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Looking past each other in the drug war

30 September 2009

I have tried,with varying success, to understand Mexico and Mexican politics and culture, for years, and to interpret it for my mostly U.S. (or U.S.-centric) readers.  At base, one needs to understand Mexican history to make sense of anything… including Mexican military policy and the expectations and needs of Mexico in the so-called “drug war”.

Martín Parades, an El Paso based consultant, has written what should be required reading for any policy analyst, drug warrior, military affairs writer, pundit or wanna-be pundit on Mexico.

U.S., Mexico uneasy allies in the Drug Wars” was posted on-line 28 September 2009, in the excellent (but, unfortunately not as well known as it should be) Newspaper Tree, El Paso’s on-line newspaper should be read in full.

In order to understand the drug policy of the Mexican government it is first important to understand how Mexicans interpret the world around them. Mexico and the U.S. started out as two different countries with two very different perspectives. The U.S. launched its independence as a spring board towards the future. …

Mexico, on the other hand, sees itself from a very different point of view. Mexicans, for the most part, identify themselves as a continuation of a long history of a conquered people. As Mexicans, we don’t see our independence from Spain as a new start, rather we see ourselves as having liberated ourselves from the Spanish conquest of our land. As soon as we liberated ourselves from Spain we were forced to defend ourselves again and again from other countries, including the United States, intent on annexing us. Octavio Paz defines this psyche as Mexican tradition and history being the center of the Mexican universe. America, on the other hand, he writes, sees its independence as a new beginning.

For Mexico, the drug cartels are a national security threat because of the economic power they wield and, to a much lesser degree, because of their potential to create an entire generation of addicted individuals. For the U.S., the problem is one that needs to be controlled outside its borders and the only way to do so is through action in other countries. Although the drug policy actions of both countries may seem cohesive, the reality is that they are not, they just seem like they are.

Mexico’s recent decriminalization of small quantities of personal use drugs was not about a change in national policy but rather it was an exercise in political gamesmanship. The reality is that using resources to jail and prosecute small time drug dealers distracts the nation from the true threat: the cartels. The confusion among U.S. officials is based on the lack of understanding of the Mexican psyche. For those wondering if Mexico is about to embark on a national debate about legalizing drugs as a serious government initiative, the probability is that it will not happen anytime soon. Not because Mexico wants to be subservient to American interests, but because it cannot appear to be weak under the threat of cartel domination of the state, whether it is a reality or not. The added plus to the Merida Initiative is that it allows Mexico the ability to strengthen its security apparatus by using America’s own foreign policy framework to pay for it.

Go… read the full article. There will be a test.

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