Felipe Calderón’s Lost War
A Good Anti-Drug Strategy Would Result in the Reduction of Violence, but in Mexico, Just the Opposite is Happening
By Erich Moncada
Special to The Narco News Bulletin
February 20, 2008
This year, Mexico faces an adverse economic and social scenario. Felipe Calderón’s conservative government – dressed in its olive green uniform – prefers to talk purely about drug trafficking, instead of attending to the demands of trade unions and campesino peasant farmers that threaten to lead us into a new armed conflict, with the bicentennial of the country’s independence and the centennial of the 1910 Revolution just two years away. Though the war between cartels is not the country’s most pressing problem – unemployment and extreme poverty, for instance, are – those in charge of running the nation proclaim premature victory in an illegal war based on lies. (Any similarity to Iraq is purely coincidence.)
Let’s take a look at some recent articles from the Mexican press (all emphasis mine):
Dept. of the Interior: The State Has Already Seized Control of Several Plazas from the Narcos
Cabinet Members Present Report on Goals Reached
By Alonso Urrutia
After performing an analysis of organized crime fighting strategies, Interior Secretary Juan Camilo Mouriño stated that “in this fight, defeat does not exist for us, as no criminal group is capable of resisting the force of the state.” He added that the structure of drug trafficking gangs has been sucessfully damaged to such a degree that public squares where their presence was once significant “are no longer so, and today are no longer under their control.”
In a joint message from the members of the so-called “security cabinet” the objectives reached in 2007 and the first month of this year were reviewed. Mouriño highlighted the fact that the results of that policy are “in sight – violence, wars between mafias and executions being clear symptoms of the weakening of organized crime.”
… For his part, Defense Secretary Guillermo Galván Galván pointed out that this year three high-impact operations have been carried out in Michoacán, Guerrero and in the intersection of Sinaloa, Durango and Chihuahua states, which have permitted, along with other actions, the destruction of 4,533 marijuana plots in 682 hectares and 2,918 opium poppy plots on 441 hectares.
Based on what information or data is the administration able to claim that the public plazas are no longer under the narcos’ control? What plazas are they talking about? Where are they located? And if they’re no longer occupied, where did their invaders go? We should have some point of comparison. But that information is not available because the state and the commercial media hide it.
The interior minister’s words make no sense. A correct strategy for fighting drugs should result in the reduction of violence. But just the opposite is happening. The government’s strategy is like that of a cocky child who shakes up a bees-nest. The criminal organizations are challenging each other over the territory that public officials’ triumphalist declarations ignore. The alarming number of mob executions (2,500 last year) is the clearest indicator of this war’s failure.
To the contrary, the Spaniard in charge of internal policies (Mouriño is a Spanish citizen) says that success is measured in blood spilled, in bodies accumulated in morgues and in severed heads. A true victory would be reflected in rising costs of illicit substances, a scarcity in their supply and a reduction in the number of consumers through effective policies of addiction prevention. Nevertheless, the last official Mexican study on drug use was performed in the year 2002.
Another problem arises with the statistics on the destruction of illicit crops. How high is annual drug production? How many hectares must be eradicated to decrease that production? Impressive figures can be tossed around, but if the eradications are less than the harvests, then the efforts are useless. If the authorities don’t bother to provide all the information to the public, why should we believe them? Take a look at this article published in the Mexico City daily Milenio:
PGR: There Is No Risk of Losing the War on Drug Trafficking
Responds to Criticisms on Crime from México Unido Party
[The attorney general] made clear that the scenes of violence that have been seen throughout the past year in several states is nothing more than a manifestation of the weakening of organized crime, as this is the first time it is being fought strategically.
He reminded that in Colombia, aggression against Pablo Escobar led to terrorism, but he ended up dead and his cartels were destroyed.
The first time? What about when the administration of Vicente Fox, who belongs to the same party as Calderón, was fighting it? The mere admission of this fact should oblige the justice system to arrest and imprison all previous politicians, especially former president Fox. Refusing to do so automatically turns them into accomplices. Yes, we must fight the narcos. But we must also go after the politicians who cover for them.
What’s more, according to the attorney general’s words, we must infer that drug trafficking was eradicated forever in Colombia, right?
According to El Universal:
[In 2007 the Mexican cartels received] 380 metric tons of cocaine from Colombia, of which only 37 were confiscated.
Colombia is the worst place to go for inspiration in continuing this war, especially with the conflict that President Alvaro Uribe still maintains with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC).
From the same article:
Medina Mora emphasized that the victory of the Mexican state over the power of drug trafficking will be reflected in the reduction of violence and crime, with the fragmentation of these criminal groups “to levels at which they can be combatted from a political viewpoint and with a local perspective…”
...The attorney general insisted that the rise of violence, the war between mafias and the executions are not symptoms of the forces of power, but rather the opposite; that is to say, the more the government harasses them, the more violent they will become.
Statements don’t come any more contradictory than that. How is it possible that the government is provoking a downturn in violence and at the same time government harassment increases violence?
All of this, as crazy as it sounds, has a perverse and twisted logic to it.
On January 31, 2008, the attorney general said, in statements to the Notimex news agency:
“...we are at war to recover peace and territory in order to build a better future.”
At what moment did we declare war? Who authorized it? Who is the enemy? When will it be won?
The government will ask us for patience. It will say that this is a war with no quarter for the “good guys” and that no one wants to be on the side of the “bad guys.” That the enemy has no face, nor a conventional army because it is elusive and has no defined territory. That measures such as the searches without warrants (a proposal in Congress already known popularly as the “Gestapo Law”) are essential for pursuing the evil-doers and have nothing to do with criminalizing social protest.
During a speech he gave last year, President Calderón gave an indication of just how long this “frontal assault on the naros” will be:
“It is a battle that will take time, it is a battle that will take many resources, cost a great deal of money. Also, of course, and we must warn of this and say it sincerely, it will probably cost, it is costing, and has been for some time, many human lives.”
How cynical and irresponsible, to simply say “who cares, bring on the killing.” So much money that could be invested fighting poverty (and thus attacking the root of the narcos). But helping the poor impresses Uncle Sam less than deploying soldiers in the streets. All this so that little Juanito doesn’t smoke a deadly joint, so that Manuelito doesn’t come into contact with that demoniacal line of coke, so that Laurita doesn’t take “E” at a rave and hook up with the first guy she meets. Juanito can simply become an alcoholic, Manuelito can smoke a few packs of cigarettes and Laurita can take up bulimia… all socially-acceptable evils.
Maybe it’s me who exaggerates. Maybe the soldiers need to get involved in this war that will never be won. The soldiers of the heroic Mexican Army are incorruptible and honest, incapable of trampling the people’s human rights. They would never dare to rape an old indigenous woman (Ernestina Ascencio), a group of prostitutes (in Coahuila) or shoot a family to death in a military roadblock (in Sinaloa).
Human Rights Watch Criticizes Use of Army as Police in Mexico
The organization Human Rights Watch denounced, in its 2007 annual report, that the Army is working as a police force in Mexico to fight drug trafficking, as it feels this provokes abuses by soldiers.
Human Rights what? Must be one of those ghost organizations that no one pays attention to. Not like the UN, which unconditionally supports Calderón’s policy:
UN: Fighting Drugs with Army is Dangerous
The army’s participation in police work is not appropriate in the long term and could even be dangerous, the United Nations high commissioner for human rights, Louise Arbour, warned on Tuesday.
Amnesty International has also add its voice to the many:
The proposal that police may enter a house without a warrant when people’s lives and safety are at risk… generates serious concerns. Abuse of power by the police in carrying out searches or illegal arrests has been frequently documented by Amnesty International, warning that on no small number of occasions, the illegal behavior of police has been disguised before the Public Ministry or judge through the use of fabricated evidence to justify the actions of police agents. This new power does not appear to be moving toward eliminating such abuses, and does not include conditions that would be consistent with the international human rights treaties ratified by Mexico.
The army’s answer, instead of re-training and accepting recommendations, has been to arrogantly discredit its critics, as this article published on the encuentro29 website demonstrates:
Aponte Polito: Despite Criticism, Army Will Maintain Fight Against Crime
The general of the Second Military Zone, which covers Baja California, Sonora and Sinaloa, identified three groups in the war on drugs: one active, one apathetic and another that makes negative criticisms.
The first group, he said durring an interview, is active and sees the participation of civil society, the federal government and the army, who help the population.
There is another group, he explained, that can be called static.
“This group sees what happens, but does absolutely nothing; they stay in their homes, their streets, their bars, in a static manner, watching other elements concern themselves with supporting society.
But there is a third group, he commented, that he denominated negative critics.
“These people do absolutely nothing to support society, they dedicate themselves to making unfounded criticisms that provoke disunity among Mexicans, while unity is so necessary to maintain security.”
The officer said to those who work for the benefit of society, “let us not allow them to keep poisoning your children, or to keep kidnapping and killing.”
The free expression of ideas is distasteful to the army. To military men, complaints of human rights violations, comments on the unconstitutionality of the roadblocks, the proposals for gradual drug legalization and implementation of harm reduction policies are all repugnant. But can all these actions really be considered “doing nothing?”
Soldiers enlist to go to war, not to hold discussions within a democratic society. For that reason, when they are granted unrestricted powers, as Calderón has done, the risk of abuse of power rises. If the drug business infiltrates the military (as past experiences have demonstrated), who will be able to stop it?
The army’s current bad reputation is so scandalous that is suffering a uncontrolled hemorrhaging among its ranks. According to Genaro Villamil in Proceso magazine:
The Army itself counts a total of 107,128 members who deserted during the last presidential term, and in 2007 alone, 17,758 chose to leave their units – 49 per day.
Which leads us to ask: where to all those thousands of soldiers go?
Well, to work for the narco, of course. It pays better.
The critical human rights situation in Mexico will intensify in the coming years with the blindness and arrogance that characterize the present administration of President Calderón. His strategies’ direction will not vary in the near future, as long as the United States government keeps giving him pats on the back and economic support like the “Mérida Initiative.”
Erich Moncada works in the community radio station Radio Bemba, XHCD 95.5 FM in Hermisillo, Mexico. He is also author of the blog MonoXoro, where an earlier version of this article appeared.
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