June 6, 2008

Mexico’s War on Drugs is a Sham

By Gardenia Mendoza
La Opinión

Mexico’s strategy against organized crime is failing because it has not attacked the larger financial or political structure behind drug trafficking, writes La Opinión’s Mexico City correspondent.

MEXICO CITY – When he came to office in December 2006, President Felipe Calderón implemented a strategy against organized crime. But the plan is failing because it has focused solely on the seizure of drugs, weapons and traffickers without attacking the larger financial or political structure.

National security and organized crime experts came to this conclusion to explain the escalation of violence, including beheadings, torture, kidnappings and mass killings that have been unleashed during the current administration.

“This is the experience of 107 countries: If you only go after gangsters without attacking the financial structure or political protection, what happens is a paradox: you add more troops, prosecutors and police, and the criminal groups put more money into corruption,” says Edgardo Buscaglia, advisor to the UN and academic at Mexico’s Autonomous Technological Institute (ITAM).

“This creates an escalation of violence because criminals respond by bribing high-level officials in order to protect themselves against the state’s actions,” he adds.

It has happened in Lebanon, Pakistan, Colombia… and now it is happening in Mexico: Organized crime has infiltrated the government in a kind of “feudalization,” buying off officials (governors, mayors and police officers) and influencing them by contributing to their campaigns.

“In order for this car to work it has to have four wheels, four combatants: the gangsters, the armed wing, their finances and their politicians,” notes Buscaglia.

Would attacking drug trafficking money harm the national economy?

Jorge Santillán, an analyst with the Technological Institute of Higher Learning in Monterrey, believes it would: “Mexico lives off of three major money-makers,” he says, “oil, remittances and drugs.”

Buscaglia says that both finances and political interests would be affected: if this sector is attacked, many companies in Mexico and other countries would fall, and their links with officials would be discovered.

“For any president there is a very high political cost because they have to attack the same players they must negotiate with in order to govern: attacking those areas is much more complicated,” he adds.

Pedro Isnardo de la Cruz, a specialist in drug trafficking at the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM), believes that the “failure” of the fight against drug trafficking lies with Calderón. Calderón’s war on drugs is simply theatre, Isnardo argues, an act to reassure foreign investment and confidence in his presidency.

“Why hasn’t the war on drugs included the Ministry of Finance and banks to track money laundering, and why hasn’t more been asked of the U.S. government to cooperate?” he asks.

Analyst and journalist Jorge Fernández Menéndez believes that the opposite it happening: This wave of narcoviolence, he says, is a sign that criminal organizations – though they may appear to be strong – are actually cracking.

“This isn’t anything new; it happened in Colombia,” he says. “Pablo Escobar’s people, when their position was weakened or lost, would used increased violence in the same way, from the killings of policemen and officials to the Supreme Court and finally to car bombs and an escalation of kidnappings. But it was not a demonstration of strength,” he says, “but of weakness.”

Translated by Elena Shore, New America Media.

Return to the Frontpage