Narcotraficantes aren't in the drug trade because they have great loyalty to drugs, but rather because they have great loyalty to money and power and little or no loyalty to what binds most people to lead more or less peaceful lives. So it comes as no surprise that the upsurge in kidnappings of the wealthy in Mexico as well as in the US is apparently due to the decline in the profitability of drugs. Narcotraficantes are and have been heavily involved in other crimes, too: human trafficking, arms, money-laundering, to mention a few. Thus, legalizing drugs to do away with the gangsters who run them isn't an answer to the problem (which is not to say we shouldn't work to decriminalize drug use at least to some extent; do away with our brutal anti-drug bureaucracies and armies; work on helping those who succomb, etc, etc.)
Americans also have to understand that we do have a responsibility -- a large one -- to aid in the effort to bring this terrible criminal scourge under control. This is not only because Americans drive the drug trade but because it is our lax control of the sale of weaponry, especially including automatic weapons and the like, which makes them so attractive a product for big-time criminals. It's easy for thugs to do other things, too, which we could work on. For instance, for all our ridiculous fencing of the border, for all our cruel incarceration of illegal immigrants, etc. etc., apparently gangsters can cross la frontera, back and forth, back and forth, with ease. Hence, kidnappings in San Diego have increased as rich Mexicans have moved there to escape the violence at home.
Mexicans and Americans need to be partners. The US has no call to think it should be boss: its efforts in Colombia have been, at the very best, less a blessing than a problem, for instance. Mexicans don't need the US moving in with US-made arms and helicopters and so on and so on. Mexicans involved in anti-crime efforts know what they are facing, They have, at all levels of society, an extremely vested interest in defeating Mexican mafias. The fact that the rich and the powerful are subject to these kidnappings only further fires up the government's determination.
And Mexicans don't only look to the US. Recently there was a high level meeting in Colombia between that country's officials and Mexico's.
In La Jornada under the headline, Eduardo Medina Mora Admits that Capacities of Narcos Were Underestimated
Elizabeth Velasco and Alfredo Méndez report:
"Perhaps the most important lesson Colombia has learned in these years of the long fight against organized crime is that we underestimated its capacity to generate violence and terror; its capacity to generate economic power and to intimidate and to destroy institutions," said Eduardo Medina Mora, head of the [Mexican] Office of the Attorney General [Procuraduría Genneral de la República] addressing Colombian functionaries including the Minister of Defense of that South American country, Juan Manuel Santos.
Medina Mora emphasized that the most important lesson of the Colombian fight against narcotráfico is that they did not foresee the power which organized crime could acquire.
For his part, Juan Manuel Santos suggested that in order to combat narcotráfico, contraband trade, traffic in arms, and other forms of organized crime, Mexico and Colombia ought to improve in maritime interception, in intelligence, in the exchange of information, and in strengthening official institutions against crimes like kidnapping.
During the inauguration of the third joint high level meeting on security and justice between Mexico and Colombia at the Secretariat of External Relations [SRE en español] Medina Mora warned of "the corrupting power" of money coming from organized crime, of their destructive capacities, of their creativity in avoiding justice....
....The object of the meeting is to evaluate actions and mechanisms of joint cooperation to combat organized crime like the strategies which both countries have developed in justice and security measures, to intensify concrete and clear objectives in the next few years.
The participants remembered that from its creation in April of 2001 the high level group on security and justice has pursued the deployoment of coordinated efforts to combat narcotrafico, contraband, money washing, etc.
Eduardo Medina Mora emphasized last May, that "although it might not seem so, Mexico was gaining in the fight against narcotráfico." .....[He] maintained that the government's actions against organized crime were headed in the right direction, and he indicated that it is evident that when you take resources from organized crime and lower their income, you create instability which expresses itself in violence, "because they have to compete for a smaller piece of the pie."
Eduardo Medina Mora expanded on his views in an extensive interview which appeared in the Spanish online newspaper, ELPAÍS on November 23, 2008. Taking into account his deep knowledge that it is not just drugs that are of concern, he refers not only to narcotráfico but to organized crime.
Pablo Ordaz is the interviewer, and his comments precede his questions and Medina Mora's answers. Translation is mine.
Not long ago, en a Mexican periodical a vignette appeared in which one sa a very worried devil chatting with a colleage over the situation of violence which his country was suffering under. "For decades," he said, "We feared the Colombianization of Mexico. Now what frightens us is that they Mexicanize hell."
Thus, the first question [la que aquí se hace hasta el demonio, es obvia]
Question: What is happening in Mexico?
Answer: The present situation reflects the evolution of two phenomena which, if they didn't arise intertwined nonetheless existed together in a most perverse manner. On the one hand, this country [Mexico] never took sufficiently seriously the need to construct truly transparent police and legal institutions. What we had worked for some citizens, but it was a model of administrative crime. Crime organized from administrative power [referrin to the old PRI dominance]. And this model was dissolved in the eighties, but no solid institutions replaced the old ones. We don't have them. The main characteristic of the problem of security is institutional weakness. Another factor that has contributed as the result of political evolution is the deconcentration of power. The executive office used to be very strong, based on the roles which the Constitution assigned the president, but also based on extraconstitutional powers. But when the country entered into a more clearly democratic situation, many of these rules ceased to function. Power was decentralized, and not necessarily in a good way. For example, Mexico has an enormous fragmentation of police forces. This country has a federal structure and thus, and every town, every city has the constitutional power to have its own police force. There are more than 1649 different police forces in the country.
Question: Many of them have been infiltrated by narcotráfico....
Answer: There are police in some of the zones of the northern frontier [the Mexican-US border] which were completely privatized by narcotráfico. President Felipe Calderón has said that the criminal organizations in those zones have challenged the basic powers of the state, [have even acquired them]: The exclusive right to use legitimate force. The exclusive right to charge taxes .. basically by [using extortion as a means of taxation] .. and on occasion the exclusive right to dictate norms of a general nature. This came about, because, in a manner parallel to the weakening of the state [Mexico], the Mexican cartels which traditionally had primarily served the Colombians as drug carriers were acquiring more power. They benefited from two circumstances. On the one hand, the US succeeded in closing the drug routes through the Caribbean. On the other, Colombia succeeded in fragmenting and reducing the power of the traditional cartels: Pablo Escobar, the Ochoa, the Rodríguez Orihuela, were left behind. All that gave enormous economic power to Mexican narcotráfico, and as a consequence, enormous power to corrupt and enormous power to intimidate. For its part, the government never paid sufficient attention to this slow, gradual, but very powerful penetration of the framework of the state. It never appreciated the capacity of crime to destroy institutions, above all at a local level. And in the face of this picture of escalating confrontation among organizations and tremendous violence, we had no alternative but to do battle with no quarter given to these groups.
Question: You speak of institutional weakness. Why didn't the state wait until it had the necessary weapons? Why did they start this war "without quarter" which itself provoked an explosion of violence?
Answer: It was a matter which absolutely could not be postponed.
Answer: In the first place, there was already violence. The violence didn't start with President Calderón's administration. The struggle over territory was provoked by the change in drug consumption in the US. The demand for cocaine fell and for stimulants (methanphetamines) rose. The Mexican cartels began to lose income. They found themselves with insufficient money to sustain the infrastructures which they had constructed over all those years. Because of the smaller cake they found themselves with, they started their war, which then became bloodier because of other circumstances: precarious alliances which broke, aggravations and betrayals within groups.... The government does not see narcotráfico as the be-all and end-all of its plans: there will always be a demand for illegal substances. Rather, the government intends to take away from these organizations their enormous power of intimidation, their enormous firepower the've acquired with the weapons they accumulated over all these years, and consequentially, their capacity to destroy institutions and kidnap the tranquility of the citizens.
Question: But it seems just the opposite. That's what everyone says. Mexico was never this bad.
Answer: Public perception of violence responds first to the manner in which it is presented. Murders, high powered weapons, decapitations intensify the perception of the problem. I'm not underestimating the size of the problem which is very serious, and we don't deny it, but its necessary to consider that the levels of violence in the country compared to other countries is not so unfavorable. We've had this year a very significant and distressing increase in murders attributable to organized crime, and the power of these crimes to intimidate is increased directly by media coverage. Criminal organizations execute their violence [not only to murder] but also with the aim of increasing media attention, with the intention of intimidating society.The media picks up the fact of the intimidation itself, and thus it has a mushrooming effect. It's not so much the number of murders, but the deliberate plan to have the media publicize it so that the public feels even more intimidated. In fact, we haven't compared so badly with other countries. Mexico will have this year around 12 murders for every 100,000 inhabitants, Colombia is going to have 33 or 34, Golumbia and El Salvador around 50. The curve of violence is going to be like a bell curve, we still haven't arrived at the peak of violence, and in the downward trajectory we will find also peaks of violence. But in the not too distant future, the violence will decrease.
Question: At what point had you arrived to make this battle so urgent?
Answer: Organized crime organizations were knocking at the doors of the most important institutions of the country. Because of this, it was necessary to answer as forcefully, with as much determination as was possible. The main mistake in Colombia, and they have shared their experience so that we do not repeat it, was to underestimate the corrupting power of narcotráfico. Certainly, narcotráfico has had the capacity to infiltrate police institutions and the department of justice. We are in the midst of a very thorough investigation that has led us to very high levels in the attorney general's office and to the federal police. We've sent these people to jail. We've discovered how narcotraficantes obtain information about anticipated operations before they've been undertaken. We've done this through what we have called Operation Clean-up, totally legally, so that we have been able to bring cases against important leaders to trial. And on this basis we've also managed to separate a considerable number of prosecutors and their resources from their duties.
Question: How are you going about this?
Answer: In very concrete details: computers cannot have USB ports or compact disc recorders. There can be no paper printers, and furthermore, we have alarms which make it very difficult to disseminate information about our activities. The commitment to purge is absolute, and that is going to make us more effective. The number of people detained, the volume of drugs interdicted... I have here the data which demonstrate our effectiveness. Since December 1 of 2006 when President Calderón took power until today we have confiscated 69.7 tons of cocaine, 3,655 tons of marijuana, around 40 tons of the chemical precursors of methamphetamine, 12550 cars, 209 boats, 315 planes. Also we have attacked their power fire....More than 27,000 weapons, of which 15000 were large. Almost 2000 grenades, three million munitions. More arms than are needed to equip an army. We've detained 38,247 people. 5 top leaders, 28 financial operators, 14 deputies, 807 hit men, 69 public officials....Every one of the organizations has suffered blows, without exception.
Question: But even so, 40 percent of the population, according to surveys, believe the war is being lost.
Answer: People talk among themselves and thus stories grow not only in everyone's daily interactions, but also because of the roleof the media.
Question: There's another 40 percent who are disposed to make peace with the situation in order to lower the level of violence.
Answer: There's no room for that, in the first place because it is contrary to ethical politics, to democratic values, to the values of respecting the law and the Constitution. And furthermore in the dynamic in which we find ourselves in, in which we are taking apart organizations, makes it impossible to step back although we may have had the temptation to do so. There has been too much deterioration and fragmentation of the organizations for it to be possible.
Question: Although it may not have been part of the strategy, it is on your agenda to detain the capos...
Answer: It is.
Question: The people ask themselves, where are the narcotraficantes most famous, el Chapol Guzmán....
Answer: There are symbolic figures who are priority objectives, but not only because of this war. In the last 100 days, very important leaders have been captured. These have been successful captures of symbolic leaders, but what will makes the war succeed will be to reduce the gangs' capacity to get money and to diminish their capacity to acquire weapons. For that reason, stopping the acquisition of weapons is fundamental.
Question: And in what manner does the success of this battle depend on the US?
Answer: Narcotráfico is a transnational phenomenon. The most important market in the world for drugs is the US, and Mexico has 3000 kilometers of border with it. Furthermore, the US has very permissive legislation with respect to guns. Their citizens can legally acquire whatever guns they desire up to 50 calibers. A 50 caliber rifle, the 50 caliber barret, [seen above] is one of the preferred weapons of Mexican narcotraficantes. This gun, which any citizen can obtain, penetrates armor, penetrates walls, can shoot a target some 2,400 meters away. Without doubt, in the figures which I have given of the seizure of arms, the fundamental supplier is the US. They have around 107,000 establishments which sell arms. Something more than 12,000 are on the border with Mexico. And it is precisely those, those on the border which have average sales twice that in the rest of the country. This can't be accidental. The Constitution of the US in its second amendment guarantees these rights and although it seems to us absurd that an ordinary citizen can by an AK-47 [seen above] , an AR-15 [a designer version for the ladies here] or a barret 50, that is the law of the land.
Question: Other issues in the debate in Mexico is if the police can continue to function in spite of the infiltration [by organized crime].
Answer: Without a doubt. The size and institutional capacity [of the police] has not been destroyed. The fact of having being able to eliminate people doesn't mean the institution was destroyed. They are infiltrated, but there is no institutional collapse. The institutions which are functioning are clean.
Question: But there are cases in which departments have been infiltrated at a very high level -- the ex-chief of Interpol, the ex-antidrug tsar -- this provokes increasing lack of confidence.
Answer: I believe the effect is the opposite. When citizens see that we are confronting the problem, they applaud it. The most serious in terms of confidence would be denial, to ignore the problem. Citizens, whose opinions we are measuring in our surveys, know that these activities--difficult, painful, because in some cases it was someone very close to us whom we caught--are done with rigor and their effect is to strengthen our institutions.
Question: Is there concern [in the government] about the generalized suspicion towards the political class and especially towards those who like you are in the first line of the fight against narcotráfico?
Answer: I personally don't have any worry, never has anyone impugned my reputation directly, because there is no basis for doing so. I can't be tied to anything related to organized crime.
Question: When will we begin to see light?
Answer: We are already beginning to. Narcotráfico is losing strength. As it declines there are and will be rare instances of violence. Normality will start to seem more attainable in time, although this war without doubt is long term, which the president emphasized from the first day. It will be a long war, costly, difficult. But defeat is unthinkable because it is impossible. Mexico has the capacity to defeat narcotrafico. There is no room for Mexico to be defeataed.