Academic journal article Military Review

Mexico's Other Insurgents

Academic journal article Military Review

Mexico's Other Insurgents

Article excerpt

A CENTRAL POST-COLD WAR security issue is the fate of insurgent movements that received weapons, equipment and political support for decades from the Soviet bloc and other communist states around the world. In Latin America, where the development and consolidation of democratic regimes often is accompanied by promises of freemarket economic and open-trade policies, the virtual shutoff of outside support to insurgents seemed to assure their eventual dissolution. In the 1990s, Central American peace accords and electoral successes and South American counterinsurgency gains, as in Peru, reinforced this view. 1

Optimistic assessments based on these events may yet prove to be accurate. But as the century winds down, troubling developments in the Southern Hemisphere suggest that "guerrilla" problems may plague some Latin American governments as they pursue national progress, prosperity and stability. Specialists within and outside the region point to political, legislative and judicial institutions whose reform has been incomplete and whose inefficiencies and corruption have fostered growing popular resentment. In addition, for some Latin American states, faltering free-market economies, shaky financial policies and the failure to deliver on social programs have resulted in greater inequities in the distribution of wealth and opportunity. Although the poorest sectors of society bear the greatest burden, the middle classes are increasingly affected and resentful.2

Crime and violence have increased in some Latin American states as a result of difficult economic circumstances, high unemployment and weakened institutions following years of conflicts. Demobilizing military-and insurgent-establishments has increased the number of unemployed, who sometimes turn to crime and banditry. In some areas, drug trafficking remains a seductive income source, as well as a major contributor to criminal and random violence. The police's inability to deal with acute crime has forced some states-Brazil, El Salvador, Guatemala and Mexico-to temporarily use their militaries to deal with criminals. This has raised concerns-well founded or not-about militarization and the emergence of "populist military leaders" who may seize power to ensure order and stability.3

In this late 20th-century environment, where democratic leaders are trying to solve difficult political, economic, social and security issues, some old guerrilla movements are showing signs of life. "Revolutionary" programs include toppling existing regimes, seizing power, redressing enduring national problems and even entering the political process. While at least echoes of old Soviet, Cuban, and Maoist versions of Marxism-Leninism and antiimperialist rhetoric and ideology remain, issues of national or local power and personal or organizational profit are becoming movement motivators. Although communist state support has generally ended, mobilized foreign leftist interest and lobbying have not. Traditional rallies, newsletters, visiting delegations, "peace brigades" and even the Internet-whose real impact is yet to be determined-are ways revolutionaries influence populations and supporters.4

More specifically, Latin America's recent "old guerrilla" activity includes resignation and indifference as well as efforts to win integrated government roles.5 It has also included actions ranging from well-planned surprise strikes against specific targets to preparation for major new campaigns and offensives. For example, in Chile, a faction of the Manuel Rodriguez Patriotic Front (FPMR) executed the stunning December 1996 helicopter escape of four FPMR leaders from a maximum security prison near Santiago. The FPMR action immediately brought the group into the public spotlight again, raised the specter of other impending strikes and introduced a sensitive new issue into Chilean internal politics regarding the current "threat of radical groups."6

Despite being badly damaged by Peruvian security forces throughout the 1990s, both the Tupac Amaru Revolutionary Movement (MRTA) and the larger Maoist Sendero Luminoso (SL), or Shining Path, have sustained themselves with funding from drug trafficking, kidnapping and robbery, as well as with international support. …

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