Monday, March 30, 2015

Today's Mexico City Headlines: They're here. Next stop: Arkansas

Today’s papers are in full Monday morning mode, offering, in the absence of breaking news from a rainy Sunday, numbers-based features or delayed “exclusives.”
    El Universal goes with the latter, leading with an alarmist story under the headline “U.S.: Hezbollah has ties with Mexican cartels.” The paper quotes U.S. “General” Kenneth Tovo (he’s actually a lieutenant general) as warning a Senate panel that Lebanon-based and Iran-backed Hezbollah is linked to Mexican drug trafficking organizations, a situation, he says, that should be a national security priority for the United States.
    Just what we needed. Now unsuspecting Mexicans settling in to read the newspaper with their morning coffee (if anybody still does that) can spend the rest of the day worrying not only about terrorists in our midst, but also about a U.S. incursion into Mexico to chase them down.
    El Universal knows about this, we are informed, because it came into a possession of a “copy” of Tovo’s March 25 appearance before the U.S. Senate Homeland Security  Committee. That has an impressive investigative ring to it, until you realize it was an unclassified meeting — “open-source” as they call it — with video of Tovo’s testimony available on the Internet (for example, here).
    So, sure, the story’s an exclusive  —  in the sense that no other major media source considered it newsworthy. Warnings of swarthy Middle Easterners in their backyard is such a common expression of hysteria in certain U.S. circles that even the right-wing press sometimes ignores it. I found it on from last week, and even that conservative news source’s take is considerably calmer than El U’s.
    Tovo’s comment was in response to a question by new Committee Chair Ron Johnson, the Wisconsin Republican who has somehow managed to stake out an identity as a relative Tea Party moderate (and as a result of that M-word is trailing his predecessor, Russell Feingold, in the 2016 polls). His question was really more of an invitation: “Can you expound a little more about what you know about the connection between drug traffickers and terrorist organizations?”
    El Universal’s story doesn’t mention Johnson, so we don’t know how the paper translates that question. A reasonable version might be: “Can you give us some fodder we can use to scare Americans enough to kill immigration reform and the Obama administration’s negotiations with Iran?”
    Tovo’s answer was not as accommodating as EL U’s story would have us believe: “I think we know that in at least several occasions over the past decade and a half, terrorists have attempted to use our borders, our open borders, to do us harm.”
    That’s the geography. What about the narco links? Tovo said (as have others) that they’re about money, not operations, and even that connection is in dispute, “a topic of much discussion amongst the intel community about how much cooperation and convergence, as we call it, there really is.”
    Tovo said that he believes Hezbollah takes in tens of millions of dollars from illicit trafficking “writ large.” Since he’s second in charge of the U.S. military’s Southern Command, "writ large" presumably refers to Latin America as a whole, not just Mexico. But we don't know because nobody asked him.
    That money, he said, “fuels their operations back in the Middle East.” A check of the map will confirm that the Middle East is quite far from Arkansas, where Senator Tom Cotton says he’s convinced the next attack is planned. And it's just as far from Mexico.
    As though to balance it’s own coverage, El Universal runs an editorial recognizing that any Islamist extremist presence in Mexico is a legitimate security concern on both sides of the border, but that there’s nothing new here.
    What is new, though, is who controls the U.S. Senate. We might as well get used to these kinds of stories. Those who put on these committee shows have their game plan, and for them Mexico is a useful tool for scaremongering.
    Beto O’Rourke, a Democratic member of Congress from Texas, put it well recently. “There’s a longstanding history in this country of projecting whatever fears we have onto the border,” he said. “In the absence of understanding the border, they insert their fears.”
    Sadly, as the El U head shows, here in Mexico most people don’t make much of a distinction between Republican agitators, an ambiguous lieutenant general, the Obama administration and the American people. It’s all just “the United States.”

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