By Mariana Martínez
There was never a spike in violence or a sharp increase in drug addiction in Mexico, guns are not, mainly, coming from the US —and traffic is not likely to stop—, and the infiltration of crime organizations in the Mexican government is far from being the worse in its history.
In fact, the so-called war-on–drugs declared by President Felipe Calderon was brought upon the country as a way to legitimize his power after a fiercely contested presidential election. Lacking clear goals or an exit strategy the war has completely failed.
These are the controversial arguments put forth in a book called “Narco: The failed war,” coauthored by two close collaborators of former president Vicente Fox; his former spokesperson Rubén Aguilar and political analyst and former foreign minister Jorge Castañeda.
The book is only 140 pages long and its divided into six chapters, using a lot of statistics, both from governmental sources and international organizations; the authors paint a picture where the frontal war against drug cartels and the resulting militarization of the country has been an absolute disaster.
The authors analyze the statistics and find the number of murders per capita show a sharp increase only after Calderon declared war on drug trafficking on December 11th in 2006, not before. Until then, most Mexicans were victims of armed robbery, carjacking or home theft, not kidnapping or extortion, crimes that are more commonly related to organized crime.
“It is no secret violence will only cause more violence,” Aguilar explained during his latest book presentation at Universidad Iberoamericana Tijuana, one of the first regions to have heavy military presence since 2007 and where there has been no let up in violent crimes.
“The UN study we quote in the book was lead by ex Presidents Cardozo, Gavira and Cedillo, who point to the fact that not one single punitive strategy [against drug trafficking] has ever worked out for Latin America; in fact, all efforts towards that direction have lead to a spike in violence” he added.
Calderon has justified the frontal war arguing that Mexico has gone from a hustling territory to a major consumer of drugs, but the governments own National Addiction Survey in 2008, shows drug experimentation, consumption and addiction in Mexico has not spiked amongst Mexicans, and is in fact quite lower than many other countries in Latin America.
This might come as a surprise but the reason is simple business mathematics; if a kilo of cocaine is valued at $12,500 in Mexico, but can be sold in small doses for up to $97,000 in the New York market, even if crossing the drug to the US is difficult, the earning margins are still attractive enough and worth the risk in order to get to such a huge market.
The authors even challenge the repeated assumption that most guns and weapons come from the US and Obama will focus on that fact. They instead point to a large black traffic market located in Paraguay-Brazil- Argentina and to the fact the US has been clear in its position on the subject.
“The US is not prioritizing the stop of gun traffic across the border” Castañeda explained, “President Obama already made it clear he is not changing the second amendment. The US government has only 550 Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms agents in the border, while having 25 thousand Border Patrol agents in the same region, what are their focus and priorities? It’s quite clear by their resources allocation.”
Mexico’s militarization has brought on little results when it comes to diminishing violence, and yet it has had grave consequences when it comes to Human Rights, as non-profits such as Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International have documented thoroughly.
The authors show a spike in the number of common crimes affecting Mexican citizens, as well as extortion, “taxing” by criminal groups and kidnap-pings. Most of these crimes are unsolved and unpunished in part because public police resources are focused solely into fighting directly drug related crimes.
If this is all true, why was the drug war declared in the first place?
“The explanation comes not from facts, but from Calderon’s need for legitimacy after the 2006 elections; he believed it was going to be simple, fast and cheap, and it has resulted in a bloodshed that is far from it. He is currently at a dead end street that has been enormously costly in human lives for this country” Castañeda said.
The counterproposal: legalization and control
Aguilar and Castañeda are not alone in questioning the federal policy and militarization of the country.
Former president Vicente Fox has recently said it is time for the military to go back to their bases, and for Mexico to take a step back and re-think its course of action, while thousands of citizens in major Mexican cities including Ciudad Juarez have marched requesting for the military to be removed from the streets and roads.
The federal government has dismissed such public displays of citizens’ rejection, quickly calling them a “paid charade orchestrated by organized crime”.
As an alternative, the two politically savvy authors point to the immediate halt in the drug-war, arguing neither drug consumption and hence drug trafficking can be eradicated, they instead suggest a policy of effect-reduction, aimed at lowering the impact of drug trafficking to the average citizen.
“It is important that we dialog with reality, that we learn from the Colombian case; its triumphs and defeats”, said Aguilar, “we should focus on lowering collateral damages the way they have; going after kidnapping, extortion, taxing… all of that has been lowered in Colombia while the land dedicated to cocaine production and its trafficking has remained the same”.
The book authors even advocate for more security in the southern Mexican border by the Tehuantepec Isthmus to prevent cocaine trafficking from the south; the creation of a unified national police force that would replace the municipal police forces, and the legalization of some drugs, starting by pot.
“The US would have to legalize [marihuana] first, otherwise we would be politically suicidal” Castañeda said, adding the fact that at least 15 states in the US are in fact moving towards de-penalizing marihuana consumption, including California, where medicinal marihuana is legal and in LA County alone there are more marihuana dispensaries than schools.
“The fact is, if we don’t change direction, Mexico could end up mourning over 20 thousand drug-war- related deaths by 2012…this is not the way out…this is a deadly alley” Castañeda ends.