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Clausewitz and Calderón

17 August 2010

War is the continuation of politics by other means.

Carl Philipp Gottlieb von Clausewitz, Prussian military theorist (1780-1831)

I have said before “there is no war in Mexico” and stand by that remark. Which does not mean we do not have politics, the continuation of which means more violence and socially destructive acts.

Consider first this recent graphic from the Los Angeles Times:

Measured by U.S. parameters — and, as both “sides” in what passes for a “War on Drugs” in Mexico are financed and armed by the United States for the benefit of conflicting U.S. interests — the “official” side (the no-drugs guys) are losing.  The U.S. financed anti-drug people are “ceding territory” to the U.S. financed drug people.   And other than cocaine (which only passes through Mexico and can’t grow, and never has been grown, here), narcotics imports have been  (forgive the pun) shooting up since the Calderón Administration decided to make controlling the cartels a priority.

I have been saying since the beginning that this was never really about Mexican narcotics in Mexico, so much as a way to get the United States to pay for a militarization that would legitimize the Calderón Administration.   Raymundo Riva Palacio, while not dealing with the U.S. side of the equation, has delved into the rationale for militarization, and the “drug war”:


Calderon will be defined as the president who decided for no apparent reason to launch a fight against insecurity, which grew into a war against drug cartels, and provoked nation-wide violence on a scale not seen in nearly a century.  The question is whether in the final assessment, he will be seen as a hero or a reckless adventurer.

Heading into the final stretch of his presidency, Calderón, seeks not so much  an alternative to the security theme, as a security theme that will bolster his party’s chances of holding onto  power in 2012.  Over the last two weeks, he has managed to pull the other parties and social forces into the same boat.  The security meme has been reinvigorated by his address on criminality …

The president is desperate for anything, and is open to a possible redesign of the stategy … (something he rejected for months, implicitly seeking to build consensus for his fight).  But,  as has been the case since the beginning of this stuggle, no reason for changing the strategy is given, or, for that matter, for the war itself.

The war on drugs has been very public, yet, the real source of the war has been kept secret. The spark was a discussion between then President-elect Calderón and Michoacán Governor, Lazaro Cárdenas, who was begging for help with the drug problem in his state. Cárdenas – in this instance – agreed to partner with Calderón – having been rebuffed several times President Vicente Fox.

Dozens of Michoacan municipalities were under the control of the various cartels:  the Gulf cartel, Sinaloa, Valencia, and Gulf cartels; la Familia Michoacana and Ignacio Coronel’s gang. In Michoacán, they grew marijuana, acted as the port of entry for methamphetamine precursors and were the location of the major mega-laboratories that produced synthetic drugs.  Drug traffickers were meeting a payroll for police officers, politicians, businessmen and journalists, and Michoacan was a kind of laboratory for the creation of a narco-state. In diagnosing his problem, he laid the groundwork for making security the Administration’s priority.

Calderon had initially thought of building support for his government on two foundations:  infrastructure development and dismantling monopolies, particularly in the television sector. The first remains part of the administration’s goals, but the second was quickly dropped.  First, given Calderòn’s lack of legitimacy, he needed the television network owners on his side.  His field commander in that battle, Juan Camilo Mouriño, rescued Televisa and dropped the anti-monopoly push when presidential candidate Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, published documents alleging corruption by Mouriño and his family in their dealings with Pemex.

Security, however, presented a short route to legitimacy that did not depend on voters, and became the centerpiece of Calderón’s discourses, of his propaganda and of all political communication. But since embarking on this course, violence has increased by more than 50 percent in 12 municipalities, but extending to 800, just over a third of the country. Deciding to break the cartels and the balance between them and government, which kept a status quo under which violence did not spread, the evidence is that the territorial control of drug traffickers continued to grow. In Michoacan and Tamaulipas, the first two states where there were joint operations in December 2006, more than 120 municipalities are fully are controlled by criminals.

Statistically, no country has arrested more narcotics traffickers, nor seized more weapons, cash, property and drugs than Mexico.   The government’s massive information campaign saturated the airwaves with disinformation, the President being unable to give a narrative to his crusade.  The results are negative:  the government held in contempt as it tries to build consensus and explain why 20,000 and more are dead…

The vulnerability sensed by media after the kidnapping of  Televisa and TV Milenio journalists, with the added ingredient of opportunistic politicians, give the president the chance he never had before — …  an opportunity to relaunch his presidency and make this war the cornerstone of his administration.  Again.

But saying so isn’t enough. Calderón has to be more persuasive, with convincing ideas, clear concepts and concrete definitions, if his legacy is to be judged on the merits of the action and the results.  Otherwise, this will be the presidency that launched a civil war that got out of hand…

Rivas Palacio was not writing in some lefty rag, but in the 16 August 2010 El Financiero.  My translation is from a reprint of the original in Cultura de Legalidad (OMCIM, “Observatorio y Monitoreo Ciudadano de Medios”), a “mainstream media ” monitoring group connected with the ultra-establishment, conservative Jesuit-run Universidad IberoAmericana.

I am seeing more and more “establishment” — and rightist — figures rejecting the “drug war” meme, just as it is being relaunched as an “all party crusade”.  How “all party” it really is is difficult to gauge.  As Gancho points out, there are alternatives, but as presented by the establishment, they are  non-starters.

The continuation of the “war by other means” may mean stepping outside conventional politics.

3 Comments leave one →
  1. Ana permalink
    18 August 2010 8:24 am

    I wonder if you have read this blog.

    Please scroll down the page to the one on July 9 (El paraiso de los narcotraficantes) It’s a perspective I haven’t heard before here in the US, and it warrants dissemination. I think you do a great job of reaching US audiences so I hope you check it out and comment.


  2. Frank permalink
    20 August 2010 1:12 am

    “Calderon will be defined as the president who decided for no apparent reason to launch a fight against insecurity, which grew into a war against drug cartels, and provoked nation-wide violence on a scale not seen in nearly a century.”


    I agree what the hell is wrong with Calderon, the PRI was working so well with the drug cartels. The cartels had so many friends among the cops, military, and politicans. Now this damn idiot Calderon came along and disrupted the harmony that is the corruption in Mexico.

  3. John G. permalink
    13 March 2016 12:09 am

    I can’t believe illegal “hard” drugs and drug dealers are allowed to exist, with all this surveillance and organized stalking very little “real” crime exists anymore. Nowadays, If the drug trade exists it is because someone benefits from it and I’m not just talking about people in other countries.

    If so, entire segments of the world’s population are in essence sacrificed.

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