The war on drugs in Mexico and Colombia: A circle of death

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In an interview with La Opinion, a Los Angeles based newspaper, Obama responded to Hilary Clinton’s previously made comments that Mexico is:

looking more and more like Colombia looked 20 years ago, where the narco-traffickers control certain parts of the country…

Obama spoke thus:

Mexico is vast and progressive democracy, with a growing economy, and as a result you cannot compare what is happening in Mexico with what happened in Colombia 20 years ago

First, Obama needs a lesson in history. Mexico could not in good faith be called a democracy before the year 2000, when for the first time since the Mexican revolution(1910-1917), an opposition party, the PAN, defeated the PRI, in presidential elections.

Perhaps one could call it a nascent democracy, but “progressive” is an attempt to say that in just 10 years of “democracy” Mexico is on an unbending path towards the likes of the United States.

Violence In Colombia Easier to Quell

The dynamics of the violence that arose in Colombia as it relates to the “war on drugs” differs significantly to those of Mexico.

The pervasive violence that wracked Colombia in the 1990s, unlike today’s Mexico, was linked to a political ideology, namely that of the FARC(Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia), whose intent was to overthrow the Colombian government and institute a more just government for the people.

The FARC’s actions incited the wrath of wealthy cartels and landowners, who created their own small armies to protect their interests against the FARC. These small armies were widely referred to as paramilitaries, who according to many reports  had the implicit support of the Colombian government.

Both the FARC and the Paramilitaries committed a great amount of atrocities upon civilians, amongst them the vile practice of hostage taking. The Colombian people, understandably, did not appreciate living in a shadow of mortal fear on a day-to-day basis, and thus the government eventually, under Alvaro Uribe, using funds provided by the U.S. under “Plan Colombia”, managed to beat back the chronic violence that was present in all quarters of Colombia.

Part of why Uribe and his government were able to do this, perhaps, was that those who inflicted the violence–FARC, ELN, and the Paramilitaries such as AUC–were relatively easy to identify and thus provided a concrete enemy in the eyes of the people, allowing the government to garner widespread support in the initiative of destroying them.

Likewise, there was a clear target to attack–FARC and many of the Paramilitaries(the largest one, the AUC, has been officially dismantled; the FARC still exists, but has been significantly marginalized) had hierarchic structures that could be dissected and destroyed.

The violence of today’s Mexico, as it purportedly relates to the “drug war”, has claimed 28,000 Mexican lives since the inauguration in 2006 of President Felipe Calderon. Mexico has the distinct disadvantage, unlike Colombia, of bordering the behemoth of demand for illicit drugs: the United States.

Mexico’s cartels are for-profit, unrelated to a political ideology such as FARC and ELN were and thus are at times indistinguishable from the Mexican government. In fact, according to Transparency International’s 2009 corruption perceptions index, Mexico is more corrupt than Colombia: , Colombia ranks 75 out of 180 nations and Mexico placed at 89 on the same scale.

Assuming this index has any validity in the real world, Mexico’s  fight against cartels would be more difficult. Unlike Colombia in Mexico the “enemy” is a phantom, drifting from the cartels to the government officials that are the cartels.  This contradicts President Obama’s assertions that Mexico is better suited to fight the war on drugs than Colombia was 20 years ago

Other dynamics of Mexico–that it is a  magnet for immigrant smuggling to the United States; the cartels can purchase  weapons with ease from the United States; and the flashpoint of the border to top things off–create a perilous security situation that could be seen as even more difficult to address that that of Colombia. And this is all said without considering the purpose of all of this violence in the first place: eradicating the sources of illicit drug production.

A Likely Failure

In Colombia , coca crop production has decreased by 60 percent in the last 10 years, according to the UN, but it appears that the loss in production in Colombia has been diverted to Peru, which is producing 55 percent more coca than it was a decade ago. Disturbingly, in the United Nations world drug report for 2010, it hedges its findings of actual worldwide cocaine production, stating:

The increase in global potential cocaine production over the 1998-2008 period seems to have been more moderate (5%) from 825 mt to 864 mt, although there remain uncertainties around coca yields and production efficiency. Nonetheless, available data are sufficiently robust to state that global cocaine production has declined significantly in recent years(2004-2009)

The findings in the above paragraph contain the words “seem”, followed by “although there remain uncertainties”, and the use of the “declined significantly”. In other words, the report’s use of conditional language leads to the conclusion that the authors tried their utmost to put a positive spin on statistics that show that cocaine production has not declined so much as to indicate that eradication efforts have or will win the “war on drugs”.

Thus, according the the data above, the positive gains in Colombia  obtained through “Plan Colombia” would then need to be applied to Peru, perhaps in a “Plan Peru”.

But it seems transient; coca production takes place in remote areas, in the jungle and mountains, where the central governments are far removed from. Once the government stops the enforcement pressure(which requires signficant funds), it is plausible that people will return to produce the cocaine agan.

Thus, the violence related to the production of cocaine in Colombia may be, for the foreseeable future, cauterized, yet the actual production will, absent a never ending pipeline of U.S. dollars,  return to former levels as the demand for it dictates.

Yet despite these differences, there is a possibility that, with enough of a concerted effort, Mexico’s federal government may be able to undermine the excessive violence that the cartels contribute to.

But like in Colombia, even if the violence subsides, the production of it will likely still go on in some manner, and may return once the heavy packages of aid subside from north of the border.

The end result is that many will have died, yet illicit drugs will not be conquered. One may claim that at least the violence is not there any more, like in Colombia. But that is circular, because the original factor that led to so much of the violence–in both Colombia and Mexico–will still be there, waiting to sprout from its slumber once the shadow of drug eradication runs out of U.S. fuel. The common denominator is death, like in all wars, and profit for a select few.

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