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Deja vu all over again

6 May 2010

While accusing the opposition of being insensitive to drug-related violence, proponents of Plan Mexico paved the way for an aid package that will likely increase violence and bring it closer to home as the drug war extends to opposition targets like it did under Plan Colombia. It will also fail, just as other applications of the drug war model have failed.

Laura Carlsen wrote this on Americas’ MexiBlog back in June 2008, and despite some criticism from readers, The Mex Files has been saying this ever since. So, it’s like a “no shit” moment for many of us to read:

The surge of gunbattles, beheadings and kidnappings that has accompanied Mexico’s war on drug cartels is an entirely predictable escalation in violence based on decades of scientific literature, a new study contends.

A systematic review published [27 April 2010]  of more than 300 international studies dating back 20 years found that when police crack down on drug users and dealers, the result is almost always an increase in violence, say researchers at the International Centre for Science in Drug Policy, a nonprofit group based in Britain and Canada.

The appalling butchers’ bill since the Calderón Administration decided to make the anti-narco “war” a centerpiece of its domestic policy has been alarming, but not surprising to us.  As a commentator — and knowing on what side my bread is buttered — a lot of my energy has gone into reassuring visitors and would-be visitors that the violence itself had little or no affect on them.  Which is true.  This is still a very “safe” country for foreigners, and — in many ways — safer than most tourism centers.

Given that original objective of the “mano duro” approach was to drive the narcos out of Mexico, one had to expect casualties, and “spill over” into the United States.  That was the whole idea… drive the gangsters into the United States where the supposedly better crime prevention (and a harsher penal system) would handle the bulk of the problem while the Mexican “mopped up” the remaining gangsters on this side of the border.

In that sense, the violence pre-“Plan Merida” was considered normal and expected… and, as it was, “non-combatant” casualties were very low.  However, when that plan, boneheaded as it was, actually started to work, and there were casualties in the United States, the suddenly the United States started talking about “spill over violence” and the entire strategy — if it ever was more than a vague sketch — changed.

The abandonment of what was working, in a more or less bumbling way, in favor of “Plan Merida” seemed to many of us to have more to do with the increasingly heavy handed attempts by the Calderón Administration to tamp down the opposition.  From continuing unrest in Oaxaca to the July 2007 oil pipeline bombings (supposedly by the geriatric guerillas of the ERP) to possible links between the 15 September 2008 grenade attacks in Morelía to political opponents there are signs that it is not only “drug dealers” who violently opposed the present government.

While violence is what makes the papers (and not all of it “drug related”) and Mexico is hardly as violent as other countries (Calderón is correct in that), the possibility of violent opposition to the Calderón Administration has always been there… and always interesting to our readers.  Less noticed, and less reported on is the growing non-violent (or anti-state violence) opposition.  Still basically “underground”, their reports are found mostly on alternative news websites (like these, from Chihuahua and Sinaloa) or making its way around the country via “twitteros”.

Which brings me to the Colombian elections.  Foreign-language commentators (even those of us who are supposedly the “alternative media”) too often are gringo-centric and, our coverage, like the “mainstream media” is dominated by the U.S. backed “war on drugs” and it’s social and physical collateral damage.  While some of us try (sometimes with moderate success) to ferret out overlooked trends and can sometimes make relatively accurate pronostications, we are too often not noticing what is going on under our noses.

Antenas Mockus — who looks more and more like the next President of Colombia — didn’t come out of nowhere.  Adriaan Alsema, of Colombia Reports, seems to be genuinely surprised by the internet and alternative media campaign that has fueled Mockus’ candidacy (and, like Structurally Maladjusted, is not at all surprised by the “dirty tricks” campaign of his chief opponent, Juan Manuel Santos).

Mockus, a vaguely leftist, populist mayor of the capital, facing off against the second-choice successor to the conservative president.  Where our “drug war” is Colombia redux, this begins to sound like our 2006 Presidential election.  Mockus may lose, as did AMLO in 2006, but back then AMLO didn’t have the quasi-underground media behind him.  Which it does now.

AMLO will be  60, but that’s relatively old for a Mexican president, in 2012, and there would be complications if he ran for president again.  But his movement is still out there, under-reported, and much of what his original platform is finding new acceptance.  Like Mockus, AMLO — or a yet-to-be-named candidate could capitalize on the anti-state violence, anti-war and anti-neo-liberalismo sentiment.  That such groups are not dominating the  news, and that we outside observers aren’t noticing it as much as we should is our problem.  I don’t think even the astute observers at Colombia Reports or Maladjusted (or any of the Colombian press) expected Mockus to … er… shoot the moon in the polls, either.  Here in Mexico, between the anti-war movement, the left, and the new media there may be a similar political coalition that just hasn’t found it’s candidate yet.   Or hasn’t unveiled him i his new, improved, high-tech model.  If we’re smart, we’ll pay attention now.

Predicting what would go wrong with the “drug war” was easy.  We had the scientific literature and the model of Colombia to go on.  In 2012, there may be another Colombian model to look at, and papers to read, too.

And, maybe… just maybe… the “mainstream media” and policy-makers will listen to us now, instead of reading us in hindsight after, as in the “drug war”, 20,000 needless deaths.

(And, something I didn’t see until after I wrote this post, the DEA seems to think there’s a change in the direction of Mexican administrations in the works, too)

3 Comments leave one →
  1. otto permalink
    6 May 2010 7:39 am

    It’s tough to pigeonhole Mockus. Though I hear where you’re coming from with the “vaguely leftist” tag, to me he’s more “progressive slightly rightist”.

    In the end, the fact he’s hard to pigeonhole is a main part of his charm

  2. 6 May 2010 11:35 am

    “Vaguely leftist”, in the same sense Barack Obama is: compared to the other dude.

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