Earlier this month, the United States and Mexico agreed to extend a surveillance program allowing the US to fly high-altitude, unarmed drones over Mexican territory for the purpose of gathering information about drug trafficking. Implemented over concerns about Mexican sovereignty, the drone program is a cooperative counter-narcotics initiative put in place to address “the outbreak of drug violence in Mexico that has left more than 34,000 dead in the past four years.”
Answering Mexico’s complaint that it has “borne the brunt of a scourge driven by American guns and drug consumption,” the US moved to have a hand in controlling the drug trade that departs from previous efforts (such as training Mexican police and providing security equipment). The US’s drone program represents an active, military involvement in collecting intelligence and a new method of tackling the drug trade, as the information that the drones gather is shared between American and Mexican agencies.
Since its inception, the drone program has helped capture – as well as kill – roughly twenty high-profile drug traffickers. Despite its effectiveness, it has amassed critics. Detractors note that the drone program lacks transparency because the number of flights that have taken place under its auspices have been kept confidential due to security concerns.
In addition, detractors note that the drone program lacks legality. Though Mexico opened up its airspace to American overflight, the Mexican Constitution prohibits foreign militaries from operating within Mexican territory. In this regard, there have been suggestions that Mexico has allowed the US to overstep its bounds by unlawfully ignoring American wiretapping of drug-traffickers’ telephone lines as well as American law enforcements’ possession of weapons while on Mexican territory.
Overall, the drone program seems to have both positive and negative aspects. Are they legal in nature? Is drug trafficking a political question? Or, because criminality is involved, should the law provide oversight?
According to a recent BBC article the drone reconnaissance has been conducted with unrestricted respect for Mexican law. Additionally, it explained that the Mexican air force is actually accompanying these planes, which may possibly address the issue raised in regard to the provision in the Mexican Constitution which prohibits foreign militaries from operating in Mexico. An additional potential issue what I see with this is unlawful invasion of privacy. Through my preliminary research I was unable to find what kind of information these drones pick up and track. Also if the Americans are tapping phone lines and things of that nature, this may be overstepping the boundaries of privacy. This may be less of an issue if the people are in fact drug traffickers but with America’s history of invading the privacy of many innocent people in addition to those that they are targeting, this may be an issue. However, it seems that the Mr. Obama is working closely with Mexican leaders, so hopefully any issues can be prevented and the mission can actually prove effective since it is a very important issue that they are addressing.
Drug violence in Mexico has been a challenging and devestating phenomena. Last September an American tourist, David Hartley was shot to death while jet skiing on Falcon Lake (the Mexican portion). A few weeks later the severed head of the lead Mexican investigator was delivered to police in a suitcase. U.S. Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton and the Mexican President both agreed that drug violence stems from the high demand of drugs in the U.S. and thus the U.S. is partially responsible. Previously the U.S. has gven the Mexican government and military billions of dollars to combat the drug violence. Although it seems inevitable that politics will get involved, this drone program is a much more effective way of addressing drug trafficking rather than the U.S. just handing over money. Although critics have questioned its legality, recent articles have shown that the program abides by Mexican law. I think Mexico and the U.S. are showing that they see the bigger picture of the destruction that drug trafficking has and the drone program has been a result of the nations coming together to stop it. Whether we want to classify it as political or legal, it is nonetheless a huge improvement of the U.S. simply handing over money to the Mexican government in hopes that they will use it effectively.
It is a sad but true fact that the Mexican Police forces are woefully corrupt. Their pay is so little and the drug cartels are so wealthy that it is no obstacle for the cartels to pay off the police. It is just the price of doing business. Direct American involvement, therefore, becomes a necessity. Whether direct U.S. military involvement is legal is another question. Both the U.S. and Mexico stand to benefit from U.S. involvement, but the benefits can only truly be appreciated if legality is maintained. If direct U.S. military involvement is illegal, perhaps private American contractors operating the drones would be legal. Where a solution to a problem is perhaps not readlily apparent, innovative solutions must be implemented. The drones appear to be having a positive impact, and if their operation by U.S. forces is not entirely legal, a way must be found to make sure they stay in place. Transparency with a program like this one should really not be a concern to anyone. A program like this one cannot operate without a certain level of secrecy. What good would the drones be if their daily activities were reported on and the cartels could predict where the drones would fly. It comes down to trust in the government, a shaky proposition at times, but one that must be adhered to for the drones to continue their success.
The issue of drugs can have very violent and devastating effects on a wide variety of entities ranging from simple tourism to domestic relations. The sheer amount of death and destruction that results from such issues requires an innovative solution that will put a dent in the problem rather than simply pretend to address it. While throwing money at the problem may appear to be an effective solution, it is not a directed one and the funds may not reach effective goals. In contrast, a tangible project of using unarmed drones over Mexican territories will have a more direct effect as seen by the twenty high-profile drug traffickers that have already been neutralized by the law. Despite the potential privacy issues, the drastic nature of the problem requires a solution that will work and sometimes personal privacy must be curtailed for the greater good. Granted, there must be limits on these restrictions of privacy, but at times of great threat sacrifices must be made in order to combat a threat that has lead to thousands upon thousands of deaths in the past few years.
A recent article by the New York Times stated that U.S. involvement in the training of Mexican military and the increase in Mexican Federal Police force has lead to the capture of more than half of the most wanted crime bosses responsible for drug trafficking last year. Specifically, since the Drone mission began, a Homeland Security drone helped find suspects linked to the Feb. 15th killing of Jaime Zapata, a U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agent. I would say that the drone program is working. I personally like to hear that we are actively working to help stop the drug problem in Mexico since it is directly linked to the increasing drug problem in the U.S. I agree with Dominique the drone program is a more effective use of U.S. resources than just handing over money.
The U.S.’s drone program must be regarded as a positive program regardless of its criticisms. As my colleagues have already noted, the U.S. involvement in Mexico has led to the capture of many high-profile drug traffickers. Considering the fact that the U.S and Mexico share a border, a united front against drug trafficking is extremely important, especially when many of these drugs make their way into the U.S.. Rather than watching violence erupt in Mexico, the U.S should use its intelligence, in addition to their training of Mexican police officials, in order to stop this ongoing problem. While these “drug wars” are on Mexican soil, Mexico agreed upon the U.S. involvement, which can be seen as implying U.S. presence within Mexico in whatever aspects necessary. While violence is erupting in Mexico, it should be assumed that the U.S. officials would carry weapons to ensure their safety. So, despite the claim that the U.S presence in Mexico conflicts with the Mexican Constitution, U.S involvement which includes the techniques used in any investigation has been effective.