Monday, August 27, 2012

Le Monde lashes out at Mexico's "spiral of barbarism" - and takes a swipe at U.S., too

MGRR News Analysis -
French newspaper condemns Mexico's drug war effort, but offers no better idea on what to do

Last Thursday (Aug. 23) France's prestigious Le Monde published an editorial which contained drug war data strikingly at odds with what has been reported in Mexico: Mexique, la spirale de la barbarie. The article got a lot of attention in this country, but little elsewhere, including the United States (not surprisingly). The headline was widely translated in newspapers here as "Mexico, deadliest country in the world" (El país más mortífero).

Some of the numbers cited by Le Monde caused heads to turn. The paper claims that between 2007 and 2011, almost 96,000 people died in the drug war launched by president Felipe Calderón in Dec. 2006. Over 27,000 people were killed in 2011, it says. Based upon those figures, which Le Monde attributes to Mexico's National Institute of Statistics and Geography (NISG) - an anonymous agency of the federal government - the paper calculates that on the war's six year anniversary at the end of this year, about 120,000 people will be counted as victims. That anniversary, by the way, will coincide with the swearing in of Mexico's (presumptive) president-elect, Enrique Peña Nieto.

Last January, Mexico's Attorney General reported the official five year death count at 47,515, with perhaps as many as 17,000 of those occurring in 2011. A few days earlier, the Milenio news network - which has never spared criticism of Calderón's military-based strategy - said the toll was 49,969. Both of those numbers fall far short of the NISG stats relied upon by Le Monde. The difference may have to do with the manner by which a "drug war death" is determined for inclusion in the grisly tally. But the great disparity has provoked plenty of controversy, and understandably many have suggested that the outgoing National Action Party government has played fast and loose with the dead.

Le Monde called the militarization of Mexico's drug war a "terrible failure," a characterization which has proved popular with other newspapers (Why the L.A. Times just doesn't get it). My belief is that it's wrong and Calderón was right. It's easy to editorialize from afar. It's a different matter to get out of bed every morning and have to deal with the brutality of monolithic, transnational drug cartels which were ignored for 25 or 30 years by one's predecessors in office, and whose arms source, cash and product markets are just across the border (Calderón strategy has been the right one).

How doe Mexicans feel about Calderón's handling of the drug war? According to a survey reported in June by the U.S. Pew Research Center, 80% continue to support his military strategy, even though they had hoped for better results. In the final analysis their opinion is all that counts, not that of an American or French editorial board passing judgment on a tactical approach which was mandatory.

For all of its predictable posturing, which it knew would sell papers at the corner news stand, Le Monde did get three questions right. First, it squarely acknowledged U.S. complicity in the disaster which has befell Mexico (Mexico's Continuing Agony), opining that American economic prosperity (relative to Mexico's) drives the war. Second, it accurately predicted that nothing of substance will change under the incoming PRI administration (Mexican voters got suckered on drug war). In fact, things could get worse, the editors suggested. Third, Le Monde noted, as I have several times, that Mexico's greatest battle is economic (Enrique Peña Nieto's biggest challenges will be economy and environment, not drug cartels), and that victory over the cartels will come not just from putting more forces into the field, but by addressing the country's enormous endemic poverty (Increasing poverty and rising state debt result in poor economic report for Mexico).

More ominously, Le Monde editors observed that violence (especially homicide) is spreading over a wider geographical area of the nation - a fact consistent with U.S. security predictions that the major cartels will be replaced to some extent by numerous super gangs operating in territories carved out in alliance with, and under the supervision of, their larger mentors.

Calderón's sexenio (six year term) will indeed be viewed as little more than a "downward spiral of barbarism" by drug war critics. But as Le Monde itself admitted last week, even now, almost 70 months later, no one inside or outside of Mexico has been able to suggest a relatistic alternative.

May 17 - Struggle against drug cartels, organized crime will be Calderón's legacy
Aug. 28 - El origen de la violencia no está en la inseguridad únicamente, sino en factores sociales y económicos que afectan a la gente


  1. Barbarism, a language of violence, is spoken on both sides of the border. Woodie Guthrie observed that some thugs rob with a six-gun and others with a fountain pen. When civilization fails to restrain brut force in markets or streets, the fabric of community unravels. Mexico and US are two sides of the same coin. Gangs in suits speak the same tongue as gangs in hoodies. And even the US Attorney General has declined to prosecute! We are a nation of cowards ceding control to the barbarians. ~eric.

  2. If I remember correctly, the French had their own "spiral of violence" in 1789. However, their violence was directed at the real culprits.

    1. Yes, indeed. And as for those French, well - "let them eat cake."