Julian Assange

Julian Assange, Wikileaks founder


I am very concerned for Julian Assange, the founder of Wikileaks.  His website used to be an amusing outlet valve for delicious little secrets that organisations had tried to keep hidden.  But now he’s releasing information about major world governments, and they are pissed.

Granted, I haven’t read anything so far that has really surprised me.  The latest news explosion, where U.S. diplomats think that Mexico’s armed forces are bureaucratic, corrupt, untrained and unfit to take on sophisticated drug trafficking organisations (DTOs), won’t be news to anyone in Mexico.  And remember, the army was sent in because the police are even worse. 

All the Wikileaks cables are releasing is information that is already known, or at least suspected, but is just not talked about in offical government circles.  To show that such things ARE talked about in non-official government circles is apparently a big deal.

The U.S. has been most strident in its condemnation of Wikileaks.  Crazy Tea Party Lady Sarah Palin has called for his blood to run, as have government officials and leaders.  They’ve been putting pressure on other governments and agencies to do their part in cornering Julian Assange, with the hope that this particular snake won’t be a Hydra

I know there are some concerns that Wikileaks is harming diplomacy and putting lives at risk.  That may have been a problem with previous releases of Iraq war information and details of informants, but I understand that since the first contentious release Wikileaks has been very careful to edit out details that would risk combatants lives.  It is sadly amusing however to see that the greatest outbusts of condemnation have not come after publishing accurate war data, but after revealing the words of world leaders to their subjects.

I believe that on balance Wikileaks is supporting democracy, and the right of citizens to find out the truth of what their governments are actually doing behind their back, the better to hold them to account.  We can applaud the governments who are actually doing in private what they said they’d do in public, and shame those who are doing the opposite. 

Yet the self-righteous, hypocritical politicians appear to be very thin-skinned.  They have schemes to take down the public face of Wikileaks, and hopefully the organisation with it.  Julian is a brave man.  He has done what many of us would dare not.  And he will probably pay a major price for it, beyond being forced into hiding.  I just hope that he’s set up his organisation to survive and thrive after he’s gone.  Our world is more open and just with Wikileaks around, however much it hurts the pride of national leaders. 

I’m rooting for Julian.

Corruption and the Drug War

My partner and I haven’t had to deal with much local corruption here in Mexico.  The times when we thought we’d have to pay a bribe here or there: when our car was towed, when receiving a cellphone plan discount, getting our immigration papers etc., nothing was implied.  Even trying to give a generous tip was sometimes refused.

It’s a nice reality from what we read before we came.  We were told that the local police would stop you for a cash payment, border officials might need an incentive to leave you alone, and “morditas” (little bites) would be required to make life smooth.

Instead, in recent years everyday Mexicans seem to be less and less corrupt as a culture.  Maybe they instinctively recognise the damage it does to their economy and way of life, or maybe enforcement against such corruption has increased.

Unfortunately, corruption in Mexico still permeates anything to do with the drug war, senior business leaders and politicians.

As part of the federal government’s protracted war on drug cartels, swathes of mayors, local police chiefs, elected officials and community leaders are arrested for corruption relating to the drug trade.  Even the head of Mexico’s narco offensive in 2008 was bought. A lot of the times the problem is greed for money and power.  But sometimes the corrupted don’t have much choice.  Either they accept money and help the drug traffickers, or they and their families may be kidnapped or shot.

And the latter is also common here.  An English language client of mine was shot at in his car while giving a friend a ride back home.  She is the daughter of a member of the judicial police and had received death threats.  Federal police and soldiers are ambushed on the roadside, tortured, decapitated.  Senior politicians are assassinated.  There are thousands of kidnappings per year.

I still feel safer here than in many parts of the USA and New Zealand – partly because most of the crime is centered near the US border, in Mexico City, and/or is drug related.

The problem is that many state and local police are corrupt or inefficient.  I read an estimate that 98% of crimes in Mexico are unpunished.  Municipal police can be paid as low as 30 pesos an hour ($US 2.27).  That sort of wage doesn’t encourage anyone to put themselves in harms way.  It also promotes widespread corruption.

There is a lack of transparency and checks and balances in local, state and federal budgets.  Politicians earmark essential funds for pet projects, and siphon money as it is spent.  This is a problem in the USA as well, but in Mexico it’s harder to trace.

In my opinion, Mexico’s Drug War started by President Calderon (a good man, but hamstrung by widespread self-interest and corruption in his government and administration) is unwinnable unless the rich and powerful of Mexico renounce corruption and their own ties with the drug cartels.