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What’s been drug up

2 March 2010

The always scintellating annual “International Narcotics Control Strategy Report” from the United States Department of State was issued yesterday (at precisely 1 P.M. Washington Time).   Malcolm Beith started reading though it before I did, posting soon after it’s official publication:

In 2005, the year before Calderon took office, Mexico cultivated 3,300 hectares of opium poppy. In 2006, it was 5,000 hectares. In 2007, it was 6,900 hectares. In 2008, it was 15,000 hectares. Figures aren’t yet available for 2009, but you get the sense of where this is going.

It’s the same story for marijuana: 5,600 hectares in 2005, 8,600 in 2006, 8,900 in 2007, and 12,000 in 2008.

And yet, the State Department manages to praise the Calderon administration. “Mexico’s aggressive campaign to combat drugs and confront major drug trafficking organizations (DTOs) continued at an ambitious pace in 2009.”

Alarming, yes.  But probably not surprising.  Consider this, from an October 2008 U.S. Government Accounting Office report on “Plan Colombia”:

Plan Colombia’s goal of reducing the cultivation, processing, and distribution of illegal narcotics by 50 percent in 6 years was not fully achieved. From 2000 to 2006, opium poppy cultivation and heroin production declined about 50 percent, while coca cultivation and cocaine production levels increased by about 15 and 4 percent, respectively. These increases, in part, can be explained by measures taken by coca farmers to counter U.S. and Colombian eradication efforts. Colombia has improved its security climate through systematic military and police engagements with illegal armed groups and by degrading these groups’ finances.

While the social conditions are different in Colombia — with a civil war having dragged on since the 1950s complicating what would be a simple “drug dealers are gangsters” scenario, it’s been clear since 2008 that the “systematic military and police engagements” were often a front for non-narcotics related state murder, and resulted in the deaths of thousands of innocent people (mostly teenage boys and young adults) killed simply to create the atmosphere of government action against traffickers and “terrorists”.

The erosion of civil rights and creeping dictatorship in Colombia has gone lately unremarked in the U.S. press.  Although it was a pleasant surprise to see the Colombian Supreme Court deny Alvaro Uribe a third term (and to change his nation’s Constitution without going through a legal process), the result of “Plan Colombia” has been a return to Caduilloismo — the strong man rule, with or without a democratic facade.

Here, there has been less suspicion and less evidence that the government is using the “drug war” to target opposition groups, or has been inflating figures with “false positives” but that remains a danger. On the other hand, social movements have been accused of being in the pay of narcos.  As it was, the Calderon Administration began using police and military force against social movements from the moment it began, with the anti-narco drive seemingly an afterthought.

Social movements, like the Zapatistas, were largely founded on the failure of the state to react to economic conditions and policies dating from the 1990s which even the United States have found to be counterproductive.  The Calderon Administration has been slow (or reluctant) to implement changes, leaving the rural population especially vulnerable to hardship.

For Mexico, U.S. support for the “drug war” — and the present Mexican Administration’s continued fixation on this one issue  — may have , as in Colombia,  exacerbated existing social problems to a point where narcotics trafficking is a logical alternative means of survival for many.

Given the magnified effect of the economic downturn on the Mexican economy which has been slow to break its near complete dependence on U.S. trade, and the complete failure to implement meaningful rural development, naturally growers are turning to crops that earn them a return… or, more ominously…in the absence of any meaningful assistance from the State — turning to local caiques that offer some immediate relief to their problems.  That these caiques are also narcotics dealers is beside the point when you’re trying to survive.

Pancho Villa supposedly said to Francisco Madero that he was just a bandit until Porfirio Diaz honored him by making him a revolutionary.  So far, our narco-caiques haven’t taken on the role that the old cattle rustler did, but it points out a problem for the Calderon administration, and suggests one reason support for it (even among its own party members) is evaporating.

The success of the Revolution was in the State’s ability to co-opt social dissenters.  From Obregón’s canonizado (“No general can withstand a barrage of gold pesos”) to Cardenás’ land reforms that codified the original agrarian revolutionary demands, to Constitutional reforms in the 1990s that changed the Church-State relationships to counteract the appeal of Liberation Theology,  the Mexican establishment — even when it is contradictory to any political theory — managed to include the dissenters in some form.

Obregón, Cardenás and even Salinas faced situations that called for military action, but were ultimately resolved (or at least defused) by social changes.  Unfortunately, Calderón seems to be reacting to the symptom — increased narcotics production and sale — and not the disease.  And, while he may pay a political price, the Mexican people are paying a much higher one in terms of insecurity, erosion of their civil rights, and loss of autonomy to violent caiques with their own agendas.

It looks less and less like Mexico is a “failed state”, but as with Porfirio, a “failed administration” pursuing a “failed policy” that no longer worked to Mexico’s benefit.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. Charles Downes permalink
    4 March 2010 7:06 am

    Richard, I assume caique is an optional spelling of cacique?

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