Friday, December 30, 2011

Calderón drug war strategy has been the right one

MGR Opinion - some reflections five years into Mexico's offensive against the drug cartels

Sixty months ago president Felipe Calderón Hinojosa launched an unprecedented war against domestic terror in this country. With exactly 11 months remaining in his term, it's worth the while to pause briefly and examine where Mexico has been in that time, and where it's headed.

I continue to be amazed by the short sightedness of many who observe and write about Mexican affairs, especially when they're criticizing the Calderón strategy of direct and aggressive engagement of the drug cartels. Not a few of those writers, by the way, are in the United States. One recent article, written by an experienced U.S. journalist, said the strategy had been a "disaster" for Mexico, and irresponsibly implied that a large number of the drug war dead were innocent victims of Mexican troops (conveniently ignoring Human Rights Watch findings just to the contrary). Perhaps she can be forgiven, though, since the Los Angeles Times suggested much the same thing in a November editorial. Here is what I have ventured on the subject in the past 60 days:

On October 31, I wrote:
"The massive deployment of federal forces and the cutting off of the heads of criminal organizations by Felipe Calderón's offensive, which began in December 2006, explain the record levels of violence during his administration. The greatly increased aggressiveness of the government in going after the cartels has been the catalyst behind the skyrocketing number of homicides. Violence has fed more violence as the government seeks to eradicate a drug trafficking industry ignored for decades by previous administrations, and which had reached the point of threatening the existence of the state (A United Nations Office of Drugs and Crime analysis published in September 2012 - nine months after this editorial was written - confirms exactly what I said in the italicized words above. Summary here.)

"It's a war, in other words. People who continue to complain about how peaceful things were before Felipe Calderón came along are like people who think living in a rat infested house is just fine - as long as you don't go down to the cellar or up to the attic."

And in a Nov. 21 editorial entitled Why the L.A. Times Just Doesn't Get It, I pursued similar themes:

"For decades a long succession of Mexican presidents - all of them members of the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), which may very well retake the office next year - sat quietly in Los Pinos while drug trafficking grew exponentially and the cartels morphed into international terrorist organizations which today threaten the domestic security of many nations, including the U.S. When PAN president Felipe Calderón decided that "enough was enough" five years ago, the widespread corruption in local agencies and infiltration by the cartels necessitated reliance upon federal troops. It's hard to trust a street cop who earns $300 USD per month. Anyone who does not understand these realities is simply ignorant of contemporary Mexican history. Too bad the Times is one of them. Its editorial readers expect and deserve a more considered analysis."

I believe the Calderón strategy is proving effective. So many drug traffickers and cartel kingpins have fallen in the last 12-18 months that you have to load their names into a database to keep tabs. The past week alone has resulted in the capture of three major organized crime figures. The Mérida Initiative is working, slowly but surely. Most of the killings, especially the mass executions and public body dumpings which often follow, are of violent criminals and by violent criminals. When innocents are attacked, such as the young American family murdered on a bus in Veracruz last week, it's a clear example of criminals venting their rage against an environment which is no longer within their sole control. Five of those responsible for that massacre were killed by government troops hours later. Crime with impunity, the historic norm in Mexico, is no longer the order of the day, and terrorism for the sheer sake of terrorism is the last hurrah of the perpetrators.

Mexico's drug war will be a long, drawn out affair. That is inevitable, because Felipe Calderón's predecessors in Los Pinos let the cancer grow untreated for every bit of 30, perhaps even 40 or 50 years. Colombia's struggle against the cocaine trade is still underway, although the horrors of the 1980s are largely history. Military experts on both sides of the border have opined that Mexico will need a decade, at minimum, to destroy the powerful drug cartels. Even that's optimistic, but there is simply no other way out, short of turning the country over to organized crime forces operating on an international scale.

In just over 180 days Mexico will elect a new president. Whoever that person is, he or she will not abandon the Calderón strategy. Although the PRI and PRD nominees have both vowed to "return the army to its quarters" within weeks of taking office, don't bet on it. The candidates understand the consequences of doing so - violence which would be far more awful than anything experienced during the administration of the current PAN leader. And while the presidential hopefuls go about peddling all of the familiar political promises - more jobs, better education, improved health care, bread and circuses, as it were - they surely recognize that the quintessential duty of government in any society is simply to protect its citizens.

The naysayers who refuse to see reality will continue to condemn, and the self-proclaimed Mexican "intellectuals" will press their preposterous war crime claims against Calderón in The Hague. It will be a long fight yet, measured by years, not months, but time and history are on Felipe Calderón's side, and will prove his bold strategy to have been the correct one for Mexico. Indeed, it was the only one.

Nov. 30 - "I leave with a clear conscience that I've carried out my duties."
Oct. 20 - U.S. State Dept. says Mexico is "witnessing the end of drug trafficking"
Sept. 29 - Calderón's drug war strategy dislodged traffickers, forcing them south, says U.N.
Sept. 24 - "Don't throw us back," Calderón tells Enrique Peña Nieto
Sept. 6 - Peña Nieto transition team confirms: Mexican army will remain on the streets
Aug. 27 - Le Monde lashes out at Mexico's "spiral of barbarism" - and takes a swipe at U.S.
July 8 - Mexican voters got suckered on drug war
May 17 - Struggle against drug cartels, organized crime will be Calderón's legacy

Why the L.A. Times Just Doesn't Get It
Back to the "good old days" in Mexico
"The beast in the cave and the soap opera actor"
Mexican armed forces push drug traffickers south into Honduras
Oct. 13, 2011 - Drug cartels present greater threat to U.S. security than Iran, says State Department

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