As Mexico’s drug war continues unabated and the violence unleashed by the government’s frontal attack on the drug cartels spirals upwards, the debate on the perceived or actual failure of President Felipe Calderon’s policies grow more acute.
The erosion of support among Mexico’s citizens has been driven by factors such as the continued failure of all levels of government to address the security of its citizens in areas such as Tamaulipas, Ciudad Juarez and Acapulco, statements such as those of Genaro Garcia Luna, head of Mexico’s federal police forces, that the violence will continue at high levels for 7 more years before diminishing, and congressional gridlock where political party interests and electoral posturing before the 2012 presidential elections take priority over the national interest.
The outcry by many in the upper and middle classes after the mobilization of public opinion by the poet Javier Sicilia in response to the murder of his son has even led to a growing sentiment, however irrational this may seem, that negotiations and pacts with druglords may be necessary to halt the decline of the rule of law.
After all, how does one negotiate with drug cartels that have at best shaky control over the latest wave of serial killers they have unleashed, men such as “el Kilo”, “el Gato”, “el Flaco” Salgueiro, or the Treviño Morales brothers “Z-40” and “Z-42”, just to name a few?
The current debate on the effectiveness of Calderon’s policies was foreshadowed in 2009 in a Master’s Thesis written by Alfonso Reyes Garces, a Lieutenant Commander in Mexico’s Navy attending the U.S. Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, California: “WINNING THE WAR ON DRUGS IN MEXICO? TOWARD AN INTEGRATED APPROACH TO THE ILLEGAL DRUG TRADE”
Mirroring the current analytical approach to unconventional warfare in vogue in the U.S. military’s war on terror, Reyes summarized Mexico’s drug war as un-winnable in its current strategy due to the failure in addressing social factors that lead to destabilization.
Reye’s paper highlights an honest but painful state of affairs of Mexico’s government and society that have resulted in the situation that exists today, and offers a roadmap with major adjustments to the current strategy that may lead to a successful resolution of the “drug war”.
The following are excerpts on the major points from Lt Commander Reyes’s 119 page Thesis:
“For more than ten years, the Mexican government has been following the same anti-drug policy in an effort to deter the illegal drug trade and the major drug-trafficking organizations that are based in various parts of the country. Mexico’s anti-drug policy has focused mainly on trying to reduce the supply of illegal drugs by attacking the drug cartels. However, regardless of the vast amount of resources expended on interdiction operations, the flow of illegal drugs into and out of Mexico continues more or less unabated, while the negative by-products associated with the illegal drug trade keep growing. The most visible of these is the increase in violence as different groups fight over control of the main trafficking routes to the United States and the distribution centers within Mexico, and/or engage in armed conflict with the government forces in the latter’s unsuccessful attempt to curtail or eliminate the illegal drug trade.”
“The main problem that the Mexican authorities face in making a convincing defense of their achievements is that they have not outlined clear objectives. It is worth noting that, even though the illegal drug trade is considered a national security threat, there is no overall anti-drug strategy per se in Mexico”
“Thus, Mexico’s government is not able to measure and compare the quantitative outcomes of its current counter-drug campaign. For example, what is the real impact of the arrest of 3 thousand drug cartel members over the last three years on the illegal drug trade in Mexico as a whole? In addition, the use of the term “war on drugs” and the lack of a clear definition of what victory in the “war on drugs” should look like, is making Mexican authorities appear to be neither losing nor winning the war on drugs.”
“More specifically, the supply-reduction approach has not actually affected the demand for illegal drugs in Mexico, or their flow to markets further north, especially the United States. Instead, the supply-reduction approach has highlighted the weakness of the Mexican government”
“It is important that the Mexican government re-evaluate the current anti-drug policy and define a new and clear anti-drug policy. But more important still is to highlight that maintaining a frontal attack on the drug cartels in Mexico without addressing the social grievances that drag people into criminal conduct, has been and will be the best way to ensure a never-ending fight between the government and the drug cartels.”
“Thus, the solution will not be simple and will require far more than just vigorous or innovative law enforcement efforts, because the roots of the issue go well beyond the drug cartels and their diverse criminal networks.”
“It can be argued that the main reason both the flow of illegal drugs and the violence continues, is that the Mexican government has overlooked the deeper social roots that underpin the continued importance and expansion of the illegal drug trade”
"the grievances and inequalities in Mexican society that push people into criminal behavior, as well as towards drug use, need to be addressed in order to reduce drug-related crime. Certainly there will always be organized crime groups. However, in a more egalitarian society where people are able to satisfy their basic necessities by legal means, fewer people would be willing to engage in criminal activities."
“Although the demand for illegal drugs in the United States and the black market in firearms north of the border are very important in shaping the illegal drug trade in Mexico, this thesis focuses on the fact that Mexicans themselves have become major consumers of illegal drugs, and this aspect is more important than ever, both to the operation of the Mexican cartels and to any attempt to address the problem. Unless the Mexican government improves its own anti-drug policy at the domestic level, drug harm is going to continue increasing in Mexico regardless of what happens in the United States. On the other hand, the illegal arms trade is also driven by demand. Thus, even if the United States were able to crack down on illegal arms exports to Mexico, the drug cartels could easily look for their arms elsewhere, and the consumers of illegal drugs are going to cover the increase in operational costs that the cartels might incur in doing so.”
“Over the years, the drug cartels have been able to survive and adapt at a faster rate than has the Mexican government. While the Mexican government has been using the same anti-drug strategy over the years—focusing on a “frontal assault” on the main drug cartels—the drug cartels themselves have modified their organizations, their relations with the state, and their relations with society.”
“Unless the Mexican government is able to understand and defuse the recruitment mechanisms of the drug cartels, the latter are going to be able to continue to survive and prosper, despite all the best efforts of the Mexican authorities.”
“sustained willingness to fight against the drug cartels has not diminished the scope and scale of their operations despite high levels of mortality and incarceration. The Mexican government can point to the capture or killing of large numbers of drug traffickers, but it cannot declare victory. In fact, it is not clear it knows what victory should or would look like. Indeed, the Mexican Government has focused so much effort on fighting the drug cartels in frontal attacks, that it has paid little attention to the roots of its drug-related problems. The violence associated with the drug cartels, and the growth in their size, are symptoms of a bigger illness—namely, the addiction of people to illegal drugs and the social costs associated with widespread illegal drug use. Along with these, are the social processes that encourage people to participate in the illegal drug trade, and that focus directly or indirectly for the major drug cartels.”
“The Mexican authorities’ bold efforts against the drug cartels cannot succeed unless the roots of the illegal drug trade in Mexico are attacked. Only by addressing the social roots of the illegal drug trade will major results be achieved. A new integrated approach to the illegal drug trade in Mexico might someday make it possible to talk seriously about “victory” in the “war on drugs.”
"In a country like Mexico, with almost 50% of the population living in conditions of poverty or social marginalization, public drug rehabilitation programs should be as important as other social and public health programs. However, nowadays in cities such as Tijuana and Ciudad Juarez, which have very high rates of drug-related crime, rehabilitation programs reach only 20% of estimated drug-users"
“At the broadest level, there are, as most policy-makers know, two main approaches to developing an overall anti-drug strategy and the tactics that go with it. One of these is the supply-reduction approach that has underpinned the “war on drugs” for decades, and is based on the logic that if the drugs are not available they cannot do any harm. On the other hand, there is the harm-reduction approach that assumes that the illegal drug trade is already established, and regardless of how much effort goes into trying to constrain or stop it, the drugs will still get through. The logic behind the harm-reduction approach is that there is a need to reduce the harm that illegal drugs are causing now, rather than waiting for some point in the future when the supply-reduction approach finally produces results. Although many observers draw a sharp distinction between the two approaches, it is worth noting that both borrow important elements from each other. The main difference between them is the level of resources spent on targeting drug traffickers and crop eradication, compared to investing in “education, prevention, treatment and harm reduction”
“if the Mexican government wants to reduce the economic power of the drug cartels and their ability to maneuver, as well as lower the harm done by law enforcement in rural communities, the regularization of marijuana is an option worth trying. In order to lower the political cost of trying it, the Mexican government could encourage more public debates about marijuana’s regularization and call for a plebiscite after that.”
“Even though it is clear that the regularization of marijuana would not fix the illegal drug trade in Mexico, according to Astorga Almanza (personal communication, August 25, 2009) one of the main benefits that can be obtained with the regularization of marijuana is that Mexican authorities would be allowed to narrow their focus on the drug cartels, making better use of the considerable resources currently directed towards eradication of marijuana operations.”
“Among the other benefits of marijuana’s regularization would be the implementation of government control over the whole marijuana trade. This change would lead to the reinstatement of the legal status of all those marijuana farmers who have not committed any other major crimes such as murders, which would, in turn, reduce the social harm that results from law enforcement and improve the government’s image in those areas that have reduced working opportunities. At the same time, Astorga Almanza points out that the negative effects of marijuana’s regulation would not be much different from those Mexico already experiences.”
“In addition, removing marijuana from the illegal drug trade would have a major impact on the Mexican drug cartels’ finances and would reduce their share of the domestic illegal drugs market because marijuana is currently considered responsible for over 61% of the Mexican drug cartels’ incomes”
Mexican Marine, mini-gun at the ready, patrols the skies over Tamaulipas
"The drug cartels have adapted very well to counterdrug efforts in Mexico, thanks in part to the lack of innovation in the way the Mexican authorities have fought them."
“Mexico’s approach to address the surge of drug-related violence has been the deployment of large contingents of federal police and military units into cities and towns, where the surge in violence has overwhelmed local authorities, or where there is evidence that drug cartels have infiltrated those authorities. Usually, these deployments are able to diminish the violence for short periods of time until the criminals learn from government tactics and adapt their own. The capacity of the drug cartels to adapt has made this approach very inefficient in terms of cost-benefits, to the point that it is unsustainable”
"Nor is the current way in which police and military units deploy against the drug cartels helpful for reestablishing the link between the population and the authorities. As a matter of fact, authorities might be sending the wrong message to the population through simple actions, such as law enforcement officers wearing balaclavas to hide their identity. If the authorities demonstrate that they are afraid of retaliation by the drug cartels, then what can the common citizen expect?
"The ineffectiveness of county-level authorities has had an important negative impact on the current campaign against the drug cartels. In a conflict that has international reach but local origins, police departments at the local level should be playing a major role. The police on the street should be the ones leading this fight, with the support of the federal government. Instead, local police have become just one more enemy of the federal government’s counterdrug campaign, and sometimes the only thing that distinguishes a county police officer from a drug cartel member is his uniform"
“it is a fact that the Mexican authorities need to reevaluate the current police model and its relation with the political structure in order to build an independent and strong police force. Whatever police model the Mexican government decides to adopt, strong local police departments are as important as the federal police in the current fight against the drug cartels. However, Mexican authorities must also be aware that the willingness of citizens to follow the rule of law in a democratic system is based on recognizing that the social contract is working."
"Today, Mexico faces a dilemma: keep following the same anti-drug strategy that has proven ineffective since its implementation, or make the adjustments necessary to overcome the current social harm that flows from rising domestic illegal drug use. It is not just a matter of putting more resources into, or generating a greater willingness towards carrying out counterdrug operations. The supply-reduction approach has proven to have structural limits that have now been reached. The best example of the limits inherent in the supply-reduction approach is the failure of the United States’ anti-drug policy. If the contemporary global hegemonic power, and the most powerful state in the history of humankind, a country which has also been the main proponent and practitioner of the supply-reduction approach for decades, has not been able to stop smuggling, production, or transnational criminal networks, or more importantly, stop illegal drug consumption on its own soil, something is clearly wrong with the current anti-drug strategy."
"In order to develop a new anti-drug strategy, Mexico first has to clearly define what its goals are, and then develop a well-coordinated effort using all the resources that the state has available to achieve those goals."
"The Mexican government needs to look beyond the drug cartels and attack the roots of the illegal drug problem. Although this thesis has argued that the cartels are an important component of the illegal drug trade, they are more of a symptom than an illness. The real illness about which the Mexican government has to do something is all those social situations that drag people into the clutches of the drug cartels, whether for employment or as users of illegal drugs. Poverty, inequality, lack of opportunity, lack of development, and local drug demand, are among the things that should be addressed in order to reduce drug-related crime in Mexico. Again, this does not mean that the Mexican government should stop fighting the drug cartels; however, addressing the social and demand-side aspects just mentioned should be considered just as important as law enforcement."
"This approach will require rebuilding the social contract in Mexico."
“WINNING THE WAR ON DRUGS IN MEXICO? TOWARD AN INTEGRATED APPROACH TO THE ILLEGAL DRUG TRADE”
Se expande el mercado de la droga sintetica