The horrific forced disappearance of 43 students in Iguala reveals how organised crime and corruption thrive in conditions of institutional or democratic weakness, shaped to a large extent by distinctive transnational relations (importantly, in this case, with the US). Fortunately groups like the Movement for Peace with Justice and Dignity are showing a burgeoning 'social power' that has the potential to change politics and policy in Mexico.
Relationships with countries racked by drug violence and organized crime should focus more on economic development and less on the endless battles against drug traffickers and organized crime capos that have left few clear victors. The countries, Mexico in particular, need to set their own course on security, with the United States playing more of a backing role. That approach runs the risk of being seen as kowtowing to governments more concerned about their public image than the underlying problems tarnishing it.
There was a lot of drug-war hand-wringing in the U.S. leading up to President Obama’s visit to Mexico. That’s because Mexican President Peña Nieto is in change-the-conversation mode: he wants Washington to focus less on his country’s awful drug violence – some 60,000 narco-related murders in the past seven years, with little sign of abating – and more on its robust economic potential. The fear in some Washington circles is that Peña Nieto's Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), which in its dictatorial 20th-century heyday was every drug lord’s cuate, or best buddy, is putting the fight against Mexico’s vicious cartels on the back burner.
Gang-outreach schemes, community centers,employment projects andconstruction programs aimed at transformingchaotic urban jungles. “There is a complete lack of focus,” says Alejandro Hope, a security analyst and former member of Mexico’s intelligence agency. “It is such a mishmash of different programs that we will not know what works and what doesn’t. It is setting up itself for being a major waste of money.”
Human Rights Watch called Mexico's anti-drug offensive "disastrous" in the report Mexico's Disappeared: The Enduring Cost of a Crisis Ignored, that cites 249 cases of disappearances that the group says mostly show evidence of having been carried out by the military or law enforcement. The report says the "enforced disappearances" follow a pattern in which security forces detain people without warrants at checkpoints, at homes or work places, or in public. When victims' families ask about their relatives, security forces deny the detentions.
Mexico's new administration has offered the first details of its new strategy in the country's war on drugs, saying the government will spend $9.2bn this year on social programmes to keep young people from joining criminal organisations in the 251 most violent towns and neighbourhoods across the country. The government will flood those areas with spending on programmes ranging from road building to increasing school hours, said President Enrique Peña Nieto and Miguel Ángel Osorio Chong, the interior secretary.
Mexico's new president has outlined a security strategy aimed at reducing drug war-related violence that, rhetorically at least, contrasts starkly with the emphasis his predecessor placed on using force to go after the cartels. For all the changes of tone, however, it remains unclear how different the strategy will be on the ground, aside, perhaps, from more funds dedicated to social projects aimed at disadvantaged youths at risk of being sucked into organised crime.
Faced with this soiled wedge between state legislation and federal law within the United States, Mexico's President-elect Enrique Peña Nieto and his advisors have already concluded there will have to be a significant change in their anti-narcotics policy. Weeding out the marijuana issue was prudently left to behind closed door discussions.
For four years, Ciudad Juárez on the border with Texas was convulsed by daily slaughter, becoming the murder capital of the world and a shocking illustration of the Mexican government's failure to contain violence among warring drug cartels. A number of drug war experts say security has also improved because the Sinaloa Cartel of Joaquin "Shorty" Guzman now has a firm hold on the city after squeezing out the Juarez Cartel, for long aligned with the local police.
Ending the consumption and the trafficking of illegal drugs is “impossible”, according to Felipe Calderón, Mexico’s outgoing president. In an interview with The Economist Mr Calderón, whose battle with organised crime has come to define his six years in office, said that countries whose citizens consume drugs should find "market mechanisms" to prevent their money from getting into the hands of criminals in Latin America.
Mexico, Colombia and Guatemala face the need to modify their approach to the fight against drug trafficking and are urging the world to do the same. But Mexico and Colombia’s willingness to make the necessary changes is unclear. The three countries are connected by a powerful circuit of trafficking of drugs – whose main market is the United States – weapons and money from illegal activities. But the extent of the problem and the way drug organisations operate in each one of these countries vary.
Voters in Colorado, Oregon and Washington will vote on whether to legalise marijuana. Polls suggest that the initiatives have a decent chance of passing in Washington and Colorado (Oregon is a longer shot).The impact on Mexico could be profound. Between 40% and 70% of American pot is reckoned to be grown in Mexico. According to a recent study by the Mexican Institute for Competitiveness (IMCO), a think-tank in Mexico City, the American marijuana business brings in about $2 billion a year to Mexico’s drug traffickers.
Ioan Grillo, journalist, author of “El Narco: Inside Mexico’s Criminal Insurgency”
01 November 2012
We have to face up to the hard reasons why thousands of young men (and some women) with full mental faculties have become serial killers. These reasons should be taken into account by residents of Colorado, Washington state and Oregon when they vote on referendums to legalize marijuana. The painful truth is that the monster of Mexican cartels has been pumped up by decades of Americans buying illegal drugs under the policies of prohibition. If voters do choose to legalize marijuana it would be a historic decision, but it would also open up a can of worms. The U.S. federal government and even the United Nations would be forced to react to a state’s resolution to break from the path.
A study released by a respected Mexican think tank asserts that proposals to legalize the recreational use of marijuana in Colorado, Oregon and Washington could cut Mexican drug cartels' earnings from traffic to the U.S. by as much as 30 percent. Opponents questioned some of the study's assumptions, saying the proposals could also offer new opportunities for cartels to operate inside the U.S. and replace any profit lost to a drop in international smuggling.
Some five years ago, after Mexico’s President Felipe Calderón declared a War on Drugs followed by a firm military crackdown on drug trafficking organizations, the US and Mexico agreed upon the Mérida Initiative; a three-year programme for the provision of US security assistance to Mexico, mainly in the form of security equipment and law enforcement training for police and military. In 2010, the programme was extended, in spite of severe criticism aimed at its support for an anti-narcotics strategy that had by then produced a variety of adverse effects.
Mexico has experienced an unprecedented rise in crime and violence over the past five years with over 47,000 people killed in crime related violence during this period. For some, the increase in violence is a tragic by-product of President Calderón’s full frontal assault on criminal organizations. For others, the government’s actions, while well intended, have only marginally impacted trafficking while exacerbating the violence.
Mexican President Felipe Calderon on Monday turned up pressure on the United States to curb demand for illicit drugs, hinting that legalization of narcotics may be needed to weaken the drug cartels. Mexico, which has been racked by a bloody conflict between the government and drug cartels, is paying the price for its proximity to the United States, Calderon said in a speech to the Americas Society and Council of the Americas in New York.
The Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA) translated the article La raíz de la violencia by Eduardo Guerrero Gutiérrez that was originally published in Spanish in the June 2011 edition of the Mexican magazine Nexos. Guerrero’s article, "At the Root of the Violence," deserves as wide an audience as possible. The author makes a compelling case for shifting to a strategy of "deterrence" to reduce the horrific violence that has been spreading in Mexico.
The central statistic of Mexico's violent drug war – 40,000 gangland murders in the past five years – is repeated so often it almost fails to alarm us anymore. But what happened last Thursday, Aug. 25, in the northern business capital of Monterrey – 52 innocent people massacred after gangsters set fire to a casino, presumably in a drug-cartel extortion operation – left even President Felipe Calderón sounding distressed. So agitated, in fact, that drug-war analysts believe Calderón, in his speech the next day, signaled a change in philosophy and told the U.S. to think about legalizing drugs as a way of weakening vicious drug traffickers.