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Mexico is not Colombia… yet

24 August 2009

Foreign Policy — a rather bizarre think-tank turned magazine (founded by Samuel Huntington, who tried to make racial supremacism a respectable basis for U.S. foreign and domestic policy) now owned by the Washington Post Group (which itself has moved to the right in recent years) — is not necessarily a bad on-line magazine.   However, it is meant to package “neo-liberalismo” (or what’s good for corporate America is good for the world) and has to be taken with a grain of salt.

Recently, their “Eurasia Group analysts” Allyson Benton and Patrick Esteruelas (though neither Mexico nor Colombia has anything to do with Europe or Asia) did a compare/contrast of the Mexican and Colombian “War on (U.S. market non-prescription) drugs”:

… Mexico’s state of affairs quite different from the situation in Colombia. First, the government still maintains control over its territory and has not ceded ground to narcotraffickers at any time. Second, although the fight against the cartels has resulted in higher rates of violence, the hostility remains largely contained in a few states and among narcotraffickers vying for improved positions within the cartels or between them. Third, Mexico’s drug trafficking violence on a per capital basis remains significantly lower than Colombia’s. Even after years of President Alvaro Uribe’s successful hard-line security policy against Colombia’s narcotraffickers, violence in this country remains quite high: There were a total of 16,000 reported homicides in 2008 in a country of 45 million people. In Mexico, in contrast, narcotrafficking related violence is expected to cause about 6,000 casualties in 2009, in a country of more than 100 million. Fourth, Mexico’s narcotraffickers have not targeted civilians in order to support a campaign of fear against the government, even if they do continue to target public officials specifically involved in the fight against them.

Of course, one can (and Gancho does) find fault with all of these arguments, and with the conclusion the Eurasian analysts come to — that the Calderón Administration’s “war of choice” is necessary and good for business:

… because of Calderón’s anti-crime strategy, Mexico will retain a friendly climate for investors. In a lot of ways, the opposite is true; Calderón’s policies have turned out to be bitter pills for businesses. That doesn’t necessarily make Calderón wrong, but the president’s supporters do themselves a disservice when they overstate or misunderstand the impact of his presidency.

I would disagree somewhat with Gancho (and I usually do).  The Calderón Administration has been bone-headedly wrong, as the voters have said in the recent congressional elections.  I don’t see that the “war on drugs” has increased investor confidence, and there are a few other glaring problems with the analysis:

The “War on Drugs” in Colombia pre-dated the Uribe regime.  Although management of the cocaine trade had largely moved to Mexico, the murder and mayhem associated with the narcotics trade was at a low level (more like that in Sicily when the Italian government began moving against the Mafia) and largely manageable until the Calderón Administration moved it “front and center” in Mexico.

Uribe’s election seemed to be a case of using a gangster to fight the gangsters, but — given that Colombia was in the middle of a long-running (fifty years and counting) civil war, U.S. military support has allowed the Uribe faction the upper hand, and allowed it to use that military buildup against dissidents within the country.  The concern among many of us is that the Calderón administration would (as it has given every sign of doing) also extend the military-led “War” to other dissidents.  Social reform, as in Colombia, has been shorted by the “war” although to Calderón’s credit, some justice reforms are proceeding despite (not because of) the obsession with narcotics exports.

Of couse violence is lower in Mexico than in Colombia.   And, as noted above, Mexico is not simultaneously fighting a civil war.  Still, “perception is reality” in public policy.  The levels of violence are unacceptable, and just dealing with the symptoms (drug dealing) and not the root causes (rural poverty) is not going to change the situation.  Colombia, by the way, also decriminalized personal use narcotics possession… which had little or no effect on the “war on drugs” or on exports.   And, while “civilians”, per se, have not been targeted for violence,  most victims in this war are “civilians” in that they haven’t been tried, nor convicted, of any criminal acts.  The victims — military, police, alleged gangsters — are someone’s brother, father, son.

Whistling in the dark — claiming that the “war on drugs” is not a factor in foreign investment — is plainly silly.  It is.  And, while that does make economic recovery all that much more difficult,  ignoring the Administration’s creation of a crisis — and mishandling of it — while simultanously ignorning the clear signs of a problem with a one-market export economy — made the Foreign Policy article an exercise in ad hoc ergo propter hoc reasoning.  U.S. investments in Mexico are supported by the Calderón adminsitration, therefore all Calderón administration actions support U.S. investments.

3 Comments leave one →
  1. Dominic Corva permalink
    24 August 2009 2:22 pm

    “I don’t see that the “war on drugs” has increased investor confidence”

    Would you elaborate on that point, Richard? It seems to me a central legitimating discourse re: the Merida Initiative. If, as with most things drug war, the reality is in complete contradiction, shouldn’t investors actually be scared off by what Calderon has been doing?

    And I realize you are so very awesome especially with Mexico, but your thoughts about Plan Colombia and investor confidence would be very interesting as well. Historically, Banzer’s Plan Dignidad very clearly did nothing for investor confidence, he whined about that before he croaked.

    • 25 August 2009 12:05 pm

      That was my point, Dominic. It is the “Foreign Policy” analysts (not me) that are trying to sell the idea that the “war on drugs” is increasing investor confidence. That flies in the face of logic (and of every investor newsletter I’ve seen).

      I DO think media obsession with the “war on drugs” is out of proportion, and is needlessly scaring investors, but what really bothered me about the “Foreign Policy” piece was the assumption that Mexican economy should revolve around exports to the United States — and their assertion that the War on Drugs is good for business.

  2. Dominic Corva permalink
    25 August 2009 1:47 pm

    thanks Richard, I guess I was wondering if you could pinpoint the source of your sense, or identify ways to show that point (I’m an academic and love to teach and research this stuff/have to write deadly boring academic articles to legitimize the other stuff). Investor newsletters, intriguing.

    Wht is interesting about the piece to me is as you say the packaging of neoliberalism and what they see as geopolitical realism, ie not quite the flaming neocon stuff from other thinktanks. This is why usually — I emphasize usually — FP publishes decent critiques of the drug war, if as you point out still reproducing neoliberal and other assumptions, like the war on drugs is really about drugs rather than disciplining the dangerous classes at home and promoting certain US poltical and economic interests abroad.

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