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PORTSIDE  May 2012, Week 3

PORTSIDE May 2012, Week 3

Subject:

The Politics of the Drug War in Mexico

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Date:

Mon, 21 May 2012 21:52:29 -0400

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The Politics of the Drug War in Mexico

by Laura Carlsen, Americas Program

Posted on: 16/04/2012 

http://www.cipamericas.org/archives/6743

The starting bell rang for the Mexican presidential
campaigns on March 30, and the candidates are out of
the gates. As the nation faces an unprecedented crisis
in levels of violence and lawlessness, one of the big
issues is who will have to take the blame for the
disastrous war on drugs.

More than 50,000 men, women and children have been
killed in violence related to the drug war since
December of 2006. That was when President Felipe
Calderon made the now deeply regrettable decision to
launch thousands of army troops into the streets to
confront drug cartels.

Almost no one believes the drug war has been a success.
In one recent poll, 53% of Mexicans surveyed said that
organized crime was winning the war. Their perception
is born out by statistics. The same poll, by Consulta
Mitofsky and Mexicans United Against Crime, reported
that in the five years since the drug war began
(2006-2011) crimes have increased 15%, with homicides
up 88%, kidnappings 81%, and extortion 46%. According
to the US drug report, between 2004-2008, heroin
production increased 340% in Mexico.

Gender-based violence has also risen dramatically. In
the northern border state of Chihuahua, where Ciudad
Juarez--already infamous for its femicide rate--is
located, assassinations of women rose 1,000% between
2007 and 2010. Chihuahua was one of the first places
that the federal government organized a major military
operation in the drug war and it continues to have
heavy military presence. Yet, far from being safe, its
citizens live in fear. In addition to assassinations,
hundreds of people have been 'disappeared' and tens of
thousands have fled their homes.

The law-and-order strategy of focusing on supply
enforcement and interdiction in the drug war, rather
than a demand-side social or health approach has also
had a terrible impact on eroding legal institutions in
Mexico. According to government statistics, only 20% of
crimes are investigated, only 9% go to trial and only
1% result in punishment. One percent. Incidents of
corruption among police, judges, prosecutors and other
public officials are commonplace. There has been an 83%
rise in human rights complaints 2006-2011; complaints
against the Army make up 45% of the total, with the
increase in complaints about the army rising ninefold
since the drug war. Torture, rape, murder, illegal
detention and disappearances are the most serious of
the many complaints filed.

Although the Obama administration worried again about
"spillover" violence coming across its border at the
April 2 North American Summit, it is clear that U.S.
policies are largely to blame for the current mess.
Plans for regional cooperation under a model of
expanding U.S. security priorities, including drug
prohibition, to Mexico began under the Security and
Prosperity Partnership in 2005 and developed into the
Merida Initiative under George W. Bush in 2007. The
security aid package for "Counter-Terrorism,
Counter-Narcotics and Border Security" included
millions of dollars in military equipment and training
to fight the drug war. Calderon had already sent more
than 45,000 soldiers into the streets of Mexico for
crime fighting and the Merida Initiative consolidated
politically and economically the strategy of
military/police confrontation.

It is U.S. demand for drugs, estimated at tens of
billions of dollars a year, that creates and sustains
the business, and its failed prohibition policies that
deliver that business into the hands of organized
crime. It is the U.S. arms industry that arms the hit
men, through legal and illegal sales and aid. It is
U.S. corruption and crime that allows for the money and
drugs to flow within the U.S. and over the border. And
it is the lobbying power of U.S. defense contractors
and private security firms that keeps the Merida
Initiative funded year after year by Congress. In times
of budget constraints, the Merida Initiative has now
inexplicably been funded well beyond the original
three-year extension proposed by the Bush
administration.

Experts and analysts are still trying to explain the
obvious but paradoxical correlation between a strategy
ostensibly aimed at cracking down on the cartels and
the chaos that has resulted. Even President Obama, a
staunch ally of Calderon's in the drug war, has noted
publicly that the cartels are stronger than ever. The
violence has resulted from turf wars between rival drug
cartels--often caused by a government strike against
one, battles between the armed forces and cartels, and
the splintering of cartels when their leaders are
killed by the government or arrested. Many of those
splinter groups are the most violent and ruthless
cartels of all.

Even the head of the U.S. Northern Command, Gen.
Charles Jacoby told a Senate committee in March that
the strategy of killing drug lords was not working.
This is something that Mexican researchers have been
documenting for some time, with charts that show a
clear relationship between the murder or arrest of a
local drug lord and an explosion of violence in that
city.

Besides the booming economy of war, the drug war
strategy serves interests of social control. When the
nation is militarized in the name of the drug war, the
government can and does intimidate and often do worse
to dissidents. Human rights defenders, indigenous
people seeking to protect their land and natural
resources from incursions of companies, and youth in
general are particular targets of military occupation,
killings and repression.

It's clear why the drug war has become a political
liability. It has tainted the prospects for Calderon's
would-be successor, candidate Josefina Vazquez Mota of
the National Action Party; she has endorsed the
militarized strategy but sought to change the tone as
she trails in the polls. Enrique Pena Nieto, from the
PRI, the party which ruled Mexico with an iron fist for
seven decades until being unseated from the presidency
in 2000, has also endorsed the strategy yet there is
some sense that his advantage going into the campaigns
is in part owing to a desire among many Mexicans to
return to a time when it seemed that the ruling party
had secret agreements with cartels to avoid rivalries
and violence by giving everyone, not least of all
government officials, a piece of the pie.

The only candidate to promise a change of strategy is
the center-left coalition candidate, Andres Manuel
Lopez Obrador. He has said he would change the strategy
and put the emphasis on tackling the social roots of
crime and violence.

This is one of the tragedies of the drug war. With
violence capturing headlines, the more than half the
population that says that economic issues are of most
concern to them has been left out in the cold. Mexico
felt the U.S. recession hard and has been slow to
recover, and now could be facing the consequences of
another global recession. The number of poor people has
increased by five million during this administration.
The North American Summit announcements said that the
three partners in the North American Free Trade
Agreement would continue to reduce trade barriers and
failed to note the negative effects of the agreement on
their countries' most vulnerable populations.

More and more Mexican migrants are returning
home--because of record numbers of deportations in the
US and because the high rate of unemployment means
they're out of work. They come back to communities with
no jobs, and in many cases suffering culture shock
after decades in the United States.

Stories like theirs don't make the news like a gory
beheading does. But as elections loom, the rise in
poverty and the abandonment of the poor-with the nation
pouring billions into security to fight criminals who
find it easy to recruit fresh ranks among hapless
youth--could and should be issues of primary concern.

Laura Carlsen is the director of the Americas Program
of the Center for International Policy. She is based in
Mexico City and has written extensively on security and
human rights issues.

___________________________________________

Portside aims to provide material of interest to people
on the left that will help them to interpret the world
and to change it.

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