Blog dedicated to reporting on Mexican drug cartels
on the border line between the US and Mexico

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Who Lost Mexico?

by Moisés Naím
Not too long ago Mexico was regarded as the Latin American nation most likely to become a developed country. Now it is commonly seen, if not as a failed state, at least as a nation where some of the most powerful and ruthless criminals on the planet control important parts of the territory and critical public institutions.

What happened?

The answer does not matter just to Mexicans. The United States and Europe, both with large numbers of drug users of their own and therefore with powerful drug trafficking organizations in their midst, are also affected by what happens in Mexico, just like the rest of Latin America.

A frequent response is that the current Mexican tragedy is the result of decades of tolerance for the narco-traffickers. There was a tacit non-aggression pact that the Mexican government, politicians, business leaders, and the media had with the drug cartels. Others blame President Felipe Calderón who, without a clear plan, declared war on the cartels thereby breaking the truce that kept the country relatively calm for years. Another explanation is that the problem was imported: "It's the gringos," said a Mexican friend. "The United States buys our drugs and thereby creates these immensely rich criminals to whom in turn they freely sell machine guns and all kinds of advanced weapons that are used to kill our people." The bad economy of recent years is of course also a factor.

It is a question of moral values, say others. President Calderón, for example, recently stressed that Mexico must continue fighting the criminals and strengthening its institutions, but stressed that rebuilding the moral base of Mexican society was the main priority. "I'll tell you something that will make you think," said the president. "We captured a criminal who was just 19 years old and yet he boasted that he'd killed more than 200 people."

Who is right? Everyone. There is no doubt that Mexican leaders for decades succumbed to the temptation to believe their country was merely a "transit point" between the Andean farmers and American consumers. This illusion masks the fact that the criminals controlling the transit routes become rich and powerful and inevitably end up controlling politicians, judges, generals, governors, mayors, police, media companies, and even banks. Furthermore, in all the "transit" countries, part of the inventory stays there and is consumed locally, thus boosting demand at home while some imports are replaced by domestic production which creates an indigenous drug industry.

It is also true that President Calderón, by attacking the drug cartels, stirred up a hornet's nest which led to this terrible war. But it's just as true that without Calderon's reaction the capture of much of the Mexican state by the traffickers would have been complete and would have placed the nation even more at risk.

The fiercest critics of the president do not seem to give too much weight to the urgent need to contain the criminalization of the state. They say the price paid by the country has been too high and that Calderon's reclamation of key public institutions from the grip of the criminals is limited and will, in any case, be ephemeral.

Unfortunately, many Mexicans, terrified by the daily horrors and seduced by promises of a return to the calmer past thanks to a hypothetical -- and no longer realistic in practice -- truce with the drug cartels, have abandoned their president. Thus, this battle, one which should be fought by any decent society, has been instead reduced to "Calderón's war." And Calderón cannot win it alone.

Reclaiming the state and the many societal institutions now in the hands of criminals will require time, sacrifice, and commitment from all Mexicans: politicians and social leaders, journalists and the military, trade unionists and businessmen, housewives and university students. This cannot be Calderón's war, it must be Mexico's war. But Mexicans are angered by decades of economic frustration as mediocre policies and politicians fail to deliver on their promises of progress.

The country's murder statistics are of course shocking.More than 30,000 dead so far. But other data on Mexico is also striking: according Cristobal Pera, the CEO of Random House Mexico, there are no bookstores in 94 percent of municipalities and the percentage of people who actually read books is one of the lowest in Latin America.

There is some other info about Mexico that is stunning:
94% of the municipalities of the country have no libraries and the reader index is one of the lowest in Latin America. According to a study by Johns Hopkins University, Mexico's workforce has one of the world's lowest rates of participation in non-profit organizations (0.04 percent in Mexico; more than 2 percent in Peru and Colombia). I cite these statistics only to suggest that Mexico's narcotics problem has wider and fiendishly complex ramifications ranging from irrational U.S. policies on drugs and arms sales; to the negligible consumption of books in the country; to the low quality of its educational institutions; to the precariousness of its civil society organizations.

There are no quick or simple solutions to these problems. But the inescapable reality is that this is not the president's problem. It's the entire country's problem. Unless this is recognized by Mexican leaders of all parties and social sectors, Mexico's violence will continue to be the beleaguered country's main story.

Note: This post was sent to me (and previously posted on the BB forum by Buela, below you will find her personal experience and feelings regarding the matter:

I thought I would share this thoughtful article written by MOISÉS NAÍM and published in El Pais. I appreciated the tone of expression, non-accusatory, very well done, I thought it worthy of translation.

I was struck by the information of "readers" in Mexico and lack of libraries. When I first arrived in Mexico I asked to see a library at a school I was visiting, my group of Mexican educators looked at me as though I was from Mars.

Later I learned that not only did the school lack a library, not one school in the city of 300K had a library, worse yet, the city did not have a library. In classrooms there were no books to "borrow" for leisure reading.

It was heartbreaking and explained why children asked when I was setting up a small library in a school "why do you need all these books?" However upon subsequent visits at schools where I set up reading rooms or small libraries the children would be disappointed if I did not bring a few new books....Buela


  1. So who is going to take the Mexi-Cartels place?
    China? Yakuza?
    i have to laugh because all the emphasis on this so called failed war on drugs is on the latin connection, someone else will set up a Pharmaceutical enterprise soon enough

  2. Mexico will pull through... A problem this big is not going to be solved overnight. The enemy is way too big and has managed to intimidate many. A good option before starting a war on drugs should have been to end CORRUPTION. Or at least try to since that seems to be impossible. Before you build a house you have to start with a STRONG enough foundation. Calderon only gets criticized because the wild HOG CHAPO is still loose. The cartels need to be silenced before anything else. Thanks BB and Buela...


  3. The PRI for years tolerated drug crime,but not for free. Graft,bribes,kickbacks,extortion have been prominent in Mexico forever. All of these immoral cheap dishonest dealings have grown along with a epidemic of kidnapping,to the point that major businesses are being threatened OIL,MINING,MANUFACTURING. NOW WHAT DO YOU EXPECT THE PRESIDENT OF MEXICO TO DO, HIS JOB, and try to clean up the horrific mess that Mexico has become. THAT IS WHAT RESPONSIBLE LEADERS DO. THE PUBLIC OF MEXICO MUST BE WON OVER --THIS REVOLUTION MUST SUCCEED. THE POVERTY,IGNORANCE,LOW STANDARDS can only be attacked if Mexico chooses to breath life into the country failing this MEXICO will decline even further,can you imagine?? MEXICANS, retreat back into the old ways is a guarantee that Mexico will remain a third world toilet.

  4. If Mexico is LOST?? DO you think MEXICAN citizens might have some RESPONSIBILITY for their own CONDUCT?? IS MEXICO CAPABLE OF PRODUCTIVE RESPONSIBLE SELF RULE?? The first president of Mexico to EVER challange the criminal status Quo is being attacked by Mexican media, many Mexicans claim they want to retreat back into their COMFORT ZONE Moral bankrupcy F them. Mexico is not lost it lacks a good PR propaganda program to inspire and motivate the people to help make Mexico a "DEVELOPED COUNTRY" I refuse to believe that the vast majority of Mexicans do not want a STABLE,Honest,responsive govt at all levels.

  5. The china has the oldest and most brutal "cartel" in the world. The Society of Triads are an organized criminal group that has been in existence since the 16th century. They operate a business system that provides a cut from the farmer to the distributer. They rule every country in Asia and have long been in the US. You can see many videos on you tube if you are unfamiliar with them. China wrote the book on drug distribution.

    I agree that Mexico cannot revert back to the old ways. Repeated mistakes will produce repeated failures. What I liked about this piece was it tore to the core of Culpa, and at the end of it it was the man in the mirror, the Mexican people that not accepted responsibility. The dropped Calderon like a hot potato when his fight was not producing results, it because Calderon's War instead of the war of the people.

    I cringe when Mexicans cry for the good old days of casting a blind eye as MDC trek through Mx to the US with their goods. That cannot happen and expect a different result of almost total corruption at every level bought with drug money.

    I do believe Mexico will one day be a strong, thriving, safe country that offers hope and possibilities for its children. It has to began with the people.

  6. Precisely, Buela. When I was living and going to school in DF even though things were stable (in the 60s) I recall noticing that Mexicans had not one public institution they could rely on - not one. The police, the utility companies, the courts, the tax collector, the health dept, etc. were all corrupt. Only by chance were criminals caught and punished. You could buy your way into or out of anything. Everyone complained but no one did anything because to rock the boat was to bring trouble to yourself. Friends told me what they told their kids - if you are victimized or about to be victimized by a robber in the street - do not go to the police - find a couple - male/female and they will help you.

    I recall wondering how long it could go on like that.

  7. Education (and enlightenment of the possibilities in the world) does start with a few books: a little math, cultural studies, reading and writing. Some good fictional material that represents the good, the noble, the aspirations of humans who succeed. And some healthy fantasy about people and places that are extraordinary.

    When families and cultures promote these activities for their youth, you see a youth who desire to participate in society. What has been said: "An education is the greatest gift you can give to a young person."

    If books are desired, I bet there are hundreds of organizaions in the US, Canada, and other countries who would love to donate books to feed the children's intellect in Mexico.

  8. Mexico has failed as a Democratic Nation and now over half of the country is being controlled by Cartels and Vicious-inhumane criminal organizations. People who fight for the "almighty" Dollar or Peso will most likely have a short life. Yea, I have heard many say that "they rather live a short criminal life that pays well than to live a long life in poverty". I would say: live a clean, moral, honest, loyal, gratful life and you will live well. My two cents.

  9. The culture in Mexico is a mixture with its roots in native American religious belief combined with a grossly adulterated Roman Catholicism brought by the Spaniards. Accordingly, Mexico is largely still a pagan nation that has not escaped from its ancient heathen morality. There are no books because no one in Mexico encourages people to read, least of all the Catholic Church. The civic problems in Mexico stem from a systemic lack of morality. People don't know what is right or wrong. They only know what they are told by someone in whatever power structure they happen to be dealing with. They have no way to find out for themselves if what they are told is morally correct because they don't have books, aren't interested in reading, and can't read anyway. This relationship of Mexicans to books is clearly visible in any public highschool in the U.S. that has a large population of Mexicans or students of Mexican descent. How can you devlop a moral society under such circumstances?

  10. "Who Lost Mexico?"
    The Mexican people did when they adopted a socialist governance (which is legalized theft) and accepted corrpution in their country. Your protection is YOUR duty. Maintaining a just society is YOUR duty. Grow up, take blame for the results of your society and stop blaming others.

  11. No entiendo muy bien sus comentarios no entiendo ingles pero lo que puedo entender con el translador de google creo que algunos de ustedes creen que nos/Mexico no estamos undidos pues se equivocan estamos dando las ultimas patadas de un aogado. Mexico esta en sus peores momentos de su historia a causa de la droga y corupcion. Yo soy pobre mi familia y yo nos vivimos al dia al dia. Nos estamos enfadados con todo esto los ninos inocentes que mueren ya basta los cuerpos descuartizados y aventados en nustra vecindad como intimidacion. Mas feo cuando los ninos tienen que mirar todo este cuachero actos de los animales anafalbetos. Alguien dice por que algunos queremos que fuera como antes donde la corrupcion y trafique de droga era a escondidas....ustedes nunca han vivido lo que uno esta viviendo HOY! Que despierta uno y pensar chin ya se fue mi esposo a chambiar haber si vuelve salvo y sano, nuestras criaturas mandarlas a la escuela sin saber si les vayan a pegar unas valas desviadas cuando vayan a rumbo la esscuela en la combi. Muy facil para el que esta en una zona de Mexico o en Estado Unidos donde no hay nada pasando y criticar a el que esta viviendo violencia a diario ES POR ESO QUE PREFERIMOS QUE FUERAN LAS COSAS COMO ANTES TODO POR DE ABAJO DE AGUA!!!!

    Aunque les arda el OGT a algunos de ustedes el pres. Salinas Gortari hizo mucho por nos los pobres y Mexico aunque se cojio mucho dinero. Nos dio educacion y invirtio en mucho dinero en infraestructura. Halgo que no an hecho Fox ni Calderon. Ya estoy arta de todo esto, nomas necesitamos qu nos invade los estados unidos!

  12. Layla

    If I could get interest in donating spanish language books for kinder to HS I would set up a place folks could send them. Presently my family funds all the books our foundation gives, but the need is great. No books no interest. In the US books have become less important in the traditional sense as computers, IPAD and electronic readers are the norm, but in Mexico computers are rare and in schools it is rare to have a telephone line.

    Carlos Slim could do something about that

  13. @ 9:25

    I don't know you, yet I feel I do know you because your words are words that any of my friends in Mexico can say. But why then are people so quiet? Why does everyone get nervous when I speak of narcos and the need for people to have a revolt against violence? Not combat, though in any protest yes people die, but BASTA! when will the people not sit in their home silently waiting for our sons and daughters of the US to come and give their lives to save Mexico?

    Is it fair that my grandson fight the battle and perhaps lose his life as yours sits safely in his home? I say Mexico CAN win against these bastards. I say US must help. BUT in training, advisors, weapons, equipment that is greater that its foe

  14. @Buela, you completely misinterpreted what 0925 had to say when he said "Ya estoy arta de todo esto, nomas necesitamos qu nos invade los estados unidos!" He/she was being sarcastic like saying that's the last thing we need...not that they welcomed it.

  15. Thanks for the clarification I read in rush, but my point is that is what Mexicans are waiting for. My firends called me excitedly when I believe it was the governor of Tx (maybe wrong) said US should go into Mx with troops, in Mx they thought US was coming and were so excited. I told them no they would not be coming and should not! Mx with resources can be scuessful on their own. Mexicans cannot stay quiet.

    Interesting will be to see the turnout on May 9th in Mx City. We can see by the numbers if it is indeed time for citizens to take a stance. Honestly, if I was able to, I would be there with bells on! But of course being a foreigner that would be a good way to be jailed and deported. I would love to see a march in US in support of the Mexican people and to draw attention to the violence and its effect on the country. I know they had protests in NYC and other places last month, but I am thinking HUGE a million Mexican march on DC..

    Thanks again it is not the first time I messed up like that whereas my passion interferes. My apologies to the commenter

  16. Buela,

    No es tan facil como tu dices en levantarnos en armas para que tu nieto no venga a pelear por mis hijos. Yo tengo un hijo en el ejercito. Ay tanta corrupcion desde el paletero en la esquina hasta lo mas alto de gobierno. No creas que es tan facil ir a la tienda y pidir tiros para una pistola o cmoprar una pistola como en los estados unidos. A nos se nos acabo la opurtunidad de poder pelear contra nuestro gobierno el dia que nos quitaron las armas ud en estados unidos todavia tienen su libertad de portar armas. Otra cosa Mexico necesita la pena de muerte y ala fregado inocento o no ahorita todos tienen cola que le pisen. La razon que la gente no habla del crimen organizado es porque el vecino o el que esta parado junto a ti puede tener relacion o ser miembro de algun cartel. Mi esposo trabaja para dos companias. Las companias tienen que pagar cuota para poder operar si no matan a los duenos y queman los locales. Y para acabarla de fregar adentro hay gente del crimen organizado tambien. Osea que para donde tu te muevas o mires pueda que esa persona sea parte del crimen organizado. Me dudo mucho que preguntes ala gente atocante del crimen organizado. Eso es peligroso amiga ten mucho cuidado al estar pregunte y pregunte te pueden hacer halgo ay mucha gente mala que por 2 mil pesos van y te reportan que andas averiguando sobre crimen organizado.

    No lo tomes a mal lo que te digo es en buena onda.

  17. @ abuela,

    no crea que le estoy ofendiendo ni atacando nada es platica ud tiene su punto de vista y yo el mio pero todo es nomas expresar nuestra opinion. Gracias por su tiempo que presta en ayudar con libros para escueleas si es qu intreperte bien.

    Mucho Gusto.


  18. Texcoco Mex said.

    No Mexico is not lost, we have a lot of problems but is not lost, we have endure in the past a lot of suffering and we have had many more deaths defending our country from foreign powers and we have prevailed.
    China has some of the worst corruption and their government has killed people by the millions, even today people there get kidnapped to be used as slaves for companies that sell their products all over the world and many companies around the world buy these products not knowing how these products are made. China doesn't allow free Press that is why a lot of people don't know about these.

    I have a lot of family in Mexico in the states of Chiapas, Veracruz, Puebla, Tabasco, Tijuana, San Luis Potosi, and in Texcoco Mex were I was born, many of my family have low education but they all work in an honest job. The big problem here is Mexico's Drug Money Addiction a lot of people want some these money.

    The reason why our government is weak is because we are weak in our responsibilities as Mexicans we all need to stop paying bribes and start paying taxes I know a lot of people that don't pay taxes in Mexico, that money is need it for the things we demand from our government, if we want an honest government we have to be honest too and play by the rules.

  19. captured part of the core issues that lead to such corruption. Poor education, lack of opportunity and no vision for a way out.

    I remember as a kid growing up, that books gave me insight into a different way of life, a view into what was possible. Books foster hope and drive and offers opportunity to escape the rut.

    Thanks for the insights...

  20. @ Lucinda

    Thank you so much. Remember I lLOVE MEXICO, I have faith in the good people of Mexico and 99% are good, hardworking, caring people. I will not give up hope for Mexico, the land my grandparents came from, but sadly I will not live to see the day Mexico is free from this cancer. The roots are long, the cancer is corruption. Verdad? It will take time, but Mexico one day will be a great country with opportunity for all people. That is my dream.

    I build schools in Mx and train teachers, and special education teachers. Also build kitchens at schools, and therapy centers for blind child, deaf, autism etc. The government has given me land I build and the government staffs and pays for operational needs, but have allowed me to make all decisions. They are model schools and centers. My hope the government one day will build on their own. I designed everything. The goverment provides the food, parents trained to cook, we serve 500,000 meals ea year and government charges only 1 peso ea meal.

    so far my experience has been positive. The heads of state are very supportive as long as I pay and they can stand next to me and cut the ribbon at ceremonies for the photo in the media! JAJA. They think I respect them, that is far from the truth, I grin and hold back my true feelings for the good of the children.

  21. Texcoco What makes you think the press in Mexico is a free press? Why are they bashing Calderons So Called "DRUG WAR" every article you see makes it appear that Calderon is the problem with Mexico NO JOKE now who and what stands to gain from a retreat back to criminal live and let live, CRIMINALS big ones (DRUGS) and the little ones CAR JACK. Mexico must GROW UP .

  22. Who Lost Mexico?

    The people themselves. In Mexico there is no Middle Class. There are 2 % of the people controling 90 % of the wealth through CORRUPTION.
    This goes from the Top down.

    There is No Repect for Law Enforcemnet or Law for that matter in general.

    Corruption feeds of and perpetuates itself Until becomes "normal"

    Everyone just wants to get "theirs" Quick and Fast.

    If Mexico wants to FIX themselves they should start at the BARRIO local Level.

    The Pinche Narcos are destroying the Soul of the Mexico with their false sense of quick riches with No hard work.

  23. how can the people respect the law and police when they are so corrupt? there is no place to call with confidence to receive help.


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