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Savage Repression in Mexico

The North Carolina Connection

by Michael Steinberg


The massacre of 45 unnamed civilians in Chiapas by paramilitary death squads on December 22, 1997, brought the brutal fury of Mexico's low intensity warfare in southern Mexico to the world's attention. Though local officials were arrested, and the governor of Chiapas and the federal interior minister were forced to resign, does the responsibility for this atrocity extend to the top of the Mexican government, and to the masters they serve?

Does the origin of this strategy of repression lie across Mexico's northern border, at the doorstep of 1600 Pennsylvania in Washington DC, within the bowels of the Pentagon, the torture manuals of the School of the Americas—and inside the counter-insurgency training centers of Fort Bragg, North Carolina?

Laying Bare the Lie

As the low-intensity war in southern Mexico developed since 1994, the US and Mexican governments forged closer military relationships in counter-insurgency, under the guise of anti-drug operations.

In October 1995 William Perry became the first US Secretary of Defense to visit Mexico in modern times. His meeting with his Mexican counterpart, General Enrique Cervantes Aguirre, brought immediate results. "Within months [after Perry's visit], a first group of young Mexican officers were training in anti-drug operations at Fort Bragg, NC", according to a front page story in the New York Times (12/29/97).

Cervantes Aguirre reciprocated by visiting William Perry in Washington in April, 1996. At that time they signed a military aid package to Mexico. The agreement gave $50 million to Mexico for arms and training.

Equipment included 73 Huey helicopters, 4 C-26 reconnaissance planes and 500 armored personnel carriers (bringing Mexico's total to 7000), as well as high tech spy hardware, rifles, grenades and flame throwers.

Military education, according to the Los Angeles Times (1/19/97), "provided for training of Mexican soldiers in counter-narcotics at Fort Bragg."

The January 1996 issue of the Fort Bragg magazine Special Warfare discussed training of Mexican special forces. The report stressed "Grupo Aerotransportado de Fuerzas Especiales (Airborne Group of Special Forces) or GAFE" as an important component of the development of Mexican special forces. It went on to state that, "[a] particularly heavy emphasis is being placed on those forces that will be located in the states of Chiapas and Guerrero, where 'special airborne forces' will be set up."

A September 1997 report to the US Congress by the Executive Office of the President, Office of National Drug Control Policy, stated that "In FY 96, approximately 300 Mexican military personnel completed counterdrug training provided by DoD [Department of Defense]. In FY 97, more than 1500 military personnel will be trained in an expanded counterdrug training program, including courses in . . . Special Forces instruction . . . "

The report also stated that, "Central to the development of Mexico's counterdrug capability is the training of GAFE . . . elite Mexican Army units that have received Special Forces and air assault training for use in counterdrug interdiction operations . . . . Training of GAFE's is scheduled to continue through FY 99."

Notice that the Special Warfare report mentions nothing about anti-drug training, and admits the special emphasis on operations in southern Mexico. Since both US and Mexican authorities concede that Mexican drug activity is concentrated in northern Mexico, this lays bare the lie of US militarization of Mexico in the name of the war on drugs.

If this still isn't clear enough, consider the following. SOAW states that in December '97 the Mexican newspaper La Jornada reported that Lt. Col. Julian Guerreros Barrios, trained in commando operations at the SOA in 1981, "was charged with the murder of Salvador Lopez, one of a dozen young men in Jalisco that were kidnapped and tortured by the Airborne Special Forces Group [GAFE]."

The 12/29/97 New York Times article by Tim Golden reported that "3000 Mexican soldiers . . . are expected to have passed through Defense Department training courses by next fall." Golden also said that, of this number, "328 young officers will have completed special 12- and 13-week programs intended to create a corp of anti-drug specialists." These personnel "are being sent in turn to train air-mobile special forces units" stationed throughout Mexico.

Golden reported as well that the DoD identifies these units as GAFE. He also wrote that "Mexican and US military officials said there was nothing to stop the transfer of American-trained army officers to similar special forces units that might be deployed against leftist insurgents in southern states like Guerrero and Chiapas.

Anything, Anytime, Anywhere

It appears that the majority of US-trained Mexican military personnel in recent years have passed through Ft. Bragg here in North Carolina. Who might be training them?

Fort Bragg in Fayetteville is the headquarters for the US Army's Special Operations Command, specialists in counter-insurgency. Fort Bragg-based special forces are designed to protect the US elite's political and economic interests wherever they are ordered to intervene. Thus they are only too well suited for training the Mexican military in combating insurgents in southern Mexico, those desiring land and freedom, "Tierra y Libertad."

The John F. Kennedy School of Special Warfare at Bragg includes the 1st and 2nd Battalions of the 1st Special Warfare Group. The 1st Battalion's mission, according to its website, is to "Assess, Train, and Qualify US and allied personnel in selected entry-level special operations forces skills . . . ." Instruction includes "special reconnaissance, direct action, unconventional warfare, counter-insurgency," as well as weapons training and air operations.

The 2nd Battalion provides advanced training and "deploys MTTs [Mobile Training Teams] world-wide in support of . . . DoD missions."

Mexican soldiers trained at Fort Bragg can also draw on the vast experiences of the 7th Special Forces Group, experts in low intensity warfare and counter-insurgency.

For Fort Bragg is also headquarters of the 7th Special Forces Group, whose global responsibility and field of action is Latin America.

The 7th's Web page provides its imaginative version of its history. This included "advising the South Vietnamese Army in 1961," as well as being "actively involved in Laos and Thailand" during the US intervention in Southeast Asia.

During the early '80s the unit "drafted the initial plan for US Military trainers in El Salvador" and "played a critical role in helping the Salvadorean military grow . . . to a counter-insurgency force of 55,000 men under arms."

In addition, the 7th SFG "played a very important role in preparing the Honduran Military to resist and defeat an invasion from Nicaragua" and "also assisted the Honduran forces in conducting their own counter-insurgency operations and ultimately defeating the Honduran communist-supported insurgency."

Later in the '80s the 7th "became involved in counter-narcotics operations in the Andean Ridge countries of Venezuela, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru and Bolivia," then " participated in Operation 'Just Cause' to restore democracy in Panama."

But the 7th Special Forces Group isn't content to rest on these laurels. Its official history tells us that, "Today we are continuously engaged in Foreign Internal Defense throughout Central and South America." The history concludes that, "Those who wear the Red Flash of the 7th Special Forces Group continue the proud tradition of 'Lo que sea, Cuando sea, Donde sea.' 'Anything, Anytime, Anywhere.' "

Unfortunately this history seems to be repeating itself, at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, throughout the wartorn indigenous communities of southern Mexico and the secret planning rooms of Washington.


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