You Gotta Know When to Fold

México is continuing arrests of high-ranking drug lords and expediting as many as possible to the US for crimes committed by them in the US. At least conviction and secure imprisonment are more certain in the US than in México. But the problem remains that in removing the gang leaders result in more destabilization of the cartels, and therefore more inter-cartel fighting for the lucrative drug smuggling routes to the US. You can’t win for loosing.

After more and more street protests by the terrorized population, arrests for kidnapping have increased and kidnappings are „officially” down a little bit. But with such a small percentage of kidnappings even being reported in the first place, who knows what the real figures are. It is of note that the government itself admits that only about 2% of kidnappings result in any convictions. Let’s face it. Kidnapping is a good low risk business in México. And some in government are actually talking about reinstating the death penalty in a narrow scope. This is extreme in the least.

And in the meantime, street drug prices in the US remain at about the same levels as usual. And addiction rates are stable. This means that little has happened to the vast and profitable drug business in the US.

In a rare piece of candor for México, president Calderón recently admitted that only one-half of the nation’s police personnel are qualified for their jobs. This was in relation to a conference on trying to do something about providing more security for the population in México. And the people know that inept police go hand in hand with corrupt police. There have been some eye opening high level arrests of public security personnel who were found to be in the pay of the drug cartels. It even reached into the US embassy to a high official being investigated for passing „tip offs” on to corrupt law officials.

What this sums up to is the fact that there is no way to win the war if your forces (mainly the police) are corrupted. And solving this problem, in even the best of circumstances, is going to be a long haul. The great majority of the police are in the control of the states, not the federal government. And that control is not going to be given up easily by the states. In addition, México has traditionally feared strong police forces and prefers breaking up the police systems into smaller units. Corruption breeds fear of the police and fear breeds weakening of the police. The corruption snake eats his tail.

Where does this leave us?

In a recent book on the drug war problem in México, three options were listed:

1. Continue the present hard line fight with as many federal troops as required. Problem: México might well be in for a 10 year internal war considering all of the above. Building a well-trained and coordinated police force free of corruption along with a strong judiciary from almost scratch will take a good deal of time. While judicial reform is in process, it is estimated that another 6 or 7 years will be needed to implement these basic changes. In the meantime, the public patience in México is starting to wear thin.

2. Work with the US in a bi-national effort to reduce the drug (consumption) market in the US. At the same time, try to reduce the southward flow across the border of illegal high power arms that makes the drug gangs better armed than the Mexican police forces. Problem: It is this US market that funds this war. And the US has traditionally been lax here. The drug consumption and money flow into the drug suppliers has remained fairly constant over a good number of present and past US administrations. Politically, it is not a high priority, especially now with global meltdown taking high priority. It will take both countries to do this. México can’t do it alone, even with the long delayed release of a small part of the Merida Initiative funds.

3. Unilaterally, México will reduce their anti-drug effort. Concentrating more to reduce internal drug consumption (even to the point of limited decriminalization). This has already started in proposed legislation in the Federal District. Along with this, a slow withdrawal of federal military forces as long as the violence slowly subsides. And if the drug cartels become more stabilized, the violence will be reduced. Problem: The US will be unhappy with this approach. But to take a Capone like attitude, if there is a market for something, why not supply it? And maybe a way could be figured out for some tax revenue?

This last approach might well increase Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) in Mexico as there is good evidence that the uncontrolled violence in many regions of México has caused second thoughts for many potential investors, both in factories, residential and tourist sectors. It is a matter of record that a large Japanese company pulled out of a large factory near the northern border due to the general lack of security there. How many more have simply decided not to get involved in Mexico in the first place for the same reasons?

Think about it. And think about the Mexican people for a change.

Richard N. Baldwin T., a ( contributing columnist, lives in Tlalnepantla, Edo de México. E-mail at: