Shannon K. O'Neil

Latin America's Moment

O'Neil analyzes developments in Latin America and U.S. relations in the region.

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Evolving Views on Mexico’s War on Drugs

by Shannon K. O'Neil
June 28, 2011

Supporter of the peace caravan led by Mexican poet Sicilia holds a banner during a rally (Courtesy Reuters).

The U.S.-Mexico Interparliamentary Group convened in DC a couple of weeks ago, an annual meeting of senators and deputies from both sides of the border. Mexican political heavyweights, including Manlio Fabio Beltrones and Francisco Rojas of the PRI, José González Morfín and Josefina Vázquez Mota of the PAN, and Carlos Navarrete and Armando Ríos Piter of the PRD attended, matched on the U.S. side by Senators Tom Udall (D-NM), Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-TX), Bob Menendez (D-NJ), and Representative Connie Mack (R-FL) among others. While topics ranged from immigration to border issues, the main concern for all was security.

Even as the politicians talked of mutual trust and cooperation, Mexico’s fight against drug traffickers is being increasingly questioned on both sides of the border. In Mexico, several politicians – mostly from the PRI– have denounced Calderón’s approach. They dispute the focus of the government’s war, criticize its constitutionality, and challenge the recent track record on impunity, corruption, and economic opportunity.

Independent columnists and analysts too are increasingly vocal.  For instance, Eduardo Guerrero of Lantia Consultores argues for a revised focus on crime rather than drugs. He calls for a new strategic framework that targets the most egregious violence and uses force largely to contain groups and erode their structures over time — an anti-crime strategy used in the United States.  Ordinary citizens in Mexico have begun to agitate against the government’s strategy – most vocally those following Javier Sicilia, a poet who took on the anti-violence cause after his son and friends were executed by cartel thugs last year. He first led thousands of Mexicans in a march of silence from Cuernavaca to Mexico City, then marched north to the border and violence-stricken Ciudad Juárez. Last week he and others from his group met with President Calderón, who apologized for not having done enough to protect the innocent, but also vowed to continue fighting organized crime.

In many ways the rising criticism is to be expected. Violence has escalated in the last few years, and spread (though is still concentrated in some 10 percent of Mexico’s municipalities). It has also hit average Mexicans more – as organized criminals expand their operations from running drugs into kidnapping, robbery, extortion, and the like. Mexico now is second only to Venezuela in the number of kidnappings in the world – and has over three times as many kidnappings per 100,000 inhabitants as Colombia did during its most violent period. In short, the current strategy has not made the average citizen feel safer on a day to day basis. These critiques also reflect the electoral calendar. Mexico is beginning the ramp up to the 2012 Presidential election, and security is, according to most polls, the number one issue. It is also the issue on which the President has staked his administration, and to which he returns in the vast majority of his speeches and appearances.

What may be a bit more surprising is the escalating critiques to the north, and of the U.S. role in combating this insecurity. Two recent Congressional reports lambast the handling of guns flowing south, while another questions the nature and accountability of counternarcotics spending more generally. Recent testimonies by Alan Bersin and  Charles Edwards before the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee reveal  worries about spreading corruption on the northern side of the border, while others debate the extent (and even reality) of “spillover violence.”

Viewed as a whole, the increasing political skepticism (combined with pressures to cut budgets in the U.S. congress) bodes a much heavier lift for continued and deepening cooperation. As both countries go into Presidential elections, these critiques will likely only increase. Much of this questioning is important. All these policies will have long term ramifications for both Mexico and the United States, and as such should be analyzed and debated. But the trick will be to keep these necessary discussions from derailing the relationship and eroding the trust that the two countries built over the past four years, taking us all back to square one.

Post a Comment 3 Comments

  • Posted by malcolm kyle

    When we legally regulate something, (as opposed to when we foolishly attempt to prohibit something) we do NOT automatically condone it’s use; the legal regulations concerning the sale and manufacture of alcohol and tobacco are there to protect us from the vast increase in criminality and mayhem that would otherwise surely exist if we were foolish enough to prohibit them.

    Nicotine is the biggest killer of all known drugs, but it’s sale is legally regulated. Now why is that? Alcohol Prohibition in the United States made cigarette smoking a national habit. High on the evangelicals’ hit list, second only to alcohol as a substance that had to be prohibited. In 1921, cigarettes were illegal in fourteen states, and anti-cigarette bills were pending in twenty-eight others. The prohibition of cigarettes, promoted by the very people who gave us the prohibition of alcohol, made cigarette smoking almost irresistible. As the experiment of Prohibition failed, the anti-cigarette laws fell. By 1930, they were legal almost everywhere; during Prohibition, the consumption of tobacco had nearly tripled.

    An important aspect of Individual freedom is the right to self-medicate, or to do with yourself as you please as long as your actions cause no unnecessary suffering or direct harm to others. Some among us may disagree with this, and they should be free to believe what they wish. But the moment they are willing to use force (paid for with our own hard-earned taxes) to impose their will on the rest of us, is the exact same moment that the petty criminals/dealers, the Mafia, drug barons, terrorists and corrupt government officials/agencies enter the equation. The problems created by any possible self-harm then rapidly pale into insignificance as society spirals downwards into a dark abyss, while the most shady characters and black-market corporate entities exponentially enrich themselves in a feeding frenzy likened to that of piranhas on ‘prohibition engendered’ bath-tub meth.

    Every-time the ghastly consequences of prohibition are falsely blamed on the users, it diminishes the culpability of those who are truly responsible for maintaining the status quo. Prohibition is an absolute scourge -the end! The use of drugs is NOT the real problem, the system that grants exclusive distribution rights to violent cartels and terrorists IS.

    When governments prohibit drugs they effectively and knowingly hand a monopoly on their sale to dangerous criminals and terrorists. Without a legal framework in which to operate, these black-market entities can always be expected to settle their disputes violently, while terrorizing many peaceful and innocent citizens in the process. Were the users of alcohol to blame for the St Valentines massacre in 1929? Of course not! It is just as naive to assume that one can compel all the users of Marijuana or Cocaine to simply quit, as it is to assume that all the users of Alcohol should have stopped drinking after the introduction of alcohol prohibition in 1919.

    Nobody can be expected to obey bad laws, like ones that infringe on logic as well as the fundamental right to decide on what medicine or poison an individual adult may, or may not, ingest. The corruption, violence and death ultimately arising from such bad public policy should always rest squarely on the shoulders of those ignorant imbeciles who are responsible for implementing and supporting such foolishness.

    Prohibition is nothing less than a grotesque dystopian nightmare; if you support it you must be either ignorant, stupid, brainwashed, insane or corrupt.

    “The greater the number of laws, the more corrupt the republic.” Tacitus

  • Posted by Harry

    Who buys all the dope shipped up through Mexico? American dope-heads. Who arms the Mexican drug cartels to the teeth? American gun dealers. I don’t see any “Mexican drug problem.” I see an American drug problem. I also see war-profiteering from a phony-baloney “War on Drugs.” Harry Truman regarded war profiteers as traitors, and so do I.

  • Posted by Jose Raul Soto

    The trade of choice for some of the elite criminal groups that support Cd. Juarez actual mayor, who is in his second non-consecutive three year term,there’s evidence indicating trade of human organs, these conclusion is a product of knowledge of the individuals and their fields of expertise, and of observations along the last ten to twenty years. That is not to say there’s also the share from the drug trade cartels protection, “no se puede tapar el sol con un dedo.”

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