The Mexican connection
Drug trafficking, violence and insecurity are nowadays the most important problems afflicting large portions of Mexican society. In recent years, roughly 90 percent of all cocaine consumed in the US transits Mexico, and the country is a major producer of heroin, marijuana and metamphetamines, as well as a primary placement point for criminal proceeds from the US into the international financial system (money laundering). For this key position, Mexico pays a heavy price. In 2008, more than 5000 drug related killings were counted by independent media, but there were other expressions of excessive violence such as torture and other atrocities, and shootouts between drug traffickers and law enforcement agencies in many parts of the country. No wonder that drug trafficking has become a key policy area for the Mexican government and an increasing concern for the citizenry in general. The fullblown militarization of the combat against the drug cartels, initiated at the end of 2006, has so far not led to a significant decrease in violence. At the moment around 40 thousand troops are involved in the struggle against the drug cartels.
The military has taken effective control of the entire security spectrum in Mexico, including the police. Meanwhile, some regions, notably along the northern border and the Pacific coast, have seen an increase in violence in the first months of 2009. Members of the security forces are increasingly among the victims of deadly violence. In 2008 alone, over 500 police officers were killed. The number of victims among the army also seems to be on the increase. In December 2008, eight soldiers were killed and decapitated in the state of Guerrero. In February 2009 a recently retired brigadier general just appointed head of public security of Cancún was assassinated, probably by members of the armed wing of the Gulf Cartel, the Zetas. At the same time, corruption is penetrating the highest circles of the federal and state governments: in 2008, a former anti-drug czar was arrested, as was a former head of the Office of the Investigation of Organized Crime. Two former directors of Interpol Mexico were also put behind bars on suspicion of working in collusion with organized crime. Drug related violence and corruption have attracted attention from international policy circles, especially those in the US, and the media. The US Joint Forces Command even hypothesized the risk of a sudden collapse of the Mexican state, as a result of the fact that the ‘the government, its politicians, police, and judicial infrastructure are all under sustained assault and pressure by criminal gangs and drug cartels’.
The problem of Mexican drug trafficking in itself is a legitimate cause for academic attention, but it also constitutes a looking glass for our understanding of a number of additional aspects of contemporary Mexico. The study of drug trafficking can tell us much about the workings of the state and politics and about the rule of law. There is a particular need for understanding the nature and consequences of drug trafficking in specific societal contexts, which means going beyond general interpretations (and speculations) of national developments. Therefore the Mexican Studies Centre of the University of Groningen hosts a two day workshop about drug trafficking in Mexico, on the occasion of it’s 15th Día de Mexicanistas. The workshop will examine the central issue from two key perspectives. First, a number of presentations will study the phenomenon from different levels of abstraction, ranging from the changing position of Mexico in the global drug trade to its local manifestations. Second, Mexican drug trafficking will be studied from a number of distinct but interrelated thematic angles (politics, economics and culture).
The Mexican Studies Centre has invited a number of renowned scholars from Europe and Mexico, who will present their research and discuss their work with colleagues. Several discussants are also invited. The workshop will be conducted in English and partly in Spanish.