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Unintended consequences

18 August 2008

According to Antonio Payan, a political science professor at the University of Texas in El Paso, 3000 mostly middle-class families have moved from Juarez to El Paso over the last year.  Payan is indirectly quoted by AFP (or the editors at AFP assumed) the reason was “Mounting drug-related violence and 800 murders so far this year…” Most of those moving across the border, Payan notes, are either dual-nationals themselves, or the parents of United States citizens.

If Professor Payan is saying that the drug violence is causing middle-class emigration, then it is another indication that the Calderon Administration’s “Mano duro” is creating as many (if not more) problems than it was meant to resolve. The last paragraph in the AFP story reads:

Federal authorities have deployed more than 36,000 soldiers across the country, including 2,500 in Ciudad Juarez, in an effort to combat drug trafficking and related violence, but some 2,000 people have been killed so far this year.

I wonder if it is it should read “2,000 people have been killed BECAUSE Federal authorities deployed…”  I’m not saying that the narcos shouldn’t be driven out, or put out of business, or even that the military can’t play some role in achieving those goals.  However, look at the countries that use a military/law enforcement approach to narcotics.  I’m not talking about narcotics consumer countries… although they also have less violence related to narcotics use and trade… but to narcotics PRODUCERS.

In Colombia, coca production is up. While exports to the United States are down, there are indications that the cartels are simply finding new marketsIn Afganistan, opium production is up fifty percent.  Is this in spite of, or because of, the heavy military presence in those countries which have disrupted normal commerce?

Bolivia has taken a different approach, supporting the coca growers and attempting to control exporters.  According to the United States Department of State, Bolivian coca production is not being exported in any substantial quantity, and what exports there are are not controlled by Bolivians, but by Colombians.

Afghanistan obviously has “issues” beyond opium production, and Bolivia is a poor, “third-world” country. In Colombia, some progress was made in moving cocaine exporters out of the country (though some argue they just moved into the government), and the relative passivity of the capital requires continued violence in the countryside, and a militarized state.   In Colombia, there was at least a credible internal military threat to keep the Army busy, though it appears that with that excuse evaporating, the government has to find other rationales to keep the Army occupied.

So, Colombia has become a police/military state with MORE, not less, narcotics exports.  Mexico — which is a much more stable country, with a less serious production problem.    Maybe that’s due to the police crackdown, and maybe just to the high cost of gasoline.  Interesting that this story came out just as rising transportation costs did start to sink in as an economic problem for the United States.  Marijuana can be grown in the consumer countries, and the Mexican cartels are already finding it cheaper to lower transportation costs by moving to to the consumer.

And, in Colombia, the “drug war” and militarization also resulted in emigration and worsening social conditions.

Recent emigration has been driven by both economic and political factors. Between 1996 and mid-2003, the Administrative Department of Security (DAS), which is in charge of migration controls, registered 1.6 million Colombians who left the country and did not return; nearly half of them migrated between 1999 and 2001. These peak years correspond to a period of deep internal crisis.

In terms of the economy, the country’s level of gross domestic product growth (GDP) plummeted from 5.8 percent in 1995 to -4.05 percent in 1999. Meanwhile, unemployment doubled, reaching 18 percent in urban centers, where three-quarters of the population live.

Although those Juarez residents moving to El Paso are not the same as Colombians leaving for Miami, it is still worrisome. The middle-class — people who invest in the future, who have an education and who make sure their kids are educated — are not the people you want to drive out of the country. While Mexico is a middle-class country, their position is insecure. Having the ability to move, if they don’t see a decent future for their families, they will do so. Even if it’s only to El Paso.

I don’t have a “prescription” for fixing Mexico, and wouldn’t be so presumptious as to propose one. I do know that militarization hasn’t worked, and the Calderon Administration’s “mano duro” has only increased the violence.

The recent arrest of several police officers in connection with Fernando Marti’s murder does not necessarily mean that police reforms are not working. It means police corruption is being exposed (albeit, too late) and is no longer tolerated. Police reforms, and judicial reforms are tedious and slow, but seem to offer a partial solution. Cutting down on the “gasoline of crime” — guns and money — would be another. Better customs inspection still another (in the “Ye Gon” case, no one seemed to notice the huge quantities of chemicals being imported… or was paid to look the other way, which is more likely).   Customs, by the way, was “privatized” under the Fox Administration and perhaps the contracts need to be scrutinized.  Better jobs in rural areas would still be another.  While some people would just opt out of working for the narcos if there were other jobs available, just making rural communities wealthier would have a secondary effect.

With wealth comes access to information.  Very few people want to be seen as disreputable and — much as I hate to admit it — people generally try to conform to the values that are “respectable”.  Respectable people don’t get involved in narcotics exports (of course, they do… but their neighbors are always shocked when it’s in the paper, or their family is shamed, or they say “I always knew there was something wrong about those people”).

No one thing will probably end the narcotics exports (if ending them is the goal), but already suffering serious consequences as a result of economic policies that force the poorest and least educated to emigrate, Mexico does not need to lose the better-educated, informed citizens who are likely to be driven out by the violence unleased by a military solution.

4 Comments leave one →
  1. el_longhorn permalink
    19 August 2008 3:58 pm

    “3000 mostly middle-class families have moved from Juarez to El Paso over the last year”

    The same thing has happened in Laredo/Nuevo Laredo and all along the South Texas border. People from Reynosa, Matamoros, and N. Laredo are moving to the Brownsville, McAllen, and Laredo to get away from the violence and corruption. In Laredo, all of the Mexican restaurants and clubs that everyone used to go to in N. Laredo have moved to Laredo. Only the narcos and the poor still live in N. Laredo. I haven’t been there in a couple of years, but everyone says it is a ghost town now – boarded up businesses and empty homes.

    “I do know that militarization hasn’t worked, and the Calderon Administration’s ‘mano duro’ has only increased the violence.”

    You somehow blame this on the Mexican military? Based on what? The violence started before the military arrived, and before Calderon was even in office. The military has not been effective at stopping the violence, but they are not the cause, at least along the border – maybe Sinaloa is different, I don’t know.

    What I do know is that no one – NO ONE – ever thought it would get to this point. When the violence started (2003? 2004?), everyone waited for the government and the police to respond. They never did. The cartels noticed the lack of a response, and they got bolder. Still nothing from the government. Now the cartels are in total control, and it is going to take a massive response from the gov’t to dislodge them.

  2. 19 August 2008 4:35 pm

    Hindsight is 20-20, natch. Like in Colombia… or Iraq… “surges” increase violence, at least in the immediate term. We probably shouldn’t be surprised that people with the means to leave, do.

    I don’t blame the military for doing what they were asked to do… but I question whether this was the best policy. Even the generals have compared the anti-narco crackdown to stomping on cockroaches… it kills a bunch of them, but the rest just scatter and come back somewhere else.

    Others have said the crackdown treats the symptom — the cartels — and not the disease (narcotics use in the U.S., failure to control the Colombian gangs that import coca for processing and shipment, “impunidad”).

    My worry — and one where I’m not an outsider — is that turning over civil institutions to military control creates a whole new set of problems. Colombia is a prime example here… with a quasi-dictatorial regime with ties to the narcos using the military for “other” purposes. And, in Colombia, the flight of the middle-class has been worse, leaving the economy even more firmly in the grip of the “wrong people.”

    The Mexican Army does have a job to do, and can be extremely useful, even “post-occupation”: especially in training and setting up communications and intelligence systems. And maybe some other areas… one problem with policing has always been the crappy pay and benefits. The Mexican Army’s pay sucks, but they’ve manage to retain people… and know how to set up a decent pension system.

    Rebuilding middle-class trust in the Mexican state is going to take a lot more than just soldiers on every street corner though. Yeah, you can make Nuevo Laredo into Bogata, but is that the best long-term solution we have?

  3. Mr. Rushing permalink
    19 August 2008 11:06 pm

    Obviously the best and most effective policies are over looked and unacceptable to the voting public. Legalize drugs and guns… Problem solved.

    Mexican McCain says: “My friends, legalize here, legalize now, and legalize for tommorrow.”


  1. Military madness … « The Mex Files

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