Delusion and Demagogues in the Mexican Drug War

Delusion and Demagogues in the Mexican Drug War

If you read the Washington Post article I linked up here earlier, you might have noticed that one of the reporters on the story managed to score an interview with Mexico’s Interior Minister, Fernando Gómez Mont. These high-level one-on-ones are not easy to get in Mexico — unless you’re an elite newspaper outlet in the United States. Mexican government officials are deeply sensitive to (some might say paranoid about) how they are covered and perceived in the halls of Washington. Right now, with their chaotic and never-ending war against the drug cartels, that impression is … less than favorable.

Boldly, the Post is making a reported case that the Mexican strategy of enforcement-heavy military confrontation is perhaps not working (as U.S. Congressman Xavier Becerra more or less told me in an interview in April). The conservative government is naturally defensive, but the degree to which it is, and with what reasoning, is downright frightening:

“No one has told us what alternative we have,” said Interior Minister Fernando Gómez Mont, gently slapping his palm on a table during an interview. “We are committed to enduring this wave of violence. [...] We will not look the other way.”

This is false on a variety of levels. Many analysts and experts have in fact proposed alternatives: decriminalization chief among them, as well as focusing on aggressive — and equalizing — economic development, and improving Mexico’s ailing education systems. I don’t know who Gómez Mont is referring to in “we are committed to,” but by the sounds of the streets, I would offer that Mexicans on the whole are far from committed to the government’s military campaign. (The other night, while listening to the news on a radio blaring on a street, I heard a man nearby shout out-loud: “Viva La Familia!” Yes, that Familia.)

Yet Gómez Mont adds later: “We know we are right.” Delusional? The Post essentially says outright warfare as a strategy is almost guaranteed to fail, as long as millions of Mexicans have severely limited economic opportunities, and as long as millions of Americans keep lusting for drugs:

Mexico, nearly twice Colombia’s size, faces a more daunting challenge, many officials and analysts said, in part because it sits adjacent to the United States, the largest illegal drug market in the world. In addition, at least seven major cartels are able to recruit from Mexico’s swelling ranks of impoverished youth and thousands of disenfranchised soldiers and police officers.

But the government’s stance is unwavering, even in the face of thousands upon thousands of deaths. Chillingly, the Mexican Ambassador to the U.S., Arturo Sarukhán, said in a speech in Los Angeles in June that Mexico was prepared to sacrifice a “Churchillian quota of blood, sweat and tears” in its fight against the cartels.

Now, if that sounds like inflexible demagoguery … it’s because it is. So in such a scenario, should the U.S. government then just hand over $1 billion to these guys?

* Photo above, Mexican President Felipe Calderón and members of his cabinet, via the Interior Ministry.

Daniel Hernandez is a journalist and commentator based in Mexico City. His work on politics, arts, culture, and media has appeared in publications throughout the United States, Europe, and Latin Ameri ...read more

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