MEXICO CITY– In the last week, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu made Israeli political history by being the first sitting prime minister to visit Latin America, traveling to Argentina, Colombia and Mexico during his brief tour. While his first two stops largely focused on his attempts to garner international support for his crusade against Iran, Netanyahu’s visit to Mexico, which ended Friday, had a different focus – trade and development.
Speaking at a joint news conference with Netanyahu, the increasingly unpopular Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto announced that the two nations had agreed to update their free trade agreement, which was first signed in 2000.
“We have agreed to establish and begin the..negotiations to look over this agreement so that the commercial relationship between both nations intensifies and grows,” he stated.
Netanyahu was accompanied by several Israeli businessmen in his visit to Mexico, underscoring his visit’s overarching themes of increased trade and investment. Around 150 Israeli firms currently operate in Mexico and plans are now underway to further expand their economic cooperation.
In addition, Netanyahu apparently made an offer to Mexico whereby Israel would assist them and the United States in “developing” Central America, an offer Peña Nieto eagerly accepted. Israel’s promise, however, has aroused the specter of “nation-building” while also hinting at the Mexican government’s interest in increasing the country’s militarization and quelling domestic dissent.
Pena Nieto says Mexico has accepted an offer from Israel, a top military supplier, to help develop CentAm. Sign of deepening militarization?
— Gabriel Stargardter (@gabstargardter) September 14, 2017
More Israeli arms in Mexico’s hands
While the exact nature of the development”Israel has offered to Mexico is still unclear, history suggests that it will lead to increased weapon sales from Israel to Mexico, as well as aid in Mexico’s march toward becoming a police state.
Since the early 1970s, Israel has supplied Mexico with arms, an arrangement that started out relatively small but escalated dramatically in the decades that followed, particularly after the two nations signed their free trade agreement in 2000. Since then, Israel has sold millions of dollars worth of weapons to Mexico, with many of them being second-hand and “field-tested” Israel Defense Force weapons.
Several Israeli firms have won Mexican government contracts for domestic surveillance and drones to protect “sensitive installations” and to patrol Mexico’s southern border.
With Mexico’s government currently on a weapon ‘buying binge,’ it seems likely that Israel – one of the world’s top weapons exporters – has offered to help develop Mexico by increasing its sale of armaments to the Mexican military.
Israel’s relationship with Mexico has also been crucial to the Mexican government’s decades-long effort to crush domestic dissent, particularly the left-wing Zapatista movement in southern Mexico.
In 1994, Mexico brought in Israeli personnel to help Mexican state police crush that year’s Zapatista uprising in Chiapas Province, an uprising which coincided with the signing of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). Officially, Israeli provided training to Mexican military and police forces during the time.
Several of those soldiers and policemen trained by Israel went on to create “Los Zetas,” currently Mexico’s most powerful and violent drug cartel.
Israeli spy software used to spy on domestic dissidents
In addition, Israeli cyber-tech firms have also aided in the Mexican government’s efforts to quash domestic dissent by giving the state powerful surveillance tools that it has used against journalists and activists.
For instance, in June, the Mexican government was found to have deployed software purchased from Israel’s NSO group in order to spy on journalists, human rights advocates and anti-corruption activists as they sought to uncover and expose cases of crime, corruption and abuses of authority.
The NSO group only sells its products to governments — thus, the spying is believed to have been state-sponsored, despite Peña Nieto denying that the software was used to spy on dissidents and journalists. However, Peña Nieto admitted that his government did purchase the software from Israel.
While most of the “aid” Israel plans to offer Mexico is likely to be militaristic in nature, Israel’s role in the privatization of certain Mexican utilities, particularly water, may also come into play. In 2013, the Mexican government signed a lucrative $5.7-million-dollar contract with the Israeli water company Mekorot, which would focus on “rehabilitating” Mexico’s water resources. The contract was mediated by Natan Eshel, a former chief of staff under Netanyahu, who collected between 5 to 8 percent of the contract’s total worth.
The deal followed a 2013 visit by former Israeli Prime Minister Shimon Peres, who brought along a business delegation of Israeli company representatives from the fields of security, technology, communication, water, and energy, among others. Given that Netanyahu’s own visit was accompanied by a sizable business delegation, lucrative privatization contracts are also highly likely to be included in Israel’s plan to “develop” Mexico.
Top photo | Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, left, and Mexico’s President Enrique Pena Nieto address the media during a joint statement at the Los Pinos presidential residence in Mexico City, Thursday Sept. 14, 2017. Netanyahu is wrapping-up in Mexico his Latin America trip that included also Argentina and Colombia.(AP Photo/Eduardo Verdugo)
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