When Felipe Calderón, Mexicos president,
visited Ciudad Juárez, the countrys most violent
city, in February, he was greeted with waves of angry
protesters carrying placards reading Calderón.
Calderóns anti-drugs strategy which saw
8,000 federal police and army soldiers deployed last year to
fight drug traffickers in the border town with the US
was slammed as a failure.
The president responded by pledging to broaden his drug war
by increasing social spending and introducing programmes to
reduce unemployment, increase schooling and recreation for
youth and combat addiction. Were all Juárez;
lets reconstruct Juárez, he said.
But its going to take more than slogans to calm the
outrage of Juárez residents after the January slayings
of 15 young people attending a birthday party. In the disputed
drug corridor, homicides have increased sharply, rising from
316 murders in 2007 to 2,640 in 2009. On February 17, the same
day that Calderón spoke to distressed Juárez
citizens, no fewer than 12 people including a mayor and
three district attorneys agents were killed in
Juárezs state of Chihuahua in the north of the
The economic impact of the drug wars has been huge. In
recent years, hundreds of Juárez businesses have closed,
and thousands have fled the city. The government long
thought its security strategy was popular in the north because
the PAN, the National Action Party, enjoyed good support
there, says Allyson Benton, Mexico analyst with the
Eurasia Group political risk consultancy. But as the protests
in Juárez showed, the thinking was misplaced.
Ten governorships are up for grabs this year, including July
4 elections in the northern states of Chihuahua and Sinaloa
where PAN has long had strong support. In all 10 state
contests, PAN faces an uphill battle, says Benton. In 2009
mid-term and gubernatorial races, PAN suffered humiliating
The former ruling political force, the Institutional
Revolutionary Party (PRI), regained a majority position in the
lower house of Congress last year and foresees a steady march
back to statehouses and victory in the 2012 presidential
Drug trafficking is at the top of the agenda in this
years state elections, and PRIs chances of
trouncing PAN will be enhanced by growing doubts over
Calderóns drugs strategy.
Security is fast becoming a top priority for Mexicans. In
one mid-February poll it trumped concerns over the economy,
which last year shrunk by 7%, though other polls contradict
this. Disillusionment with the war against drugs increased,
with 56% of those surveyed saying the country had become more
insecure owing to the war on drugs, according to Buendia &
Laredo, a Mexico City polling agency. Seven out of 10 Mexicans
believe that violence related to drug-trafficking has increased
in the past six months.
Across Mexico, Calderóns deployment of force
has resulted in yet more killings. Nationwide, some 40,000
soldiers and 20,000 federal police have been mobilized since
the drug war was launched in December 2006. More than 7,700
people were killed throughout the country in 2009 in slayings
associated with organized crime a sharp increase from
2,700 in 2007 and 6,000 in 2008, according to the murder count
kept by El Universal, a Mexico City daily.
The result? Calderón has begun to take heat from his
own PAN party. Manuel Clouthier, a PAN federal deputy from
northern Sinaloa state, made a stinging denunciation of
Calderóns drug strategy on February 18.
Three years of Calderóns government has
passed, and in Sinaloa weve not seen decisive action
against the narcos; nothing is being done seriously, said
Clouthier, son of the PAN partys popular presidential
candidate in 1988. The response he got was a demand from his
party to resign his seat in Congress.
In Juárez for the first time, Calderón
recognized that his war on drugs cannot be waged exclusively
with force, and he has opened himself to listening to public
Generating a new strategy especially a broader,
multi-faceted approach to combating drugs and violence
is a daunting task. The strategy is failing; there
isnt a consensus about a new strategy, says Ana
Paula Hernández, a specialist in drug policy and human
rights and leader of the Mexico-based Collective for a
Comprehensive Drug Policy.
Calderóns proposal in Juárez of a new
strategy aiming to mend the citys social fabric was met
with scepticism. The president is all about re-electing
the PAN; there is no overriding strategy, says Daniel
Lund, director of Mund Group, an opinion research agency.
Social spending, employment programmes and school and
playground rehabilitation wont have an impact on
rehabilitating youth and regenerating barrios unless the
cartels are dismembered, says Jorge Chabat, a political
scientist specialized in security issues with CIDE, Mexico
Citys Center for Economic Research and Teaching. In
Medellín, Colombia, the violence-ridden city was able to
make a comeback only after drug lord Pablo Escobar was slain
and other capos taken out of action.
A host of structural problems must be tackled, such as
cleaning up and training police forces, beefing up intelligence
and bolstering enforcement on money laundering. Local police
forces are responsible for prosecuting all homicides, and only
5% of all murders are punished. The low probability of being
jailed for crimes reduces fear of the police.
A recent law to crack down on small-scale drug consumption
puts municipal and state police in charge of the arrests,
giving more power to the unprofessional security forces that
are subject to corruption, says Maureen Meyer, associate for
Mexico at the Washington Office on Latin America, an advocacy
group based in the US capital.
Greater ability to fight crime effectively requires building
more capacity to investigate drug traffickers. In a celebrated
case, 19 mayors from all three leading political parties were
arrested in Calderóns home state of Michoacan last
year for alleged links to drug trafficking. Most were later
released after being held for a relatively short period of time
by Mexican judicial norms.
A far-reaching police reform is needed to create
professional forces accountable to their superiors and the
public. The problem runs deep, says Ernesto López
Portillo, a former security adviser to the attorney-general and
Congress and now head of the Institute for Security and
Democracy (INSYDE). From its origin, the police force was
designed as an arm of political control, was not given the
necessary resources but was authorized to finance itself,
says López Portillo.
The police have been given more powers but have not evolved
into a professional, reliable and capable force. Lopez Portillo
heads a number of programmes to develop accountability and
professionalism in several local and state police forces.
Nothing short of an overhaul of the police and their
responsibilities nationwide will begin to solve the problems of
law enforcement, analysts say. A national police force
operating under uniform codes should be created to supplant the
fragmented and weak structures of municipal and state
Mexicos laws for combating money laundering are in
line with international conventions, but implementation is
inadequate. There must be the political will to apply the
law; the instruments are not used and you are not going to
generate results, says Samuel González Ruiz, a
lawyer and former government adviser on organized crime.
Shutting down money laundering has eluded most governments.
Because of its porous 3,100km border with the US, Mexico faces
enormous challenges in controlling all types of illegal
exchange across the frontier. Moreover, each year, some $25
billion flows into Mexico in the form of remittances sent by
wire in sizes of $200 or $300 by migrant workers in the US. In
recent years, remittances have also been used to launder
Mexico cannot solve its problems alone, says Jorge
Castañeda, a former foreign minister, and Héctor
Aguilar Camín, a historian and commentator writing in a
recent article in Nexos magazine. It makes no sense to
declare war on the narco if you dont have the necessary
army, police and intelligence, and the only way to have them is
with foreign aid. In our case it can only come from the
US, they say.
The Calderón strategy is correct, argue other
analysts, but it is the first stage of a long-term strategy.
In the short term, it wont have results, says
Chabat of CIDE. The only other option is to legalize drugs, but
without backing from the US, that is not feasible.
The question now facing the government and shortly to
be considered by voters in the state elections is how
much the PAN will take the blame for its failure to bring down
the cartels and tame the violence.