Tag: Mexico

WPTPN: What an “America First” Trade Strategy Gets Wrong

This World Politics in a Time of Populist Nationalism (WPTPN) guest post is written by Layna Mosley,  Professor of Political Science at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. She researches the political economy of multinational production, labor rights, and sovereign debt and can be found on Twitter @thwillow

President Trump’s first days in office have been marked by a continuation of his pledges to fundamentally remake US trade policy. On January 23, the website of the United States Trade Representative, the executive branch agency charged with negotiating and implementing US trade policy, underwent a radical redesign. The site’s front page now touts the “America First Trade Policy,” in which the “landscape of trade policy” is revised “to work for all Americans.” Four days later, the administration announced – with subsequent qualification later — a 20 percent tax on all imports to the US (or, perhaps, on all imports from Mexico).

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Luis Videgaray, Mexican foreign policy and the open contempt for expertise

For the past few months, I’ve been observing with horror all the cabinet appointments in the incoming Trump administration and the Theresa May government .  As someone who originally did a PhD with the intent to become a career diplomat (and yes, I realize there’s a foreign civil service pathway to achieve precisely that goal), to me expertise in top-level agencies was more than a mere technicality: it was a requirement. I wanted a PhD in international relations or political science because I wanted to be knowledgeable about the dynamics of global affairs, diplomacy and state-to-state relationships. Thus, watching Prime Minister May appoint Boris Johnson as foreign secretary and PEOTUS Trump appoint Exxon Mobil chairman Rex Tillerson to the State Department was shocking. To me, these kinds of appointments signal a complete disdain for expertise, career service and the foreign civil service structures and legacies.

Then came embattled Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto with the cherry on top. Peña Nieto has rescued his long-time aide from the depths of scorn and made him Foreign Affairs minister, substituting Claudia Ruiz Massieu (the niece of former Mexican President Carlos Salinas de Gortari). Videgaray was the political operator of Trump’s visit to Mexico, the former finance minister, and was ousted after Peña Nieto was heavily criticized because of his willingness to host Trump and the fact that he extended an invitation to the then Republican candidate. Trump has been openly adversarial toward Mexico and Mexicans from the beginning of his campaign, and has repeatedly said that the US under his leadership would be building a wall and that he’d make Mexico pay for it.

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Another Nail in the Battered Coffin of Irony

This must be satire. It isn’t? No, it has to be.  I mean… seriously?

In a post on his Twitter account, Calderón offered his condolences to the victims but then added that the incident showed that “the American Congress must review its mistaken legislation on guns. It’s doing damage to us all.” 

It was hardly a new theme from Mexico’s lame-duck president. But his latest statement requires an extraordinary amount of gall. During Calderón’s presidency, more than fifty thousand of his people have died in the war on drugs that he chose to escalate. A foreign leader with that awful of a track record daring to lecture the United States on its policies regarding firearms is not likely to sit well with most Americans.

Yes, the blame for the Mexican war on drugs falls squarely on Calderón’s shoulders, and his shoulders alone
But there can be no doubt that this sort of thing does not sit well with Americans. As the saying goes, with great power comes the right to lecture, and not be lectured to. 

Keeping Up With The International Criminal Court: The Realization of Judicial Intervention

The International Criminal Court would “wither and die” was once the prediction of John Bolton, former US Ambassador to the UN. It seems that is not the case. There has been a dizzying amount of activity surrounding the Court lately, much of which underscores that judicial intervention is becoming a mainstay of conflict resolution and peacebuilding.

Undoubtedly, the ICC will be the hot topic at your department’s holiday party ;) Here’s your cheat sheet so you can nerd out with everyone else. If you get stuck, just wryly remark that it depends on sovereignty, or complementarity, or selectivity. That’s always gold in international justice.

LIBYA: Saif al-Islam Gaddafi (and maybe al-Senussi?) was captured and the jockeying for who gets to conduct his trial began. Ocampo suggested on his recent visit to Tripoli that the Libyan court system might be capable of conducting a fair trial and that the ICC would provide assistance, not competition. But it’s not up to Ocampo. ICC judges will determine whether the Libyan court system is up to snuff. If a Libyan court does try Saif  this is an opportunity for the ICC to affect positive complementarity and help rebuild the rule of law in Libya. But there are valid concerns that Libya courts are not ready so soon into the post-authoritarian transition and after decades in which the courts were an instrument of repression. Louise Arbour, head of the International Crisis Group and former prosecutors at the ICTY and ICTR, explains the tensions of complementarity in this case and why international justice is often a measure of last resort.

SYRIA: The UN Human Rights Council has found that crimes against humanity, including murder, torture, and disappearances, have been perpetrated by Syrian security and military forces and that the death toll is at least 4,000. UNHCR chief, Navi Pillay, is urging the Security Council to refer the situation to the ICC. But the UNHCR’s December 2nd resolution condemning the violence did not explicitly ask for such a referral. Certainly a UNSC referral is warranted and would counter criticisms that judicial interventions are politicized and selective. But China and Russia would veto it so that’s a non-starter.


MEXICO: Human rights activists have petitioned the ICC to investigate and determine whether crimes against humanity have been committed in the context of the state’s “war on drugs.” Specifically, the petition alleges that President Calderon, a top drug cartel boss, and political and security officials are responsible for the murder, torture, and kidnapping of hundreds of civilians in a war that has killed 45,000. It will take a while before the ICC prosecutors can determine if the case meets the “sufficient gravity” criteria and if the crimes were “systemic” and “systemic” to warrant charges of crimes against humanity. Mexico is a State Party to the Rome Statute but the government immediately rejected the accusations and insists that the rule of law is respected and upheld in Mexico. Calderon has called the accusations “slander” and the government issued a statement saying “it categorically rejects that security policy could be considered an international crime.”

KENYA: A Kenyan high court judge issued an arrest warrant for President Bashir of Sudan. The Kenyan chapter of the International Commission of Jurists (and NGO) filed the request. Bashir has visited several States Parties to the Rome Statute, including Kenya in August, and was not arrested – a violation of States Parties’ obligations. The recent ruling prompted the Sudanese government to expel the Kenyan Ambassador and prompted criticisms that this was a political move by the ICJ to put pressure on the Kenyan government to cooperate with the “Ocampo Six” cases before the ICC. This is partially a score for Rome Statute compliance, but the Kenyan government plans to appeal the ruling. One very interesting aspect of the ICC-Kenya situation is the prominence of civil society actors pushing for accountability, and the growing rift with political elites.

COTE D’IVOIRE: The ICC unsealed an arrest warrant for former President Laurent Gbagbo on November 29th and he was promptly transferred from his house arrest to The Hague. This is the first head of state to appear before the Court as Gaddafi met a different kind of “justice” and Bashir is still enjoying his impunity. Gbagbo is accused of being an indirect co-perpetrator of crimes against humanity, committed in the context of Cote d’Ivoire’s post-election violence from December 2010-April 2011. Rival and current President Alassane Ouattara has long welcomed the ICC’s involvement and wants Gbagbo tried internationally. But the arrest still seemed sudden and dramatic – shocking Gbagbo’s supporters who were hoping for an amnesty-for-peace type deal. Gbagbo made his first appearance before the ICC judges today (Dec 5) and judges will announce on June 18, 2012 if the case will proceed to trial.

There are two things to watch for. First, the timing of the arrest appears political as Cote d’Ivoire has parliamentary elections coming up on December 11th and Gbagbo supporters have pledged to boycott the vote. Second, the arrest is stirring up accusations of victor’s justice. The ICC indicates that investigations are ongoing, that there will be more charges, and both sides are being investigated. But locally there’s pessimism that crimes committed on behalf or at the best of Ouattara’s forces will be prosecuted.

SUDAN: An arrest warrant was requested of ICC judges by the Chief Prosecutor on December 2nd for Sudan’s Defence Minister, Abdelrahim Mohamed Hussein, for war crimes and crimes against humanity committed in Darfur. At the time of the alleged crimes (August 2033-March 2003) Hussein was Interior Minister and representative in Darfur. Hussein is closely connected to two of the ICC’s other targets – Bashir and Harun. The request for an arrest warrant comes at a time when the crimes and victims in Darfur have fallen off the world’s radar and for a situation in which the Court has made the least progress.

And in a bizarre revelation, Time magazine reports that the ICC’s evidence against Hussein is partly derived from data from the Satellite Sentinal Project – the brain child of the celeb badvocacy efforts of George Clooney and John Prendergast of the Enough Project. See this NPR article for why the satellite project, Clooney, and Prendergast, are a little ridiculous.

CHIEF PROSECUTOR: Ocampo’s term is almost up (we’ll all miss the eyebrows and swagger) and, to no one’s surprise and much acclaim, Fatou Bensouda will be chosen as the new Chief Prosecutor of the ICC. (To be confirmed at the next meeting of the Assembly of States Parties on December 12th). Currently the Deputy Prosecutor, Bensouda comes from the Gambia and worked at the ICTR. It’s hoped that her leadership will mend ties between the Court and African political elites and the African Union. There’s also the expectation that the Court and its prosecutorial strategy will be more victim-focused.

And lastly, in the best possible example of make-believe international justice, a Malaysian tribunal “reached a unanimous verdict that found George W. Bush and Tony Blair guilty of crimes against peace, crimes against humanity, and genocide, as a result of their roles in the Iraq War.” The verdict obviously doesn’t have much effect beyond shame and blame, but the tribunal will communicate its findings to the ICC and give a little wink/nudge to states to exercise their universal jurisdiction muscles.

The Infected Zone

UK Movie Poster for “Monsters” (2010). Source: Wikipedia.

The post-9/11 generation sci-fi film “Monsters” (Gareth Edwards, 2010) is a kind of “Cloverfield” for the US-Mexican border (or if you’re a real film buff, it is a “Sin Nombre” journey film with real aliens, i.e. gigantic extra-terrestials). But this is more than just a monster flick.

The film takes the notion of a militarized zone and an alien invasion along the US-Mexican border quite literally, but it is set six years after the invasion or infestation. Thus, Mexico is transformed into a late-Occupied Iraq or Afghanistan and Texas into a kind of post-Katrina wasteland. The militarization of the landscape is eerily too familiar. In fact, the power and realism of the film stems from the idea that people acclimate to militarization; horror becomes mostly mundane. At one point, the American protagonists ask a Mexican driver why he and his family live so close to a dangerous area, the response is simply that they have nowhere else to go and they think they can manage the risks.

Throughout the film the cable news networks show scenes of alien attacks and carnage in the background, but the characters generally ignore the flickering media images. The ubiquitous sight of fighter jets and hovering attack helicopters fail to phase the characters or even anyone in the background. It is a world that has overcome the shock of the spectacle of war. The photojournalist protagonist spends much of the film trying to find images which could actually shock a desensitized American audience.

The setting is also noteworthy as a commentary on US-Mexican relations, which is seen as both cooperative and unequal. Both governments attempt to police an infected zone, but it is telling that the infected zone covers most of northern Mexico. For its part, the US builds an immense border wall to keep out the aliens, but the border is porous despite the monumental expenditure and effort. The sight of America’s front door as a forbidding wall is a view of America from the “outside in.”  The Mexican characters in the film see America as a country that has “imprisoned itself” through fear and misunderstanding. While the American side is called the evacuation zone, it is nonetheless also a blighted wasteland, marked mainly by fighter jets speeding to and from the infected zone to drop chemical weapons and reload. This is an image of “Fortress America” which tries to use Mexico as a buffer zone even as its own interior continues to decay.

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