Monday, April 13, 2009

U.S. Funded Military Mapping Project in Oaxaca: Fallout Continues

The fallout from the U.S. funded military mapping project continues. Several new articles have been posted on the subject:

U.S. Military Funded Mapping Project in Oaxaca: Geographers used to gather intelligence?

War was God's way of teaching Americans geography," once wrote Ambrose Bierce, an American journalist and social critic. Today, a University of Kansas (KU) professor may be using geography to teach Americans war.

Dr. Jerome Dobson, a geography professor and president of the American Geographical Society (AGS), sent out a one-and-a-half page white paper sometime in late 2004-early 2005 to the Department of Defense and civilian agencies looking for funding to promote a $125 million "academic" project that would send geographers to countries all over the globe to conduct fieldwork.

"The greatest shortfall in foreign intelligence facing the nation is precisely the kind of understanding that geographers gain through field experience, and there's no reason that it has to be classified information," wrote Dobson. "The best and cheapest way the government could get most of this intelligence would be to fund AGS to run a foreign fieldwork grant program covering every nation on earth."

This fieldwork program, named the Bowman Expeditions, was enthusiastically received by Dr. Geoffrey Demarest, a former Lieutenant Colonel and current Latin America specialist at the U.S. Army's Foreign Military Studies Office (FMSO). The FMSO is a research center housed at Fort Leavenworth, about 50 miles down the road from KU. According to its website, FMSO "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." Demarest, a School of the Americas graduate who served multiple assignments in Latin America during his 23-year military career, has written extensively about counterinsurgency and believes mapping and property rights are necessary tools to advance U.S. security strategies, such as with Plan Colombia. He helped secure a $500,000 grant to partially fund México Indígena, the first Bowman Expedition, which until recently has been quietly mapping indigenous lands in Oaxaca, Mexico. Read the rest of the article here....

Mapping Controversy in Oaxaca: Interview with Aldo Gonzalez, Indigenous Rights Officer of UNOSJO

Zapotec leader calls for withdrawal of US military funded mapping project from rural Oaxaca communities, accusing geographers of counter-insurgency activities.

When the Union of Social Organizations of the Sierra Juarez of Oaxaca (UNOSJO) released a press statement last January denouncing the Mexico Indigena / Bowman Expeditions extensive geographical project to produce maps of the “digital human terrain” of Zapotec communities, they had little idea the storm it would create across the globe. Charging the US geographers with lack of full disclosure with regard to the funding received from the US Military Foreign Military Studies Office (FMSO), UNOSJO claimed that the Zapotec participants felt like “they had been the victims of an act of geo-piracy”.

Following sensational headlines in local Oaxaca newspapers, the story was taken up at a national and international level, from Mexico to Moscow to Seoul. Although hardly meriting a mention in the US media, the controversy did however ignite fury in the blogsphere, and on English language listservs and websites. While raising significant questions regarding research ethics and academic collaboration with the military in the US, the crucial issue at hand in Mexico remains US interference in the region, by conducting an intelligence-driven mapping project focusing on both counterinsurgency and bio-piracy. Taking into account the 2006 Uprising in Oaxaca that almost overthrew its incumbent governor as well as the existence of armed insurgent groups in the state, Oaxaca does lend itself as a staging ground for focusing on what the US Foreign Military Studies Office calls “emerging and asymmetric threats”. Read more of the interview here....

The Demarest Factor: The Ethics of U.S. Department of Defense Funding for Academic Research in Mexico

On October 23, 2006 the Lawrence Journal World or LJ World published an article which silently uncovered a funding scandal within Kansas University, in Lawrence, Kansas. In 2005, the university’s department of geography received at least $500,000 in Department of Defense funds to map communally held indigenous land in the states of San Luis Potosi, and in Oaxaca, Mexico.

As a result of this original story, on November 26th, of 2007 published a feature follow up story on the funding scandal titled “The Road to Hell”, which elaborates on the the potential dangers of this type of militarily funded mapping project. Since the publication of this 2007 article, myself and a growing number of community members and students from both sides of the U.S. Mexico border, have engaged in several extensive investigations into the details of this particular research project. Our growing concern has revolved around, academic ethics violations due to improper transparency with communities about the research funding, and serious U.S. Army violations of Mexican sovereignty, and of indigenous autonomy. Our collective research over the last year has resulted in several key pieces of irrefutable evidence, demonstrating both academic ethics violations, and serious violations of Mexican sovereignty and indigenous autonomy.

The Scandal:

Kansas University Geography professors, Peter Herlihy and Jerome Dobson received the funding for their mapping project, named the Bowman Expeditions, from the Foreign Military Studies Office (FMSO) located at the Fort Leavenworth U.S. Army base in Leavenworth, Kansas. The Mexican incarnation of the project is named “Mexico Indigena” and began mapping in 2005 in an indigenous region known as “La Husteca”, which is partially located in the state of San Luis Potosi, and then moved their operation to the state of Oaxaca amidst the statewide popular uprising of the APPO - Oaxacan Peoples’ Popular Assembly, in 2006.

On the 14th of January, 2009, UNOSJO, the Union of Organizations of the Sierra Juárez of Oaxaca, released a communique in which the organization expresses concerns of BioPiracy in the Mexico Indigena mapping project, and claims that communities were deceived, having no idea that a primary funder of the project was the FMSO. UNOSJO cites a clear lack of transparency and additional suspicions of implications related to the US Army’s controversial Human Terrain Mapping System. Indeed there is very compelling evidence that the FMSO is engaging in what they themselves define as “Civil Information Management in Support of Counterinsurgency Operations.” Read more on the scandal here....


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