An Exit Strategy From A Never Ending War

Consider this: The assassination of one of the top federal police officials last week would compare to the killing of the FBI head in the US. How would the US public react to that? Five members of the hit team were captured and there are clear ties to one of the drug cartels.

There is a history leading up to this. Prior to the Fox administration, México was a supplier of drugs to the US and in 2002, the incoming Bush administration reported that around 60 billion dollars was flowing „to the South” to purchase drugs. It was also reported that the social cost to the US for drug abuse was over 180 billion dollars a year. This was at the beginning of the Bush administration and these figures demonstrated what that administration had „inherited” from the previous administration. More recent figures are a little harder to come by now. But it is safe to say that these numbers are significantly higher now.
But keep this in mind: With that kind of money to play with, you can purchase entire countries to have them do what you want.

Although no one will admit to this, as long as the drug business did not affect México a lot directly and the drugs only were going north to supply the market in the US, it was not a prime issue in México. But things changed in the Fox administration. Corruption levels increased in México, and more and more of the drug traffic through México „leaked out” into the local population and the administration took some action. Mainly by arresting and imprisoning many of the top cartel members. Sometimes even extraditing them to the US to face trials and imprisonment in the US. This was something new.

But when the top drug lords were removed from the scene, the lower level „young Turks” took over. And violence escalated. It increased to the point that when the new Calderón administration came in, 25,000 federal troops were called into action to quell the violence. Now, there are over 30,000 troops in the fray and it is a game of one-upmanship with no end in sight. While there is public support for the firm actions of the administration, the public is starting to ask where the end of this is. And we must remember that army troops are trained for combat, not as police. In fact, the Mexican army’s main function is disaster relief. They are good at this, but when it comes to acting as police, there are growing problems with human rights abuses. In short, the situation is becoming untenable. Some observers are predicting that México will become the next Columbia.

Calderón is facing two clear choices now:
1. The president would declare almost total martial law and institute full wartime status in the anti-drug operation.

2. Or return to the earlier more peaceful live-and-let-live philosophy that recognizes the fact that the US wants to purchase drugs. If there is a market to be satisfied and the product is kept from distribution in México and if the war between cartels is ended so be it. I am sure that some sort of an under the table truce could be worked out on a strictly unofficial basis that would let peace return to México.

This second option recognizes the fact that it is impossible to solve a US problem solely in México. It is also of record that Mexico has asked the US for help in technology, equipment and training for advanced police effectiveness (including human rights training for police). At the same time, México has not asked, or wants troops or cash in what is called the „Merida initiative” proposed by President Bush. This will add up to about 1.4 billion dollars over 5 years, but the congress in the US may very well decide to play games with this. The House has started discussion on the Merida initiative, but what may happen in the Senate is another thing. Anything with the Bush name on it is at risk now. For Mexico, what a slap in the face if political gamesmanship takes over!

With this in mind, it looks like México may end up on its own to solve the drug war. It would seem that México should start looking at their own interests first if the US can’t address their own problems.
And recently, Bush made a big speech about his „improving Latin American relations”. What a joke!
Richard N. Baldwin T., a ( contributing columnist, lives in Tlalnepantla, Edo de México. E-mail at: