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Collateral Damage: Mexico (Impacts of the U.S. Aggression in Iraq upon Mexico)

John Ross, World Tribunal on Iraq

Istanbul, June 27, 2005

Introductory Note

"Poor Mexico, so far from God and so close to the United States" is a popular saying among the Mexican people, one that quite accurately accounts for the collateral damage this country has suffered as a result of the illegal aggression of the United States against Iraq.

Although Mexico is not a member of George Bush's disintegrating "Coalition of the Willing" and, in fact, strenuously opposed the invasion of Iraq and its continuing occupation by Washington's troops, it has been impacted by the war because of its geographical propinquity to the aggressor.

Since 2003, the U.S. aggression has cost Mexico the lives of nearly one hundred of its sons and daughters, the over-exploitation of precious natural resources to fuel Bush's war, and immeasurable damage to its national sovereignty.

Collateral Damage

In military terms, collateral damage is generally limited to damage inflicted on civilian infrastructure destroyed or downgraded during long-range aerial attacks on designated targets. The military damage is almost always confined to unintended material damage caused to sites adjacent to primary targets and does not include the loss of life or grievous destruction inflicted upon civilian populations when an errant weapons systems cuts a swath through a non-military neighborhood or community such as occurred repeatedly during the first days of the illicit invasion and occupation of Iraq when hospitals and marketplaces fell victim to U.S. air attack. Whether intentional or not - and attacks on civilian sites are often intentionally directed to terrorize a resistant population into surrender - the military deliberately calculates such horrendous events in terms of material loss and sometimes pays a stipend to the families of the victims - if indeed it concedes that these mass killings happened at all.

But seen from the ground up, the collateral damage done is devastatingly human - not only in respect to the dead and wounded but also in the cost to the well-being of civilian populations. A hit on a military target that damages a potable water treatment plant, an electricity generating facility, or a communications center have incalculable impacts on the quality of life for the survivors, one that one that will potentially breed disease and death a bit further down the line.

Moreover, U.S, aggression in Iraq has generated collateral damage far beyond the borders of that beleaguered land. The world's nations -and the planet itself- have been impacted by this illegal invasion and occupation in ways often masked by the cut and dried military definition of collateral damage. The destruction of archeological sites in Iraq for example both in the 1991 Gulf War and in the second Bush's atrocities have trashed the cradle of civilization from the graffiti stained walls of Babylon to the looting of the Iraqi National Museum, a loss for all of man and womankind. The devastation of Iraq's environment is not confined to just one country but has poisoned the world's water and air and the species, both human and not, which depend upon these essential elements for survival. The accelerated depletion of the world's energy sources to sustain the destruction of Iraq is as much collateral damage as the maiming of women ands children in Baghdad.

Because we live on an integrated, finite planet all of the world's nations and peoples have been collaterally damaged by Bush's on-going criminal enterprise in Iraq. It is incumbent upon each of us as citizens of a specific place or state to assess this damage upon where we live and bring charges against those responsible for these crimes before such tribunals as this one.

As a longtime resident of Mexico I have been asked by the Mexican anti-war movement and the Not in Our Name Initiative to present such charges before the World Tribunal on Iraq meeting in Istanbul June 23-27 2005. We encourage others who have suffered similar collateral damages in their own country to prepare parallel reports.

Petroleum

With the world's 11th largest reserves and currently its eight largest producer, Mexico accounts for about 14%of the U.S. oil basket, a percentage that has become increasingly vital to U.S. supplies, given uncertain relations with Venezuela.

In the first months of the Iraq conflict, and in an effort to improve relations with a Washington that had become estranged over Mexico's intended vote against the invasion in the United Nations Security Council, President Vicente Fox upped Mexico's daily export platform from 1.2 million barrels to 1.6, nearly all of it being shipped up the Gulf of Mexico to U.S. ports. The increased exports have enabled Bush to both wage a war in Iraq and keep domestic prices below $3 USD at the pump, crucial to the U.S, president's continuing mandate.

But this gratuitous concession to the White House is a heavy drain on diminishing Mexican resources. With between only 10 and 12 years of proven reserves left, Mexico is essentially betting its energy future on Bush's faltering war in Iraq.

Moreover, costly environmental damage caused by increased pumping both offshore and in the oil-producing states of Tabasco and Veracruz has compounded the problem and pipeline explosions and massive leaks are reported on a weekly basis.

In Mexico, petroleum is a patriotic resource. Under President Lazaro Cardenas (1934-1940), Anglo-American oil interests were expropriated and nationalized and, in effect, Mexico's oil is the property of its people. Depleting these national reserves to accommodate Washington's illicit aggression in Iraq is a grave violation of Mexico's national sovereignty. Sadly, it is not the only one that the Bush government has imposed upon its immediate neighbor to the south as the bitter fruit of the illegal war on the Iraqi people.

National Sovereignty

In the months prior to the invasion of Iraq when the matter still lay before the United Nations Security Council on which Mexico then had a seat, President Vicente Fox's reluctance to sign on to the U.S. war plans led to pressures against the Mexican delegation. According to accounts offered by then-ambassador Adolfo Aguilar Zinser, electronic eavesdropping devices were found in his offices where meetings of Security Council members who had not yet committed their vote were often held. "We would then meet with Negroponte (John Negroponte, then the U.S. U.N. ambassador) and he would quote back to us what we had been discussing" Zinser reported in an interview with the British Weekly Observer.

The bugging of Mexico's United Nations office suite was corroborated by former British Intelligence operative Katherine Gunn who told the Observer that Washington had requested the British plant and monitor the bugs, presumably to avoid a diplomatic show-down with Mexico prior to a crucial vote. The illegal eavesdropping by the United States and British governments constitutes a serious violation of both United Nations neutrality protocols and Mexican sovereignty.

Mexico's refusal to back the U.S. invasion provoked swift retaliation from Washington. Any prospect of much-needed immigration reform was shelved indefinitely and even Mexico's upping of its export oil platform and permission granted to U.S. security agencies to station their agents on both Mexican borders and the Mexico City international airport - yet another infringement of national sovereignty - could not reheat relations between Mexico and the country with which it shares a 3000 kilometer border.

Other violations of national sovereignty have been just as egregious. Since the Iraq carnage began in March 2003, armed U.S. troops have deployed at least four times on Mexican soil at funerals held for Mexican nationals killed in Iraq, acting as honor guards, accompanied by U.S. generals, and bearing arms expressly forbidden by Mexican law. Indeed, during the July 4th, 2004 interment of Juan Lopez Rangel, a 20 year-old son of Guanajuato killed in Fallujah in June of that year, the Mexican army was called upon to disarm U.S. troops accompanying the bier.

Historically, the United States has invaded Mexico on at least eight occasions and the deployment of U.S. troops anywhere south of the border is not looked upon kindly. One of the key missions of Mexico's armed forces is to repel an invasion from the north.

Mexican Lives

But it has been the loss of young lives to Bush's genocidal campaign in Iraq that has most wounded Mexico. Although a recent U.S. Department of Defense count lists 22 Mexican nationals killed in Iraq, Pentagon criteria for who is a Mexican does not take into account native-born Mexicans naturalized in the U.S. or the sons and daughters of Mexican-born U.S. citizens whose citizenship is undefined.

A closer inventory of Mexican deaths in Iraq that includes these parameters is kept by Fernando Suarez del Solar, father of a marine killed in Iraq. Suarez lists 89 Mexicans as having died in Iraq between March 2003 and April 2005 - no numbers for wounded are available. The first to be killed was Rodrigo Gonzalez, the son of farmers from the Coahuila desert, who died in a Kuwaiti helicopter accident February 23rd on the eve of the invasion. Of the first 1000 U.S. deaths reported in Iraq, at least 50 were Mexicans.

Although Mexico is not a part of Bush's bloody coalition, it stands third on the list of fatal casualties per nation behind Iraq, and the U.S. but ahead of Great Britain (87 at the end of April 2005), Bush's most loyal ally in the slaughter.

The combined United States armed forces count 134,000 troops of Latin descent, half of who are Mexicans. Other Latin American countries represented in the mix include Puerto Rico (a U.S. possession), the Dominican Republic, Honduras, El Salvador, and Ecuador. Similarly, of the 37,000 non-citizens serving in the U.S. military, an estimated 20,000 are Mexicans.

A study done by the Chicano organization Aztlan Nation determined that 13,000 Mexican and Mexican-descent troops are currently serving in Iraq as part of the U.S. occupation forces. Newspaper reports also indicate that at least 40 Mixtec Indians from the central state of Puebla are currently subcontracted as laborers by international construction corporations working in Iraq.

Mexicans have historically joined the U.S. military to obtain United States citizenship. After the September 11th, 2001 terrorist attacks on New York and Washington, President Bush promised that all non-citizens joining the military would be placed on the "fast track" to citizenship. But when the invasion of Iraq began, the only way a non-citizen soldier could actually obtain U.S. citizenship was to be killed in action.

Jesus Suarez, a 21 year-old marine from Tijuana, Mexico, was killed near Nazariya in the first weeks of the war. But when Washington conferred automatic citizenship upon Jesus, his father Fernando Suarez del Solar, angrily rejected it. "My son was proud to be a Mexican", Fernando told the Pentagon authorities (you can read Suarez's moving testimony in the addenda to this report.)

Like many Mexican youth, Jesus was recruited into the U.S. Army under false pretences. Promised by Marine Corps recruiters that they would help him become a drug enforcement agent to combat narco gangs in his native Tijuana, he was instead sent to Iraq with an ill-trained and poorly equipped unit where he was killed early in the war.

Because the percentage of Latino and Mexican soldiers in the U.S. armed forces is lower than their percentages in the general population (Latinos, including Mexicans, are now the largest U.S. minority accounting for 15% of the population), military recruiters have intensified efforts to bring their numbers up to parity. Led by the Marine Corps whose aggressive recruiting is well documented, the military targets Latino-Mexican populations, often bringing in Spanish-speaking recruiters and running come-on campaigns on Spanish-speaking radio and television.

U.S. recruiters routinely cross south in border cities like Tijuana and Ciudad Juarez, head-hunting the high schools for young people with duel citizenship, often promising enhanced educational opportunities and pledging to clear up immigration problems. The recruiters' access to schools in Mexico is another glaring example of how Bush's war has impacted Mexico's national sovereignty.

North of the border, military recruiters have long had unblocked access to high schools, particularly in areas of high Mexican and Latino density such as Texas and California where kids from these communities graduate into dead-end jobs flipping Big Macs if they are lucky.

One reason why the Marine Corps now has the highest number of Mexican recruits (13%) is that the service enjoys a long-standing exemption allowing it to recruit non-citizens. The 1985 Immigration and Reform Act (IRCA) legalized many Mexicans living in the U.S. who then brought their families over but many of the children were never covered. A good number of the estimated 20,000 Mexican non-citizens in the U.S. armed forces are believed to have joined up to clarify confused immigration statuses.

Much of the blame for this lamentable situation can be laid on the doorstep of a recruitment policy that fills quotas by any means necessary. Abuses by overzealous recruiters range from procuring fake diplomas for prospective recruits and falsifying drug tests to promising that the inductee will never participate in military combat.

Now in the third year of the Iraqi occupation, military recruitment numbers have diminished alarmingly from month to month and the services are forecasting shortfalls that will leave the U.S. unable to respond to crisis situations in the near future. Given this very likely scenario, pressures by military recruiters on Mexican and Mexican-descent youth are expected to ratchet up.

At this writing, 89 Mexican families have received the sad notice from the U.S. government that their loved ones were killed in Iraq, a desert land far from their own. One reason for the high kill rates is the concentration of Mexican recruits into front-line combat units. Mexicans and Mexican-descent youth recruited in southern California are concentrated at Camp Pendleton, adjacent to San Diego. It was marine units from Pendleton that led the initial March 2003 assault - 14 Mexican and Mexican decent casualties were reported in the first month of the fighting. The same units were sent into Fallujah in November 2004, the vanguard of U.S. forces who would level that Sunni Muslim stronghold.

Lance Corporal Andres Raya, 19, the son of Mexican farm workers from Ceres California was a member of a transportation unit based at Camp Pendleton. For seven harrowing months, he drove an unprotected Humvee without armor plating between Fallujah and Baghdad along roads laced with deadly bombs. After being returned to Camp Pendleton, rumor circulated that the unit would soon be sent back to Iraq for a second tour. At home in Ceres over Christmas 2004, Raya committed suicide by opening fire on local police, killing one, and prompting his own death in a hail of police bullets. At subsequent public inquests, Raya's neighbors insisted that he had died "on his feet like a Mexican."

The on-going occupation of Iraq is killing off Mexican men and women at an unacceptable rate. Andres Raya, every bit as much as Jesus Suarez, is a victim of this imperialist war.

The Iraq War is also turning Mexican and Mexican-descent U.S. soldiers into war criminals. Sergeant Jonaton Cardenas Alban, 28, was sentenced last October to a year in jail and stripped of rank for gunning down a 16 year-old garbage man in the Sadr City area of Baghdad in August 2004. Other higher-ranking Mexican and Mexican-descent soldiers who stand accused of war crimes include Brigadier General Ricardo Sanchez. General Sanchez, a poor kid from the Rio Grande Valley whose parents crossed the river to find work, rose to become commander of U.S. forces in Iraq. As commander, Sanchez presided over the reign of terror at Abu Ghraib prison but thus far has not been charged for his complicity in the widespread torture of Iraqi prisoners.

Mexican immigration to the U.S. is fueled by poverty and political repression. While this migration has a long history (the first migrants arrived in California in 1879), it has been exacerbated in recent years by free market projects like the North American Free Trade Agreement, which has driven tens of thousands of poor farmers off their land and into the migration stream. Since that treaty was signed in 1992, over 4000 Mexicans, many of them displaced farmers, have died trying to cross the U.S. border to find employment - more than were immolated in the World Trade Towers on September 11th, 2001.

Mexicans have fought in four U.S. wars in the past 100 years - the Second World War, Korea, Vietnam, and now Iraq. Traditionally, when a young Mexican goes off to fight a U.S. war, their families travel to the Shrine of the Holy Child of Atocha in the central state of Zacatecas to light candles and offer "plegarias" (written prayers) for the safety of their children. Today, once again, the formal portraits of young men - and now young women - in military dress line the walls of the stone chapel, further evidence that the collateral damage from another U.S. war is pounding down upon the Mexican landscape.


This report was prepared by John Ross (johnross@igc.org) for the "Initiativa No En Nuestra Nombre" in Mexico City to be submitted as testimony to the World Tribunal on Iraq to be celebrated in Istanbul Turkey June 23rd-27th 2005.



:: Article nr. 13129 sent on 28-jun-2005 04:36 ECT

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