eyes on the U.S.

Trump, 'Terrorist' Cartels And The True Roots Of Mexico's Violence

In loudly rejecting President's Trump threat to label Mexican drug gangs terrorists, Mexico's government is covering its failure, if not reluctance, to tackle systemic corruption and its offspring, crime.

U.S. marshal makes arrest of fugitive in New Mexico
U.S. marshal makes arrest of fugitive in New Mexico
Luis Rubio


MEXICO CITY — Gunfire didn't do the job, nor are the Mexican president's much-touted "hugs' working. Facing the plague of criminal violence in Mexico, nobody here seems to have a reasonable diagnosis of its nature, causes or possible solutions. And yet a single recent declaration from President Donald Trump, when he said that the drug cartels might be declared international terrorists, was enough to prompt our public officials to collectively indulge in some patriotic indignation.

We must separate two components of the issue: its U.S. dimension, and the violence itself. These are two perspectives responding to different circumstances, though there could be links. Across the border, the debate on the nature of problems in Mexico has been around for decades and evolved over time. For years following the 1910 revolution the Americans observed how Mexico stabilized its economy and managed to consolidate social, then political peace. Then at the start of a period of crises in 1976 and especially after 1982, conversations there began using terms like "failed state." From the North American point of view, negotiating NAFTA in the early 1990s was a way of supporting Mexico so it would, finally, take its "great leap" toward development.

Two decades later, Mexico is again the subject of debate across the border: It has failed to turn NAFTA into a platform for integral growth and transformed just parts of its economy. In spite of its extraordinary success in consolidating exports, it was evident to people in the U.S. (and anyone else willing to see realities) that Mexico used NAFTA as a mechanism for keeping its political status quo and maintaining the interests of those close to power. The debates up north led to no conclusion of particular relevance, broadly because the United States feared that adopting the wrong strategy toward Mexico could easily have consequences like a massive influx of migrants. So its inclination to be cautious with Mexico (in spite of appearances), has made life much easier for the most pernicious of Mexican interests and sectors, which want to keep the status quo.

The country has become paralyzed in this phase for almost a century.

From the Mexican point of view, U.S. concerns could be seen as mistaken, naive and interventionist, but that is no reason to pretend we do not have an enormous problem on our hands. Mexico suffers a dysfunctional governing system, intolerably high levels of violence and an internal world of corruption and impunity. All are rooted in the same source: a political system designed by the winners of the Mexican revolution with the aim of ransacking the country as they pleased. Instead of changing for the 21st century, the system has incorporated new members while preserving its crucial objective: always to give precedence to the powerful.

While the economy has undergone changes, some entirely positive and others less so, Mexico's world of privileges and corruption endures. It had its function in the 1930s, but not today, in spite of efforts to reinforce it through enhanced presidential powers. Instead of creating a new system of government, the country has become paralyzed in this phase for almost a century, which is at the root of its inability to end criminal violence.

Trump on Dec. 14 — Photo: White House

This is the context that maintains evils like impunity and corruption (intrinsic to the post-our revolutionary system) and more pertinently, impedes the state's ability to fight undesirable consequences like violence. Evidently much of the violence is linked to drug trafficking that is sustained, to a significant extent at least, inside the United States. Yet the fact that its violence is taking place here, and far less in our neighboring country, is proof that the problem lies in our system of government.

The Trump administration's decision to label gang terrorists may have all kinds of consequences but it will not resolve the violence in Mexico. Instead of puffing ourselves up with patriotic indignation, we would do better to honestly dissect this problem and seek out real solutions. Only, in that case, we might ask for the help that is right for Mexico. The Americans will not solve this problem with legal changes or drones, because these do not attack its causes.

Mexico needs a proper strategy to create a new system of government that will permit it to confront violence before anyone else imposes on our solutions that are no solution at all, but just a way to dismantle what little does work in this country.

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Why This Sudan Coup Is Different

The military has seized control in one of Africa's largest countries, which until recently had made significant progress towards transitioning to democracy after years of strongman rule. But the people, and international community, may not be willing to turn back.

Smoke rises Monday over the Sudanese capital of Khartoum

Xinhua via ZUMA
David E. Kiwuwa

This week the head of Sudan's Sovereign Council, General Abdel Fattah El Burhan, declared the dissolution of the transitional council, which has been in place since the overthrow of former president Omar el-Bashir in 2019. He also disbanded all the structures that had been set up as part of the transitional roadmap, and decreed a state of emergency.

In essence, he staged a palace coup against the transitional authority he chaired.

The general's actions, which included the arrest of Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok, are a culmination of a long period of tension between the civilian and military wings of the council.

A popular uprising may be inevitable

The tensions were punctuated by an alleged attempted coup only weeks earlier. The days leading to the palace coup were marked by street protests for and against the military. Does this mark the end of the transition as envisaged by the protest movement?

Their ability to confront counter revolutionary forces cannot be underestimated.

The popular uprising against Bashir's government was led by the Sudan Professional Association. It ushered in the political transitional union of civilians and the military establishment. The interim arrangement was to lead to a return to civilian rule.

But this cohabitation was tenuous from the start, given the oversized role of the military in the transition. Moreover, the military appeared to be reluctant to see the civilian leadership as an equal partner in shepherding through the transition.

Nevertheless, until recently there had been progress towards creating the institutional architecture for the transition. Despite the challenges and notable tension between the signatories to the accord, it was never evident that the dysfunction was so great as to herald the collapse of the transitional authority.

For now, the transition might be disrupted and in fact temporarily upended. But the lesson from Sudan is never to count the masses out of the equation. Their ability to mobilize and confront counter revolutionary forces cannot be underestimated.

Power sharing

The transitional pact itself had been anchored by eight arduously negotiated protocols. These included regional autonomy, integration of the national army, revenue sharing and repatriation of internal refugees. There was also an agreement to share out positions in national political institutions, such as the legislative and executive branch.

Progress towards these goals was at different stages of implementation. More substantive progress was expected to follow after the end of the transition. This was due in 2022 when the chair of the sovereignty council handed over to a civilian leader. This military intervention is clearly self-serving and an opportunistic power grab.

A promised to civilian rule in July 2023 through national elections.

In November, the rotational chairmanship of the transitional council was to be passed from the military to the civilian wing of the council. That meant the military would cede strong leverage to the civilians. Instead, with the coup afoot, Burhan has announced both a dissolution of the council as well as the dismissal of provincial governors. He has unilaterally promised return to civilian rule in July 2023 through national elections.

Prior to this, the military had been systematically challenging the pre-eminence of the civilian authority. It undermined them and publicly berated them for governmental failures and weaknesses. For the last few months there has been a deliberate attempt to sharply criticize the civilian council as riddled with divisions, incompetent and undermining state stability.

File photo shows Sudan's Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok in August 2020

Mohamed Khidir/Xinhua via ZUMA

Generals in suits

Since the revolution against Bashir's government, the military have fancied themselves as generals in suits. They have continued to wield enough power to almost run a parallel government in tension with the prime minister. This was evident when the military continued to have the say on security and foreign affairs.

For their part, civilian officials concentrated on rejuvenating the economy and mobilizing international support for the transitional council.

This didn't stop the military from accusing the civilian leadership of failing to resuscitate the country's ailing economy. True, the economy has continued to struggle from high inflation, low industrial output and dwindling foreign direct investment. As in all economies, conditions have been exacerbated by the effects of COVID-19.

Sudan's weakened economy is, however, not sufficient reason for the military intervention. Clearly this is merely an excuse.

Demands of the revolution

The success or failure of this coup will rest on a number of factors.

First is the ability of the military to use force. This includes potential violent confrontation with the counter-coup forces. This will dictate the capacity of the military to change the terms of the transition.

Second is whether the military can harness popular public support in the same way that the Guinean or Egyptian militaries did. This appears to be a tall order, given that popular support appears to be far less forthcoming.

The international community's appetite for military coups is wearing thin.

Third, the ability of the Sudanese masses to mobilize against military authorities cannot be overlooked. Massive nationwide street protests and defiance campaigns underpinned by underground organizational capabilities brought down governments in 1964, 1985 and 2019. They could once again present a stern test to the military.

Finally, the international community's appetite for military coups is wearing thin. The ability of the military to overcome pressure from regional and international actors to return to the status quo could be decisive, given the international support needed to prop up the crippled economy.

The Sudanese population may have been growing frustrated with its civilian authority's ability to deliver on the demands of the revolution. But it is also true that another coup to reinstate military rule is not something the protesters believe would address the challenges they were facing.

Sudan has needed and will require compromise and principled political goodwill to realise a difficult transition. This will entail setbacks but undoubtedly military intervention in whatever guise is monumentally counterproductive to the aspirations of the protest movement.


David E. Kiwuwa is Associate Professor of International Studies at University of Nottingham

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

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