5,200 people were murdered in 2008
Why the war between the drug cartels themselves has broken out in Mexico. The opium coming from Afghanistan. The corruption of the police and the legal system. The lack of action by the United States. The express kidnappings. Felipe Calderón and his war against organized crime.
(From Monterrey) THE WAVE OF VIOLENCE pummeling Mexico has been growing at an alarming rate for the past few years. In 2004, 1,200 people lost their lives due to organized crime; the figure stood at 1,600 a year later and jumped to 2,700 the following year before reaching 5,200 in 2008. A third of these murders took place in Ciudad Juárez, Chihuahua, on the border with El Paso, Texas. Last year, there were 1,656 deaths in the city alone.
“The slaughtering has its roots in a complex problem, national as well as international” The border town has taken a beating during the first two months of this year: 158 deaths in January and 160 killings in February. If this trend continues, the end-of-the-year total will be well above 2008’s already horrific figure. The bloodshed in Ciudad Juárez has to do with its strategic position: it controls the entry into the American market via Interstate Highways 10, 20 and 25.
The slaughtering that has been going on in the country for the past few years has its roots in a complex problem, national as well as international.
CONFLICTS BETWEEN THE DRUG CARTELS
On the global level, the competition that Afghan opium brings to the American consumer market has brought about a drop in the sale of the cocaine of the Mexican-Colombian drug cartels. The occupation of the central Asian country has coincided with a sharp spike in its production of illegal drugs, which has given Afghanistan a true monopoly: 95 percent of the global opium production. Indeed, its production level now exceeds international demand, which has caused a drastic drop in the price of the drug. “The beefed-up post-9/11 border control has also had an impact on the sale of narcotics in the United States”
While the Latin American cocaine routes are well-known, the path that Afghan opium takes has still not been carefully studied. The cartels that control the sale of the illegal drug produced by the Taliban, as well as various governors in Hamid Karzai’s administration and even the Northern Alliance’s warlords, have not been a topic of conversation. Some observers have put forward the hypothesis that members of the occupying army are participating in the trafficking of opium, which would explain the ease of its transportation and the lack of publicity that the event has received.
In contrast, the beefed-up post-9/11 border control has also had an impact on the sale of narcotics in the United States. As a result of these two phenomena -the decline in the price of the drug and the stricter border control-, in Mexico, the conflict between the cartels themselves over control of the limited openings has intensified. It has become an all-out war among the rival gangs in the country, and even in Central America, which is gradually being threatened with the spread of the violent clashes between the distinct groups.
POLICE SUPPORT AND FINANCIAL FUNDS
The second level of the confrontation is between the Mexican State and organized crime. When he took office, President Felipe Calderón launched a war against organized crime. However, his campaign has planted the seeds for even more violence. “Bringing in the army is effective, although we cannot deny that it has crossed the line on some occasions” The president did not take into account the strong connections that exist between the drug cartels and the police itself, even at top levels of the administration. Recently, the former anti-drug czar of the state of Chiapas was accused of providing the gangs that he was supposed to be combating with cover. Many kidnappings and assassinations of top officials have been carried out by the the police force itself (the Martí case). In fact, in order to solve the problem of corruption among the police, there are two methods currently being practiced. On one hand, the army has been called upon to fulfill these duties, and on the other hand, an attempt is being made to reorganize the structure of the state police force. There is even talk of restructuring the national police department, creating a force similar to the Italian and Chilean ones. In other words, we are talking about militarizing the police.
The army’s participation in the fight against drug trafficking appears to have given some clear results, “It looks like the United States has taken to criticizing and condemning Mexican actions, without truly acting itself”as indicated by the recent protests and street-closings witnessed in various cities around the republic. The pickets, humble people coming from working class neighborhoods, but also gangs from marginalized areas, were bribed by organized crime members with anywhere between 200 and 500 pesos (15 and 35 dollars) to close the streets and protest against the army’s presence, in order to force it to withdraw from the cities. This event – very novel in the country – demonstrates that bringing in the army is effective, although we cannot deny that it has crossed the line on some occasions.
On the other hand, not only did this direct war not take into account the cartels’ vast resources, but it also ignored its penetration into the working class (retail drug distribution) and peasant (marijuana production) sectors. Any effective fight must involve two things: cutting off police support, and choking off the cartels’ access to their financial funds.
THE INACTION OF THE UNITED STATES
The other side to the fight against narcotrafficking is the armament issue, and the existence of an enormous American market. As for Mexico’s neighbor to the north, “All of these forms of extortion have made Mexico the country with the second most kidnappings committed, after Colombia”
it looks like the United States government has taken to criticizing and condemning Mexican actions, without truly acting itself. There is not a single American policy aimed at reducing the consumption of drugs, and this allows for the existence of a market of nearly 30 million consumers. In contrast, thousands of weapons – including grenades, rocket-propelled grenades (RPG), submachine guns, et cetera – make their way from the United States to Mexico, where they are used to equip the gangs.
If it weren’t for some serious corruption, it is unlikely that American border control agents would be unable to detect the trucks filled to the brim with weapons that cross the border, when the country’s security systems allow it to locate the undocumented Mexicans who cross the border on foot.
The relative dip in the drug market and the violence unleashed by the inter-cartel conflicts have created a climate conducive to a spike in assaults and kidnappings. The latter, previously only directed at the kidnappable (the upper class with the ability to pay), has become popular. Even if sophisticated kidnappings continue to exist, express kidnappings are taking place more and more. These are abductions that last for a few hours, in order to clean out the victim’s savings from ATMs, or to simply ask for small quantities of money from his or her family members. Another type of kidnapping has even emerged from the prisons. In short, with the aid of a cell phone, prisoners, and the cooperation of the guards themselves, they make calls to solicit deposits in order to supposedly free an incarcerated relative.
A COMPLEX AND MULTIFACETED FIGHT
All of these forms of extortion have made Mexico the country with the second most kidnappings committed (nearly one thousand in 2008), after Colombia – and Ciudad Juárez the most violent city in the world, with the greatest number of homicides outside of war zones.
The fight against organized crime, which is driving the country crazy and has lowered Mexico’s level of competitiveness, is very complex. The country’s police and legal structure – often very lax when it comes to dealing with the violence – must be reorganized, but jobs must also be created and the marginalized sectors of society must also have access to a better quality of life. Furthermore, the economic structures of the cartels, which have connections with both businessmen (for money laundering) and the police (for protection), must also be dealt a heavy blow.
But above all, in their fight, the affected countries (Colombia, Central America, Mexico and in particular the United States) must pursue a long-term strategy – one both well-coordinated and well-financed – in order to face a cancer that is only spreading further with each passing day.