Mexican public warming to US military aid in drug war?

Although a broad majority of Mexicans still oppose US troop support to maintain law and order in Mexico, a new survey indicates a growing percentage of the Mexican public support US assistance.

Musadeq Sadeq/AP
U.S. soldiers board a U.S. military aircraft as they leave Afghanistan, at the U.S. base in Bagram, north of Kabul, July 14.

Since the days of the Mexican-American War, US intentions south of the border are regarded with the highest degrees of suspicion. Today, as Mexico struggles under a barrage of violence related to drug trafficking, the idea of American military assistance is anathema to the public.

But that might be starting to change. A majority still opposes such a scenario. But according to a Pew Research Center’s Global Attitudes Project survey released Wednesday, that opposition is shrinking. Of Mexicans surveyed, 38 percent favor US troop help today, up from 26 percent in 2010.

Seventy-four percent say they welcome US help to train police and the military, and 64 percent support more money and weapons for Mexican authorities.

Those changing views have not registered among politicians in Mexico, where the US stepping too hard is always an opportunity to appeal to the electorate.

Case and point is the brouhaha unleashed after the New York Times published an article in early August about US intelligence officers operating south of the border to help combat traffickers with the cooperation of the government.

Mexican opposition Senator Ricardo Monreal Avila put it bluntly to the local press: "Since the days of Santa Anna we have not had such a sell-out and unpatriotic government,” he said. Illegal, unacceptable, a violation of the constitution – the accusations went on.

Mexican President Felipe Calderon faced tough questions from his opponents after the piece was published, but one theme always binds the ruling party to the rest of Mexico: pointing a finger at the US for its role in Mexican violence, because of its guns industry and insatiable appetite for illegal drugs.

Most recently that sentiment was expressed by President Calderon in the wake of the casino fire that tragically killed 52 people in the industrial city of Monterrey.

Sitting next to the world's biggest drug consumer and biggest global arms vendor, he said, is part of the tragedy that Mexico is living. "You, too, are responsible," Calderon said of the US, upon calling for three days of national mourning in Mexico.

They are words he uses often, but even they might be less appealing these days, according to the new Pew research, based on 800 face-to-face interviews between March 22 and April 7. Today Mexicans are placing equal blame on both countries for violence here (61 percent of Mexicans blame both nations, up from 51 percent in 2009 and 2010). Eighteen percent of those surveyed said the US is mostly to blame, compared to 16 percent faulting Mexico. Last year that gap was much bigger (27 percent versus 14 percent).

Mexicans have grown weary of the mounting death toll in their nation. Less than half say the government is making progress, but calls to take the military off the streets are unlikely to go very far. An overwhelming majority continues to support the use of the army (83 percent).

And while reports of Mexicans fleeing to the US to escape violence are increasingly circulated, those surveyed do not think life is better in the US – only 44 percent hold that view, down from 57 percent in 2009. Sixty-one percent say they would not move to the US if they had the means. The margin of sampling error is 4.5 percentage points.

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