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Mexican commander suggested martial law to combat drug violence, cable shows

December 3, 2010 |  6:13 pm


As drug-related violence spiraled out of control across several regions of Mexico last year, the commanding general of Mexico's army raised the possibility of invoking martial law in the most severely affected areas, a leaked U.S. diplomatic cable reveals.

Gen. Guillermo Galvan Galvan -- who often appears side-by-side with President Felipe Calderon but rarely makes statements to the public -- made the suggestion to U.S. diplomats as both sides scrambled to come up with new strategies to stop the bloodshed.

Martial law would mean invoking Article 29 of the Mexican Constitution, which could lead to the suspension of "freedom of expression, freedom of press, freedom of assembly, freedom of passage, or some tenets of legal due process," the leaked document says.

But the idea was shot down by the then-interior secretary, Fernando Gomez Mont, because activating Article 29 would require approval of a fractious Congress. "A defeat by Congress of an Article 29 proposal would be seen as a public rejection of Calderon's counternarcotics strategy," the cable says.

The October 2009 cable, published here, was signed by U.S. diplomat John D. Feeley, the No. 2 official at the U.S. Embassy in Mexico, and sent to the U.S. departments of Justice, Labor, Commerce, Treasury and Homeland Security, along with the U.S. military's northern and southern commands. Feeley notes that Mexican officials explained to him that an Article 29 scenario would not be martial law "in the way that you know it," and that Mexico "does not take lightly" its Article 29 options in the face of serious internal conflict.

Mexico's military has been deployed against powerful drug-trafficking organizations since late 2006 in a conflict that has left at least 30,000 people dead. At the time the Article 29 cable was written, at least 11,000 people had died in the violence.

In the same period, human-rights claims against Galvan Galvan's army had skyrocketted.

Feeley's analysis in the cable concludes that martial law would result in "uncertain" benefits and high political costs in Mexico. It had not been used, he noted, even in periods of strife such as the 1968 student movement, the 1985 Mexico City earthquake, the 1990s Zapatista conflict in Chiapas  or the 2006 teachers conflict in Oaxaca.

-- Daniel Hernandez in Mexico City

Photo: Gen. Guillermo Galvan Galvan accompanies Mexican President Felipe Calderon. Credit: Associated Press