Atenco’s “Operation Rescue” Planned by PFP and Approved by Fox, Following Established “Dirty War” Tactics
Radio and TV Anchors, Consciously or Not, Were Part of the Psychological War Used to Justify the Paramilitary Action of May 4
By Carlos Fazio
May 21, 2006
On May 4, the federal government ordered a psychological operation to be carried out in the community of San Salvador Atenco. The so-called Operation Rescue was designed and planned in advance by anti-subversive experts belonging to the Preventive Federal Police (PFP), with support from operatives of the Center of Investigation and National Security (Cisen) and the Security Agency of the State of Mexico (ASE). Given the scope of the Operation and the country’s political moment – the final phase of an electoral race marked by “hate campaigns” and a dirty media war – the paramilitary operation, under police cover, must have not only been undertaken in consultation with the National Security cabinet of President Vicente Fox, but also approved by him.
Strictly speaking it was a surgical military operation, preceded by a brief, but effective, saturating propaganda campaign. Its main objectives were to gain “control” of a community in the hands of a group of social and political dissidents and behead the People’s Front in Defense of the Land (FPDT), whose members were dubbed “delinquents,” “subversives” and linked to “organized crime” by the commanders of the military action.
The May 4 incursion into Atenco, amid the quick and violent encirclement by PFP Special Forces, who were in turn backed by state police, is best described by what in military jargon is known simply as “population control.” This kind of Operation, based on the “Lacheroy Doctrine” – named after Colonel Charles Lacheroy, who coined it in the Battle of Algiers after the French defeat in Dien Bien Phu – is characteristic of an anti-subversive, psychological war; an irregular form of war (that is, non-conventional), which combines intelligence work, civic action, propaganda and control of the masses within a specific territory.
The events of May 4 were preceded the day before by a bloody scuffle between rebelling campesinos and elements of the security forces. On the surface, it would seem that the violent confrontation derived from a “minor” incident: the expulsion of eight flower vendors from a market in the municipality of Texcoco. But taking into account recommendations made by a manual on “special” (or “psychological”) operations used by the National Defense Department (Sedena, in its Spanish abbreviation), a review of events in the “Battle of Atenco” suggests that the rebellion of the Atenquenses might have been “induced.”
One of the basic components of “psychological war” is propaganda, which has the objective of “winning over the hearts and minds” of the population. Propaganda seeks to exploit the “vulnerabilities” of human beings (fear, insecurity, rage, nostalgia, anxiety) and “influence the opinions, emotions, attitudes and behavior of friendly, enemy and neutral groups, with the goal of achieving national interests or objectives,” according to the manual.
Propaganda is channeled through the mass media, especially radio and television, and the “objectives” or “targets” of this psychological war are basically to reinforce the support of “friendly” social groups, discredit and debilitate “enemies” and elicit the sympathy of “neutrals.” In this phase, by through the so-called psychology of motivation, propaganda seeks to make individuals react in three different ways: aggression, conformity, and resignation or apathy.
If the events of May 3 are analyzed carefully, step by step, we can see that a “minor” disruption in a market of Texcoco, which should have been resolved through dialogue and negotiation, was followed by an unmitigated deployment of force from all three levels of government (municipal, state and federal) in San Salvador Atenco to “reopen” a highway that had been blockaded.
The police action unleashed the fury of the Atequenses, who repelled the cops with sticks, stones, Molotov cocktails and machetes. Reporters from the major radio and television stations were already covering the “scene,” transmitting events “live” and “directly.” Along with the disorganized retreat of preventive and state police, the images and comments of the radio and TV reporters focused on the brutal beating of a defenseless policeman lying on the ground by a small group of farmers.
As the hours passed, and within the context of the brutal paramilitary reprisal by the forces of law and order (May 4), the image of the “half-dead policeman strewn on the ground receiving a criminal kick to the balls,” as Ciro Gómez Leyva put it – with emphasis shared by his colleague, Carmen Aristegui, who preferred to use “testicles” – was a key element in “fixing” public opinion to believe that the Atequenses were a “small violent group,” “subversives” comprised of “irrational” “barbarians,” who should be subject to the “full weight of the law.”
Counterinsurgency manuals note, “To achieve persuasion, all psychological action should build on the cumulative power of repetition” (similar to commercial advertisements). And so the ad nauseam repetition of the “half-dead” policeman (much like the image of the planes crashing into the twin towers in New York on 9/11/01), persuaded and provoked the influence and/or compulsive incitement of “friendly” anchors and editorialists, who either consciously or subconsciously joined the counterinsurgency propaganda campaign and made “spontaneous” calls for the “heavy hand” of the law to come down on the enemies of the regime.
“Radio,” says the manual, “has all the emotive power of the spoken word.” The manual also makes reference to the “voices of personalities that are implicitly trusted” – think here, for instance, of the radio “reporter” Joaquín López Dóriga. “Expert radio propagandists,” it continues, “exert tremendous amount of influence on the emotions of their listeners simply through the tone, resonance, inflection and articulation of their voice.” (The same, obviously, could be said about anchors of the television news.)
Another factor that aggravated events, and which helped “confabulate” reality, was the use of rumor, a basic element of “black propaganda,” which is common to covert operations. A manual from Sedena reads, “Rumor is information, whose authenticity is doubtful and whose origin cannot be traced.” It adds, “Rumors generally cause demoralizing hysteria and panics.” Such was the case with the rumor of “one” or “two” dead policeman that was parroted as (unverified) “news” by the mass media (May 3). It helped generate a climate of hysteria and panic by manipulating the emotions (that is, exploiting hate and fear) of the general public, thereby paving the way – in terms of public opinion – for the brutal repression that came the following day
Vice-admiral Wilfrido Robledo, chief of the ASE and one of the commanders of the counterinsurgency action, said that one of the key objectives was to “recover control over the people,” who he said were in the hands of a group of “kidnappers” and “murderers” that had ties to “organized crime.” The “subversion” hypothesis, amplified over several days by the mass media, sought to put the victims of the repression squarely within the scope of the Federal Law on Organized Crime, which says: “It is considered an offense of organized crime when three or more people agree to organize in order to permanently or repeatedly carry out crimes of terrorism, falsification or alteration of currency, stockpiling or trafficking arms, trafficking the undocumented, organs trafficking, assault, kidnapping, trafficking of minors and car theft.”
But beyond the partisan and Manichean use of this law as a new repressive instrument for the state to resolve social conflicts by criminalizing them, the Atenco operation was also meant to teach it a lesson, to paralyze Atenco by generating fear and terror within the “target” population of the repressive government action. Using these means, the government is seeking to inhibit or dissuade the struggle of the FPDT and similar groups in the rest of the country. This explains why the hapless victims of the violence were repressed with such fury and why security forces resorted to torture and physical and sexual abuse against women and men that were already subdued as prisoners.
The security forces also employed other complementary tactics: the use of hoods during interrogations; torture and ridicule of the detained; the use of spies, agent provocateurs and informants; violent home-to-home searches by armed, uniformed officers; and the destruction of homes, looted of items taken as war booty. Add to all this, as described above, the use of the media to churn out the propaganda by harmonizing the message (gleichschaltung), the technique employed by Joseph Goebbels in Nazi Germany to maintain the compulsive and standardized alignment of the population. That is, the operation combined components of the French school, employed by Colonel Massu and his paratroopers during the Battle of Algiers in the Casbah (the Arab neighborhood). These same components were then imported to Latin America during the “dirty wars” of the 1970s, the years of state terrorism and Operation Condor, as the repressive and genocidal alliance of dictatorships was known in the Southern Cone.
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