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Attention must be paid

4 August 2008

Claudia Beltrán, in Sunday’s Noroeste reports on the reporters who’ve weighed in on Sinaloa lately.  She focuses on the recent Washington Post article by Manuel Roig-Franzia (whom I sent an e-mail to,  suggesting he check his sources — there was no hostage taking at a shopping mall in Mazatlan, though some early media reports did say this) and Chilean television’s  Santiago Pavlovic who reported on Sinaloa’s “narcowar” for   Informe Especial.  Recent coverage by Spanish, German and by Al Jazeera’s English language news service were also mentioned.

In Saturday’s El Debate de Mazatlán Irene González interviewed Der Spiegel’s Latin American correspondent, Jens Glussing.  The tenor of the piece was that narco-violence is the only thing German readers know about Sinaloa.

Mexicans in general, and the Mexican media in particular, are obsessed with what the outside world says about them (some of the national papers and TV news programs regulary report on foriegn reports about Mexico).   But what strikes me about the foreign reporters is they look at Sinaloa’s “narco-war” as a problem to be resolved… using their own prescriptions.  What I mean by this is that while the Washington Post looks at Sinaloa as a military/police “problem” … and worries that the foces of law-n-order are losing the hearts and minds of the locals (they never had them), Glussing is recommending Sinaloa resolve the problem the way the Europeans did… legalizing narcotics.

All that is fine, but it ignores a simple fact.  The “solutions” are coming from the experience of USER countries, not EXPORTER countries.  Of course criminals are going to act pretty much the same in any country, and there is a strong argument to be made (and I make it myself) that the “problem” is that criminal enterprises follow the same laws of supply and demand as any other enterprise (but without the social and legal controls that keep MOST businesses from resorting to violence to resolve disputes) — but still, I wonder whether the solutions proposed by consumers are necessarily relevent to the seller.

In the Sunday New York Times, there is an article by Larry Rohter on how rising shipping costs are changing the way some businesses operate.  It’s sometimes more cost-effective to build cars, say, in a high labor country like the United States, rather than assemble them in different low-cost locations (Thailand and China) and ship them to the United States for sale.  That kind of change.  Decriminalizing narcotics USE in European countries probably did reduce violence in those countries, but I don’t see it did anything for the suppliers.  The military/police model seeks to make the shipping costs too high.

Maybe that will work, but it hasn’t so far.  And — as Roig-Franzia and many others have reported — the there is concern in the United States about “Mexican drug violence” spilling over into the U.S.  Well, duh… Isn’t the whole premise of “Plan Merida” to force the cartels out of Mexico.  As long as there is a demand, the suppliers are going to set up business somewhere.  Making the “shipping and labor costs” too high in Mexico just means the producers closer to the consumer.

I’ve pointed out before that the United States needs to reduce its own exports of weapons and money if anything is to be done about the violence in Sinaloa.  Or Mexico could crack down on those imports — maybe they should loan money to the United States to monitor gun runners and financiers.  Or, hire Blackwater death squads (as some have suggested the U.S. do in Mexico to deal with narcotics dealers) to go after the offenders.  Of course, then the danger is that gun dealers and money launderers set up in Mexico.  But, if the narcotics suppliers have moved to the United States, then…

So far, the military/police model isn’t working.  And hasn’t worked anywhere it’s tried. Legalizing drug use has worked for consumers.  But, what suppliers and manufacturers need to do may be radically different.  It’s nice the foreign press is paying attention, but SInaloa’s healthy legitimate economy — cattle, vegetables, fisheries, timber, mining, tourism, manufacturing are not mentioned, and voluntarily ending a profitable business sector is going to require more than prescriptions designed for other purposes.

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