Sunday, January 8, 2012

Insecurity: The cause and effect of systematic criminalization.

Inseguridad: causa-efecto, Criminalización sistémica
by Carlos Ramirez

In the final analysis the problem will be addressed by either the willingness of society to live with the drug cartels and tolerate the harmful nature of drugs, or for society to unite behind the better laws and strategies necessary for a frontal assault against the drug cartels

The security offensive the federal government has undertaken from 2007 to 2011 has revealed the role of society and politics in the crisis of violence facing the nation: the existence of organized crime was only possible through the collaboration of society, politicians, institutions and even the State.

Consequently, the irrational violence and the number of deaths has been the effect of a problem of decadence within the political power structure as its cause. The Army itself has seized 106,000 weapons and 41,000 vehicles, which give us an idea of the size of organized crime.

But the magnitude of organized crime is much greater than what those numbers represent. The Army has detained 41,000 criminals and the number of those killed may be up to 60,000, so can estimate that up to 100,000 criminals have been taken out of the game. If we add to those numbers that of the seizure of 10,000 tons of marijuana we can then get a clearer picture of the size of the crisis of insecurity.

The existence of organized crime can is best understood in terms of a dynamic process: the growth of criminal gangs was only possible under the protection of political powers and the State. Following the 1985 kidnapping and assassination of DEA agent Enrique Camarena Salazar by a cartel of Sinaloans headed by Rafael Caro Quintero, Ernesto Fonseca and Miguel Angel Felix Gallardo, the U.S. government revealed that the federal police forces, the DFS (Mexico’s former national security police force under Gobernacion, or the Interior Ministry), the Policia Judicial Federal (the disbanded federal judicial police under the PGR, or the Attorney General’s office), and the Mexico City police were responsible for the protection of drug traffickers and their shipments. The administration of the then President Miguel de la Madrid was forced to terminate a slew of police commanders.

The federal police forces were responsible for ensuring the national security of the State in the face of both violent and nonviolent political dissidents and as a result accumulated enormous power (Mexico under the PRI was ruled, in general, as a single party authoritarian state). After the 1982 presidential elections, with political power within the PRI changing hands from a bureaucratic elite to economic technocrats, the federal security apparatus was set adrift with a high degree of autonomy from the political leadership. It was then when the federal police forces changed its raison d’etre from pursuing political dissidents (who had gained some breathing space with political reforms enacted in 1978) to the protection of organized crime.

Another moment forgotten in the shaping of organized crime’s power structure is found in the period between 1981 and 1985 when a government financial crisis forced the administration of President Miguel de la Madrid through clandestine mechanisms to collect and officially launder U.S. currency from drug traffickers to neutralize the bleeding of U.S. dollars used to prop the peso that was resulting in constant devaluations.

The crisis over the official protection of drug traffickers was precipitated, not by a desire by the State to fight criminality at its root, but by the assassination of Camarena. It was not a coincidence that Jose Antonio Zorrilla Perez, the director of the DFS under Interior Minister Manuel Bartlett Diaz and President De la Madrid and at the center of accusations by the U.S. of protecting drug traffickers, was removed from his post and entered as a PRI candidate for a federal congressional seat from the state of Hidalgo. And it was no coincidence that the Interior Minister, Attorney General and Mayor of Mexico City (all three posts whose police forces protected drug cartel kingpins) in 1987 were seen as prospective PRI presidential candidates.

The change in ruling parties with the victory of the PAN in the 2000 Presidential elections marked another phase in the revelations of the harmonious relationship between the drug cartels and the PRI political power structure. However, the PAN’s lack of experience in forging secret agreements with organized crime and the loss of PRI guarantees of protection to drug cartels presented opportunities for the cartels to become relatively autonomous. At that moment the cartels found protection with other international criminal organizations and took full advantage of the space created by the PRI’s departure from the presidency to consolidate their power. Above all, the drug cartels power grew because of the decision of the Vicente Fox administration to look the other way.

The Calderon administration’s security offensive against organized crime is only one phase of the solution to the problem. The other still awaits the greater engagement of society and urgent legislative action to end the drug cartels’ circumventions. This is where the topic of insecurity will be centered in 2012, especially as the Mexican drug cartels form part of an international network the links organized crime from South America to the United States.

In 2012 the nation faces the decisive hour to put into action the final strategy against organized crime or to negotiate an agreement with the criminal organizations; there is no more room for halfway measures. In the final analysis the problem will be addressed by either the willingness of society to live with the drug cartels and tolerate the harmful nature of drugs, or for society to unite behind the better laws and strategies necessary for a frontal assault against the drug cartels.

In the end, the violence is an effect and not the cause.

Carlos Ramirez is a political analyst and columnist for the newspaper El Financiero