Diario Judío México - As in the United States, the Mexican campaign season for president is now in full swing.
One of the main issues being debated by the current crop of presidential hopefuls prior to Mexico’s July, 2012 presidential elections is whether or not the current policy of fighting the drug cartels is sustainable.
President Felipe Calderon and his party, the Party for National Action (PAN) are being attacked by the Revolutionary Institutional Party (PRI) and by the Democratic Revolutionary Party (PRD) because of Calderon’s heavy hand on the drug cartels. The PRI has openly stated that if elected it will seek some sort of accommodation with the drug cartels.
This kind of rhetoric is not merely political demagoguery but stems from a large amount of public discontent with Calderon’s war on the cartels. There is a sense among large sectors of the population who argue that if it weren’t for the war on drugs there would not have been such large numbers of victims. So far, 40,000 people have died since early 2006.
What is worse, many in Mexico believe that the war on drugs is not a Mexican problem but an American problem. They can understand why Americans are concerned but believe the U.S. is at the root of the problem since that is where the demand for narcotics comes from. The belief is that since Mexico is only a distributor (and even the producer of some drugs), and if the demand were not there, their way of life would not be disturbed.
The questioning of the war on drugs in Mexico is, indeed, highly problematic. Two additional arguments are being brought in this context. The first is that the war on drugs causes the violence and without it, there would be less violence and perhaps Mexicans could live a more peaceful life. The second argument is that legalization of drugs might put an end to criminal activities, make the drug business a business like any other one, and thus violence will vanish as a result of this decriminalization of the trade. Such legalization, according to this line of thinking, might bring about economic growth from which Mexican citizens could significantly benefit.
All these arguments, however, are dangerous illusions.
First, as Scott Stewart from STRATFORD has pointed out, the Mexican cartels’ violence is not directed explicitly against the government or explicitly against civilians. That was, indeed, the case of the Colombian cartels in the peak of their success in the 1980’s and 90’s. Most of the current violence in Mexico is the result of the conflict between cartels competing for markets or for the control of routes. Many of the casualties, including innocent civilians, result from the suspicion that certain groups or individuals are working for a competing cartel. Thus, Stewart rightly concludes that even if the government or the military were to ease up on the drug cartels, the violence would still continue.
In addition, it is important to point out that Mexican drug cartels have been able to bribe and co-opt governors, judges, politicians, police and other important government institutions of law and order. Often war between cartels takes the form of war between men in uniform who supposedly are in charge of exercising law enforcement but instead they have been hired as operatives of one or another cartel. This is what ultimately prompted the Mexican government to call the military to intervene.
Examples of these cases are multiple but most recently the Mexican public witnessed the testimony of Oscar Garcia, a captured high ranking member of a cartel who admitted, without regret or shame, killing 300 people with his own hands (he used to sadistically decapitate his victims with a knife) and ordered the death of another 300 people. This man- who confessed not without amusement that he was born to kill- began his career in the police and even served in the military.
The naïve belief that drug cartels apply violence as a result of the war against drugs and that the problem is an American and not a Mexican problem finds its contradiction in a handful of examples like this. Mexicans have to ask themselves how the actions of the cartels such as bribing policemen and recruiting professional killers affect their daily lives and the moral fabric of their society. They also have to question the cartel’s manipulation of law and order and how this affects their safety and quality of life. The argument brought by irresponsible politicians and by naive civilians about the inconvenience of the war on drugs can cost the country more than what they even imagine.
The presence of drug lords could negatively affect the culture and the productivity of the Mexican people. Nothing is more illustrative of this than Gustavo Bolivar’s novel “Without Breast There is no Paradise” (Sin Senos No Hay Paraiso). The novel, based on a true story, features an attractive young Colombian girl who, in her effort to escape poverty and need, seeks to have breast implants in order to attract a rich drug lord. She, like many of her friends, expects that through becoming a prostitute for the drug dealers, she could live a comfortable life free of worries. Her life ends in a tragedy but on her way to achieve the drug lord’s acceptance, she finds only corrupt and vicious people whose behavior and values are different than those learned when she was raised under her mother’s care. This includes the cartel-connected doctor that performs the breast operation; her best friend who recruits her for prostitution and betrays her over ambition; and the drug lord she loves who orders her assassination when she says something inappropriate. The young woman’s brother also joins the cartels as a paid killer and his life ends up in a tragedy, too. If economic growth means the continuous perversion of the moral and cultural fabric of society, this is definitely not in the interests of Mexicans.
In other words, if Mexicans believe that they can benefit from the cartels mass production and continue living normal lives, they ignore the social and cultural effects that a “narcocracy” can have in their lives and the lives of their children.
Then, we have the issue of the legalization of drugs. Can the legalization of drugs really eliminate the illegal activities of the drug cartels?
Without entering into the whole argument as to why drugs are not healthy for people and for society as a whole, it is also important to stress additional elements. As Stewart points out, drug cartels are not just merely distributing and selling high quantities of drugs. Drug cartels are now involved in activities such as kidnapping, extortion, oil theft, human trafficking as well as and music and video piracy. Drug cartels are connected and cooperate with guerrilla groups and terrorist groups such as the FARC, Hezbollah and other armed gangs such as the Zetas, Mara Salvatrucha and others. Terrorist groups like this other type of illegal business follow a different logic and seek different goals. The wealth of the drug cartels and their geographical control strengthens them and gives them life. Legalizing drugs will not solve this problem.
Thus, the decriminalization of activities does not automatically lead to the rehabilitation of criminals. How exactly can the legalization of drugs stop the monster that has been created in the last several years and what kind of incentives are there in place to do so? How is it possible to stop this multiple criminal orgy without the war on drugs and plans such as the Merida Initiative and Plan Colombia? Plan Colombia has already proved its effectiveness way above and beyond expectations. The Merida Initiative has helped the Mexican government dismantle several drug cartels and capture key leaders. Plan Colombia led to what I have already called “The Colombian Miracle”. When we refer to the German miracle we refer to the economic recovery of a nation that evolved from total destruction into one of the strongest economies in the world. By the same token, Colombia has moved from being a country of lawlessness, mayhem and political anarchy to one of the most solid states in Latin America. For that, Colombia has been given little recognition.
Mexico has never reached the alarming levels of anarchy that Colombia has except in certain key areas along the border with the United States. However, without the war on drugs Mexico is likely to end in a state of anarchy that could not only reach the status of Colombia in the 1980’s but also of countries such as Guatemala (where the state has virtually disappeared), and even Afghanistan where the existence of a central government is a dream that is not likely to come true in decades (if at all). Such a situation is not only ghastly for Mexico but also for the rest of Latin America and the United States because it is likely to spill well beyond the borders of Mexico.
It is in the interests of both Mexico and the United States to continue the close cooperation on security issues that now exists between the two governments. Cutting deals with the cartels will only give them more power and led to more violence and anarchy. On the part of the United States, not taking the situation in Mexico seriously and sufficiently funding the Merida Initiative could lead to more violence and destruction on the U.S. side of the border.
Again, the demagoguery of political candidates can inflict serious damage. President Calderon should be commended for his courage in taking on the cartels and not simply kicking the can down the road as was the case with previous administrations. If Calderon eases up the war on drugs because the electoral campaign or whatever party wins the election in July of 2012 decides to stop the war on drugs, generations of Mexicans will pay the price.
Source: The Americas Report