Monday, March 8, 2010
Mexico's President is leading a Rudderless War on Crime
By Patrick Corcoran
Attacks on Felipe Calderón’s
crime policies have reached fever pitch in recent months. Unfortunately, as discussed in this space four weeks ago, the most prominent critiques focus on unprovable theses (Calderón’s strategy was motivated
by a desire to legitimate himself after winning a closely contested election) and tangential details (claims that 90 percent
of traffickers’ weapons come from the US are bunk). In the process, the manifest failings of Calderón’s strategy,
which should worry the president’s supporters as much as his opponents, are roundly ignored.
The first gigantic flaw limiting
Calderón's crime strategy is, problematically enough, the absence of one. He's announced a number of significant changes to
Mexico's anti-crime policies, most notably the more extensive reliance on the army in domestic security tasks, but also the
Mérida Initiative, the consolidation of the federal police bodies, and a modernizing judicial reform.
But what Calderón hasn't done
is explain those modifications within the context of a broader strategy. He hasn't justified his policies in terms that go
much beyond boilerplate, nor has he enunciated any framework by which we can measure success. We know little about where Calderón
expects Mexico to be one year from now, not to mention five or ten.
Similarly, Calderón has never
made clear what his priorities are in reducing crime. Some days it seems like kidnappers, others extortion artists, and others
still drug runners (the traditional ogre of Mexican organized crime).
The geographic focus of attention
is constantly shifting, from Michoacán to Juárez to Tamaulipas to Tijuana as well. This all gives the impression that the
administration, rather than adopting a detached and objective perspective of Mexican security, is simply addressing issues
according to their importance in the media. Instead of guiding public opinion, the administration is chasing it.
The communicative confusion has
been exacerbated by Calderón’s reluctance to seek input from outsiders in the formulation of his crime policy. He could
have, for instance, established a commission—with members from security agencies, academia, the opposition, and the
international community—to develop long- and short-term recommendations for security policy.
Likewise, Calderón could have
made a show of naming Priístas (PRI members) or Perredistas (PRD) to key security posts. By doing so he could have established
an accepted road map to guide Mexican presidents for a generation, and would have isolated a security policy from the realm
of political point-scoring.
Although it's an imperfect metaphor,
it's worth comparing this to the American strategy of containment in the Cold War. The strategy was sustainable for almost
half a century and ultimately successful only because, a few extremists aside, it had the broad support of the US political
class, on both the right and the left. But Calderón has made no comparable attempt to establish an enduring approach
to security, and consequently, public security in Mexico is a political football.
Another entirely deficient element
of Calderón's crime policy has been the efforts to combat money laundering. Early in his term, Calderón’s administration
expended a great deal of rhetoric trumpeting their attacks on criminals’ financial networks, particularly after federal
officials discovered more than US$200 million in cash in the house of a Chinese national in Mexico City.
But the Zhenli Ye Gon case seems
to have been more a matter of luck than the result of a comprehensive focus on chasing dirty money, and we haven’t heard
so much about the financial aspect of the war on drugs in recent years.
The newest U.S. State Department
Narcotics Control Strategy Report, released last week, indicates why. Since 2006, only 90 arrests have been made for money-laundering,
an average of less than 25 per year. During the same period, somewhere between US$32 billion and US$100 billion have been
laundered in Mexico.
And then there’s the broader
question of whether or not Calderón should be leading a “drug war” at all. The answer is no, he shouldn’t,
and in an ideal world he would be able to direct his energies elsewhere. But the existence of organized crime in Mexico is
a byproduct of the US drug prohibition, and it is therefore out of Calderón’s hands.
Addressing the worst effects
of the prohibition—rampant government corruption and criminal control of large swaths of the country—demands a
determined government response, whether it is cloaked in military fatigues or conducted by a revamped national police force.
You could make the case that
Calderón overreacted, and that he should have initially taken a more circumspect approach to combating organized crime. Instead,
he elected to tackle the problem immediately, which is, in the least charitable view, defensible. But the aforementioned defects
with his policy are not.
Patrick Corcoran (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a writer who resides in Torreón, Coahuila. He blogs at Gancho (http://www.ganchoblog.blogspot.com/).