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War on war

July 13, 2012

President-elect Enrique Pena Nieto faces the daunting challenge of halting Mexico’s vicious and ongoing drug war. Experts agree that one of his priorities will be to strengthen political institutions.

The word Guerra set in stone is part of the famous Angel of Independence column on Reforma Avenue, right in the heart of Mexico City
Image: DW/J.Blears

Since outgoing President Felipe Calderon declared war on the drug cartels in the first week of his administration, back in December 2006, more than 60,000 people have been killed, and the sickening violence, which spans the length and breadth of the nation, shows no signs of slackening.

Pena Nieto who's employed a former Colombian general as a security advisor, says tackling rampant crime is his number one priority. He says that he's going to create a new police force made up of ex-servicemen. Another primary aim is to reduce the number of murders, kidnappings and cases of extortion, which have significantly increased and which are grievously affecting Mexicans. He's also pointedly and bluntly stated that the Institutional Revolutionary Party PRI, of which he's a prominent member, has never and never will forge any sort of pact with organized crime.

Experts on the drug cartels say that it's going to be a Herculean task to dislodge the deeply entrenched cartels, and Peña Nieto will need to develop a long-term strategy anchored by pillars of wisdom, backed up with steadfast resolve.

Professor Jorge Chabat, who's the Director of International Studies in the Center for Research, Technology and Economics in Mexico City, says there's no chance of removing the Country's Armed Forces from its current spearheading role, in directly confronting and combating the cartels, particularly the ultra-violent Zetas, who are rampaging nationwide. "The only option is to strengthen institutions, while reducing impunity, which means getting away with it. This is the gene permeating all of these crimes, and that will take many years. We will have to build better police forces and strengthen the judiciary," he told DW.

Mexiko's Drogenkrieg Mexican policeman standing on a street in Mexico City
Large sections of the police are either corrupt or out of their depth against the drug cartelsImage: DW/J.Blears

Inefficient and corrupt

He adds that most of these institutions are inefficient and corrupt which allows criminals to do what they do, usually having to fear consequences only in the short term. His cautious estimate is that there will be at least another six years of drugs-related violence.

"Probably it will last longer than that, because judicial reform is scheduled to take place in four more years. And it'll take time to see the tangible results of this reform. So if I'm being optimistic I would say it'll take eight or 10 years. I'm not optimistic in the short term. In order to achieve this, the Mexican state must undertake very important reforms and to make them work."

Lorenzo Meyer is a Professor of Political History at the Center of International Studies at the College of Mexico. He insists the drug cartels do have a business plan, albeit ultra-extreme, and that's to attain a monopoly by wiping out all the existing competition."The drug cartels have been called a criminal insurgency. They are fighting the state, but they don't want to be in power and they have no real ideology. They want to be able to control certain areas of Mexican geography, and for the authorities to leave them alone to do their business," he told DW

Now Pandora's Box has been opened and all the demons are flying around, Meyer somberly reflects: "We know that this situation can't go on forever. There must be a solution, but if the demand is going to continue, the drugs will still be there and production is not going down. It seems that those consuming the drugs don't care about this brutality, so this will all continue until probably some sort of cultural revolution takes place."

Mexican modus vivendi

Meyer doubts that there will be any sort of open negotiation with organized crime, but rather what he terms a modus vivendi. "Probably what we're going to see is a push to the margins of society without tending to destroy them. Marginalizing them in this way is very difficult, because this business is one of the biggest on earth. But it's a matter of survival for the state and for society."

A sign reading shop closed
Shop owners fear for their lives as the drugs war escalatesImage: DW/J.Blears

So is there a method in the gruesome drug cartel violence in which tortured, dismembered and decapitated corpses are daily dumped for the police to fish out of bloody bin bags?

Edgardo Buscaglia is the President of the Institution for Citizens Actions and a Senior Scholar at Colombia University. He says the drug cartels compete with violence and that this violence is a learning-by-doing process. "It started with low levels of violence against the state and society. But then to more complex and sophisticated levels in the form of terrorism and paramilitary groups. They're all aimed at capturing markets including counterfeiting, piracy, drugs, arms trafficking, human trafficking, kidnapping and extortion. There are 22 types of economic crimes that organized crime is involved with," he told DW.

Political action

Monument to Luis Donaldo Colosio. He was PRI Presidential Candidate (Institutional Revolutionary Party) assassinated in 1994
Monument to Luis Donaldo Colosio, PRI Presidential Candidate assassinated in the 1994Image: DW/J.Blears

Buscaglia says a decisive plan of action must be kick-started by the incoming administration. "What it must do is to immediately try to reach an agreement will all political parties and factions, in order to establish sustainable judicial, economic, administrative and anti-corruption controls, that are still absent in Mexico. And the only way they can be established is through a political pact."

Veteran politician Manuel Camacho Solis is an experienced campaigner and as a former Mexican foreign minister, Mayor of Mexico City, and peace commissioner, he's convinced that the principal challenge of the incoming administration is to pacify a country, utterly weary of the drug cartel-related violence.

"There is not enough coordination at the Federal level and social programs are quite limited. There is no national agreement on what to do. If all the resources of the Government are not used to put society on the right track, the problem will keep increasing. We have to make an objective evaluation of what is working and not working. The challenge is to re-establish the legal authority of the state. This is not a small infection. It must be dealt with decisively, with intelligence, honesty and with patriotism, otherwise it will be too late," he told DW.

Author: James Blears, Mexico City
Editor: Rob Mudge

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