position of having to support changes to the law.
Reading all of this today reminded me instantly of the furor by many Americans over the establishment of the Patriot Act just 45 days after 9/11, and its subsequent renewal many years and lawsuits later. Of course, the Patriot Act was designed to allow US law enforcement agencies to more effectively pursue terrorists, and Mexico's National Security Law changes are designed to allow the Mexican military to more effectively pursue DTOs. But do the differences end there?
The Patriot Act...
"...dramatically reduced restrictions on law enforcement agencies' ability to search telephone, e-mail communications, medical, financial, and other records; eased restrictions on foreign intelligence gathering within the United States; expanded the Secretary of the Treasury’s authority to regulate financial transactions, particularly those involving foreign individuals and entities; and broadened the discretion of law enforcement and immigration authorities in detaining and deporting immigrants suspected of terrorism-related acts."
The current session of Mexico's congress ends Saturday (4/30/2011), and many in Mexico are angry that their congress is rushing to push these changes through with no room for public opinion or debate. The same was said about the Patriot Act being pushed through in 45 days. The Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) criticized the law as unconstitutional, especially when "the private communications of law-abiding American citizens might be intercepted incidentally," while the Electronic Frontier Foundation held that the lower standard applied to wiretaps "gives the FBI a 'blank check' to violate the communications privacy of countless innocent Americans." The same concerns are being expressed about the NSL changes regarding the monitoring and recording of private communication for intelligence-gathering purposes.
Obviously, there are considerably more details and provisions to the NSL changes and the Patriot Act. The intentions behind both pieces of legislation are good, and there's no doubt that some good will and has come out of both in the fight against terrorism and organized crime. There are plenty of Americans who swear that the Patriot Act has helped prevent another 9/11, and plenty of Mexicans who say the NSL changes are completely necessary to finally start making a dent in the drug war.
But will the cost in Mexico to make those changes be too high? Here's the biggest difference (in my opinion) between the two. If the FBI screws up and taps someone illegally, you can always count on the ACLU to sue and make it public. Actually, several transgressions by our government regarding the Patriot Act have been pointed out, and that has resulted in some changes being made to the Act's provisions. While our government isn't perfect and often secretive, the American people know that it has to be held accountable when the law is violated.
That's not usually the case in Mexico. Of the thousands of human rights abuse complaints that have been made against the Army since the drug war started, only a scant few hundred have seen the light of day, and maybe a few dozen soldiers ever sent to jail for them. Provisions or no provisions in the NSL changes; those don't mean anything to DTOs with plenty of money, influence, and threats to offer to soldiers and police. I get that the Mexican government is thinking that desperate times call for desperate measures, but is this the right thing to do? Has the drug war reached the point of potentially turning Mexico into a police state, as some fear, in order to more effectively battle the DTOs? One also has to ask, if the NSL changes do indeed turn the law into Mexico's version of the Patriot Act, does that bring the DTOs one step closer to being viewed as terrorists by the Mexican government?
The measure passed the Senate in 2009, and it needs to pass the House before Saturday in order to take effect. Who knows? All my musings might be for nothing if this thing dies on the floor. But if it goes forward, get ready for some ugly changes in the drug war scene.