$500,000 in Department of Defense Funding to Kansas University for Mapping of Communally Held Indigenous Lands in La Huasteca and Oaxaca, Mexico
by Simón Sedillo
November 26th, 2007
$500,000 in Department of Defense funding is being made available to the Department of Geography by the Foreign Military Services Office (FMSO), based out of Fort Leavenworth in Leavenworth County, Kansas. Geography professors Jerome Dobson and Peter Herlihy explicitly acknowledge the security and intelligence ramifications of their project, the Bowman Expeditions, citing the geo-political and cultural effects of the “neo-liberal property regime.” The home of the FMSO, Fort Leavenworth, was the command center of the western front during US expansionism into native lands in the early 1800s as well as the epicenter of the War Departments “control” over native populations after the civil war. Today, the FMSO focuses on emerging and asymmetric threats to the national security of the United States of America, which is a red flag as to their intentions in funding the Bowman Expeditions.
US military intervention in Mexico has seen a steady increase in the last decade, and now is set on a fast track through Plan Mexico, which like Plan Colombia, justifies further military funding for the “war on drugs.” The racist history of colonial rule and territorial occupation continues with a whole new set of conspirators seeking economic gain and academic notoriety. The maps produced by this project are not just of the physical landscape, but rather more intentionally of the cultural resistance to displacement. Through the rhetoric of unbiased science, and geographic exploration, the Bowman expeditions are actively paving in Mexico, the road to hell.
“The Bowman Expeditions”
Quoting from the Lawrence Journal-World in Kansas (LJWorld.com):
• The prototype for the Bowman Expeditions already is under way in the remote regions of Mexico.
• The research is supported by more than $500,000 from the Department of Defense through the Foreign Studies Office at Fort Leavenworth. It involves researchers from KU, Kansas State and institutions in Canada and Mexico.
• The teams are tracing the transfer of property from communal “ejido” lands to private property, a process legalized by a change in the Mexican Constitution in 1992.
• Program Co-Director Peter Herlihy believes the PROCEDE, the Program for Certification of Ejidal Rights and Titling of Urban Patios, has caused a silent revolution. “I would say this is the most significant land tenure change in any Latin American country since colonial times,” he said.
• The researchers have traveled to La Huasteca in the state of San Luis Potosí and Oaxaca. They have taught the residents cartography and used their knowledge to develop maps of the area. Theyre gathering information about property, demographics and who buys and who sells each parcel of land. They share what they gather with the residents, but Herlihy also sees other uses for the information. Much of the ejido land is forested, he said, thus the fate of the land has implications for environmental conservation. And the land changes also affect immigration, he said
• Geoff Demarest, bureau Americas analyst in the Foreign Military Studies Office at Fort Leavenworth, said he hopes to see more projects like the one in Mexico. And a second team is planned to conduct research in the Antilles. “We live in a world where we’re now admitting that the knowledge base upon which the government makes decisions could be improved,” Demarest said.
Quoting the Mexico based project website for the Bowman Expeditions, “Mexico Indigena“, at:
excerpt from July 2006 preliminary report:
• In 2005, University of Kansas geographers Jerome Dobson and Peter Herlihy began an international collaboration with the American Geographical Society, the US Foreign Military Studies Office, and the Mexican Universidad Autnoma de San Luis Potosí (UASLP) to bring together students and faculty from four universities in the U.S., Canada, and Mexico to create a comprehensive national-level geographic information system (GIS) database that focuses on how neoliberal changes in Mexico’s property regime will affect indigenous culture and land use.
• Project PI Jerry Dobson conceived the broad idea of the project because he, like many others, was troubled over US intelligence failures and related conflicts around the globe.
• The prototype research project, called México Indígena, is directed by Co-PI Peter Herlihy, and demonstrates how good old fashioned regional geography can be re-tooled with digital technologies and humanistic methodologies. Dobson’s notion was embraced and supported by the Foreign Military Studies Office (FMSO) in nearby Fort Leavenworth from the start.
• The research team’s two goals were: 1) to develop a prototype for obtaining, interpreting and presenting current geographic information on a country from open source, publicly-available GIS data of all kinds; and 2) to determine, develop, and further research a topic having a significant connection to security and defense issues. Indigenous land tenure and radical neo-liberal property regime changes are the specific topic the project team has explored while constructing a broader GIS of Mexico.
• The project team is clear, on the one hand, that no single template can reflect the differences existing between the research conditions found in one country and those in another. On the other hand, the team believes that their experiences in implementing the first FMSO global GIS place-based field research project can provide useful guidance for structuring future projects, helping insure the success of the broader FMSO program to extend these projects around the globe. It truly is worth the investment!
Dobson claims that he is aware of the implications of the technical advances of his science with regards to what he calls geoslavery, or the abuse of geographic data to control populations, yet he contradicts himself in his own public defense of this science, claiming the need for more geography in the intelligence community. Dobson convinced the Department of Defense to fund the Bowman Expeditions with the intelligence and security implications in mind. As a geographer, Dobson must be very aware of the dangers of this information in the hands of military officials wishing to quell popular resistance to US corporate and political interests in Mexico. Cultural geography, unlike sociology, acknowledges with no objectivity the clear pitfalls of capitalist imperialism, and its detrimental effect on indigenous farm-working communities throughout the global south. If this were just a geographical survey of a cultural phenomenon to aid a community in surviving neo-liberalism intact then we could all applaud Dobson’s efforts, but his funding source exposes a more sinister monster behind his scientific rhetoric.
From the School of the Americas to Forth Leavenworth
This November 16th and 17th, the 18th annual vigil at the School of the Americas at Fort Benning in Columbus, Georgia was held. The SOA, renamed the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation, is infamous for training Latin American militaries in “counter-insurgency tactics.” The School of the Americas Watch (SOAW) has been organizing the vigils for the last 18 years to protest a number of atrocities, which the SOA has been directly linked to, among them the murder of 4 American Catholic nuns, Arch-Bishop Oscar Romero, and 6 Jesuit Priests all in El Salvador. The SOAW website includes declassified copies of training manuals used at the SOA, which include unlawful and immoral counter-insurgency tactics such as rape, kid-napping, disappearance, torture, political and media manipulation, as well as propaganda. Vigil organizers list Argentina – Bolivia – Brazil – Chile – Colombia – El Salvador – Guatemala – Haiti – Honduras – Mexico – Peru – Paraguay and Uruguay as some of the countries, which have SOA graduates. The SOAW links major human rights violations to SOA graduates. Vigil organizers have always insisted that the SOA is not the only school of this sort, and that other military institutions throughout the US and the world may very well be engaged in similar training tactics.
One example is Fort Huachuca, in the state of Arizona. Since 2004, there have been allegations that Fort Huachaca has been linked to the teaching of abuse or torture techniques that were used in Abu Ghraib and elsewhere. In October 2007, two Roman Catholic priests were sentenced to 5 months imprisonment for having knelt in prayer inside the installation after authorities refused to accept a letter from them making a link between Fort Huachaca and torture training. (TortureOnTrial.org)
Though the SOA is most notable for training soldiers from Central and South America, the school has shown a steady increase in Mexican graduates. SOAW.org states: “The sudden rise in Mexican graduates corresponds to the growing movement for economic justice in Mexico. In the first 49 years of the School, Mexico sent very few students 766 totalto be trained at the SOA. That number escalated sharply in 1996 and rose to 333 students in 1997, 1,177 in 1998 and close to 700 in 1999.”
“The School of the Americas is part of a larger project to protect and defend U.S. corporate interests in Mexico at the expense of workers and indigenous peoples. The movement to close the School of the Americas is an important expression of solidarity with the Mexican people.” Eduardo Diaz, Mexican labor leader.
Leavenworth County, Kansas
For 30 years, Fort Leavenworth was the chief base of operations on the Indian frontier. During the Mexican American War, Fort Leavenworth was the outfitting post for the Army of the West. For three decades following the Civil War, Fort Leavenworth was the epicenter of the War departments control of the Native American population.
Today, the Army’s Foreign Military Studies Office (FMSO) is a research and analysis center under the U.S. Army’s Training and Doctrine Command, Deputy Chief of Staff G-2 (Intelligence). FMSO manages and operates the Ft. Leavenworth Joint Reserve Intelligence Center (JRIC) and conducts analytical programs focused on emerging and asymmetric threats, regional military and security developments, and other issues that define evolving operational environments around the world.
In allotting over $500,000 in DOD funding, funneled directly through the Foreign Military Studies Office, to map communally held indigenous lands, it is clear that the DOD is identifying Mexico as a staging ground for emerging and asymmetric threats. What is curious however, is that The Bowman Expedition’s initial focus in the Huasteca, has now shifted to Oaxaca, as opposed to one of the states which have outspoken armed insurgencies taking place, such as Chiapas and Guerrero. The LJ World article states, “The teams are tracing the transfer of property from communal “ejido” lands to private property, a process legalized by a change in the Mexican Constitution in 1992.” The fact is that, in 1992, then Mexican president Carlos Salinas de Gortari broke Mexican federal law by revoking Article 27 of the Mexican constitution. Article 27 established permanent communal (ejido) land grants to Mexico’s 10 million indigenous peoples. These land grants were not reservations, but large parcels of land fought for by the indigenous during the Mexican Revolution of 1910 under the auspices of Emiliano Zapata. Gortari revoked article 27, effectively privatizing these communally held lands in preparation for the necessary structural adjustments imposed by the signing of the North American Free Trade Agreement. In the eyes of the Mexican federal government, as well as Canadian and US officials, these communally held lands had to be privatized in order to allow for “foreign investment” and the deregulation of natural resource exploitation. The rhetoric used by the Mexican program PROCEDE, the Program for Certification of Ejidal Rights and Titling of Urban Patios, to convince indigenous farmers to allow these lands to be privatized, was that now, for the first time, farmers would have a title to their land, and could do with it as they wished. Immediately after the revocation of article 27, several less than silent revolutions began to brew throughout indigenous communities in Mexico. Most notably are the armed uprisings in Chiapas, by the Zapatista National Liberation Army (EZLN) and in Guerrero by the Popular Revolutionary Army (EPR). These two, as well as other armed and unarmed groups, responded to the privatization of communal lands on several grounds.
The granting of land titles was not intended to liberate the land for the people to own and control, but rather to pave a path towards indigenous communities selling their traditional lands and handing them to foreign investors. Before the revocation of article 27 the Mexican federal government would engage more blatantly in the use of military force and state sponsored brutality to displace communities from land wealthy in natural resources or of strategic importance to the US political economy. The signing of NAFTA would put the world’s eyes on Mexico and therefore would require new, and more creative methods of community displacement, land grabbing and natural resource exploitation. First off, with land titles, indigenous farmers who were once bound by their communities to keep and work lands for and by their indigenous peoples, could now be persuaded to sell these lands. Yet privatizations would not be enough to persuade sufficient numbers of farmers to give up their livelihood and traditions. Therefore, a second and more insidiously neo-colonial aspect of PROCEDE is the granting of overlapping land titles to neighboring communities or tribes, which if they were not already feuding over territorial limits, they most certainly would begin to feud now. PROCEDEs exacerbation of existing feuds and the creation of new feuds over territorial limits would not satisfy the need for communally held lands to be made available for foreign investment. This brings us back to the role of the Foreign Military Studies Office at Fort Leavenworth in Leavenworth County, Kansas, and to the School of the Americas at Fort Benning, in Columbus, Georgia. The rhetoric behind the role of the North American Free Trade Agreement was that of democratization, therefore the use of the military to enforce the necessary structural adjustments and land displacements in order to prepare Mexico for its bright new future, as a “developing” nation, would no longer be openly palatable. The role of the Foreign Military Services Office in identifying “emerging and asymmetric” threats in Oaxaca, Mexico is chilling to say the least. Fort Leavenworth has a vast array of knowledge with regards to how neo-liberal changes in Mexico’s property regime will affect indigenous culture and land use. As an outpost for the western expansion into native lands for over thirty years, and as an epicenter for the “control” of the native peoples, the military base must have acquired some knowledge on the political, economic, social, cultural, psychological and spiritual effects of displacing indigenous peoples from their land, by any means.
The Greatest Threat to the Security of the United States of America
There is nothing surprising about the involvement of the Foreign Military Services Office (FMSO) in assessing emerging and asymmetric threats to the United States neo-liberal agenda around the world. However, what is striking here, is what the FMSO qualifies as an emerging or asymmetric threat. In general, asymmetric threats are terrorist groups, or armed insurgent groups, but the FMSO’s extension of the classification of “asymmetric” to “emerging”, encompasses much more than terrorist and armed insurgent groups. The extension of asymmetric to emerging, inherently includes social movements themselves as threats; the Oaxacan Peoples Popular Assembly (APPO), its member communities and organizations being no exception. So what is it that is so threatening about social movements in Oaxaca to the United States? The same thing that was so threatening about Native Americans resisting displacement from their lands by force to meet the needs of the growing white settler population. The popular social movement within the APPO, its communities, and its member organizations is indigenous at its root. Over 3/5 of Oaxaca’s municipalities are governed by traditional indigenous methods of self-governance. These methods of government pre-exist communism, anarchism, socialism, democracy, and any of the other Eurocentric political ideals which dominate the geopolitical landscape of our world today. The traditional forms of government delineated by the indigenous principles of unity and resistance, which were synthesized by the Zapatista National Liberation Army, permeate throughout Mesoamerica, and not just Chiapas.
The Zapatistas presented the world with seven of these principles, and left the notion of them, as a guiding path towards the rediscovery of other “lost” Mesoamerican principles. In June of 2006, at the onset of a popular uprising in Oaxaca, Mexico, the APPO made clear to the world that they too would aspire to these principles as the foundation of their proposed popular assembly, declaring publicly, as the EZLN’s Sub-Comandante Marcos had years earlier, that the APPO would “lead by obeying.”
The greatest threat to the neo-liberal political economy is not terrorism, nor armed insurgency, nor drugs. It has always been and continues to be, grassroots community based organizing for self-sufficiency, self-reliance, self-determination, self-empowerment, and self-defense. In Mexico, as throughout the growing popular movements brewing all over Latin America, this type of organizing can be broken down to just one word: “autogestion.” Autogestion is the greatest threat to neo-liberalism, and its benefits to the American people. When communities whose role within the neo-liberal political economy is that of a slave, a servant or worse yet, a disposable variable, begin to organize for self-sufficiency, self-reliance, self-determination, self-empowerment, and self-defense, that is the greatest threat to the security of the United States of America. In fact it is the only thing that has ever truly been considered a threat.
To have a blatant military response to this type of threat has become less and less workable for the United States, and during the 80s and 90s the US government has exponentially increased strategies for low intensity warfare in order to erode the support base of popular social movements who challenge the neo-liberal political economy. Today, as the US did in Colombia, President Bush is requesting additional anti-narcotics funding for Mexico through “Plan Mexico“, dubbed the “Merida Initiative” to avoid the negative connotations associated with the absolutely unsuccessful Plan Colombia. Again the threat to US corporate interests in Mexico, as in Colombia, are not drugs or drug dealers, but popular resistance to land displacements. In the case of Mexico, the Mexican military becomes the executer of US military operations in Mexico, receiving 80% of its financing and training support directly from the US government. The Mexican military then outsources brutality to the Mexican Federal Preventive Police and the various paramilitary forces found throughout the Mexican territory including, but not limited to, vigilante groups, trained death squads, and militarized civilians carrying out atrocities disguised as agrarian land disputes.
A profoundly depressing part of the story is how many Americans would be “surprised to hear” that this is “still going on.” Worse yet, are the “good intentions” of academics who like to play at sciences without really evaluating the consequences of their research. In 2002, one Oaxacan farmer asked and expressed to me: “Do Americans really think that the peace, comfort, tranquility, and prosperity they enjoy today has come about without grave consequences to the communities whose back, sweat, and blood has been and continues to be used to fuel this machine? Do Americans not realize that their peace, is our terror? And if they did, would they care?”