DEBATE | 2/4/2010 12:00:00 AM
Audacity or naivety?
Some intellectuals in Mexico caused surprise when they said that the government should not have declared the war against drug trafficking. Why do some good arguments come to a wrong conclusion.
Castañeda says in his article that "Like the Iraq invasion, the war against drugs in Mexico was optional: it should not have been declared, its not possible to win and is causing a huge damage to Mexico". Conclusion that in Colombia has been considered as immoral, erratic and naive. The most curious thing is that such questionable theory comes from strong and plausible arguments that share intellectuals from Latin America and the world.
That the battle against drugs is being lost in Mexico and elsewhere, is something widely shared. The White House is seriously considering a 30-year war that has cost many lives and million of dollars, but that has not reduce the offer nor consumption of drugs. On the contrary, the routes have expanded and involve more countries.
This situation even inspired three former presidents who fought against drug cartels –César Gaviria from Colombia, Henrique Cardoso from Brazil, and Ernesto Zedillo from Mexico– to publish a document advocating the decriminalization of consumption and a overall strategy change. A vision that Castañeda wrote in his recent book El narco: la guerra fallida (Drug trafficking: the failed war).
That the fight against narcotics is considered a "war" is clearly questionable. Carlos Medina, coordinator of the Justice and Security area from the United Nations Office against Drugs and Crime in Colombia, believes that "when someone speaks of a drug war, attention focus on whether it is won or lose, and that's not the point. "
For him, the fight against drug trafficking and organized crime is not an option but an obligation of the States. In many countries, including Colombia and Mexico, the gangs have become a matter of national security and a threat to democratic institutions, and have forced governments to militarize the fight against drugs. "The problem is that it is difficult to drive back because the war itself has produced fierce gangs," says the researcher from the Los Andes University, Álvaro Camacho Guisao.
A second important argument that Castañeda has is that violence in Mexico, at the moment of declaring war on drug trafficking, was dropping: It had a rate of 10 homicides per 100,000 inhabitants, while Colombia's is 37, Venezuela's 48 and Brazil’s 25. It’s quite true that the violence intensified with the war and cruelty has reached levels that shudders. For example, when last December, after the Navy shot the drug lord Arturo Beltrán Leyva, the mafia killed the family of Melquisedec Angulo, the only member of the Special Forces whose identity was uncovered because he died during the operation. That kind of savagery generally has a very strong impact on public opinion and seeks to break the society’s will to bear the costs of that war. So Castañeda thinks that putting on one side of the balance the human costs of war and the benefits on the other, the result are in red numbers.
In fact, Castañeda doesn’t hope the State keeps still, and instead chooses for "controlling collateral damage as Colombia has done," he said in an interview to W radio station. That is, the violence and corruption. But that's a dangerous game as Colombians know from their bitter experience. The penetration of drug trafficking in politics and economics is as violent as the war being waged in the streets with drug cartels.
However, as notes Joaquin Villalobos, a former Salvadoran guerrilla and Mexican government adviser, in an article published in Nexos magazine, "drug trafficking is a well-armed enemy, very violent, without moral barriers and a great corrupting power. Believing the problem can be solved without confrontation and without violence is a great ingenuity. "
Experience shows that where the mafia is powerful and doesn’t’ speak through vendettas, is because it has the control of institutions and its hegemony is not endangered. Something that many believe happened in Mexico during the PRI government, whose monopoly of power allowed some level of tacit agreement with the mafia to keep it on its fair proportions.
Organized crime can keep violence within certain channels, when there is a centralized power. As it happened, for example, under the drug lord 'Don Berna' rule of Medellin, or under the paramilitary dictatorship 'Jorge 40' imposed in the Coast. But that means that institutions are subjugated. The crossroad is that while violence does not necessarily implies drug trafficking success, not to fight the mafia in order to reduce the homicide rate is the expeditious way to convert the fragile democracies into narco-states.
But what is really refutable from Castañeda is the idea of a government that may refrain from declaring the war against drug lords. "Castañeda confuses one thing with another. A society can live with drugs, but not with organized crime," says Jorge Chabat, professor at the Center for Economic Research. Chabat shares the view that the State is obliged to enforce the law, although this comes from a mistaken policy, as is the punishment of drugs.
In fact, many times this debate has slipped into swamps that question whether governments can negotiate or bargain with the drug traffickers in order to lower violence rates. In most cases the agreements made with mafias dropped the violence, but increased their power. "It is not a moral issue. It all depends on how strong is the State," said Gustavo Duncan, Colombian expert. In the case of Mexico he believes that the State still doesn’t have the strength to demand an end to the war, as perhaps has had Colombia.
Although in Colombia the necessity of military force to fight drug traffickers has never been doubted, the State has also done agreements with them. With Pablo Escobar during Gaviria’s administration, and in Uribe’s age with the paramilitaries, who entered Santa Fe de Ralito camouflaged as warlords, and went out by the back door, as simple extradited drug lords.
The US is another example of a government that, while launches a crusade against drugs across borders, inside his territory has an extensive program of reduced sentences for gangsters, if they collaborate with justice.
The fact is that Calderon’s drug war, despite his questionable results and the brutal crimes that are being committed, has the approval of 84 percent of the Mexicans. Because, although they know that it is not the best solution, so far they haven’t found another. Except, obviously, the decriminalization of drugs, that many sectors advocate, but that requires a global consensus that doesn’t exist. This means that while the drug remains penalized, there will be mafias, a big business going on, and violence. And the States have no choice, for both moral and pragmatic reasons, than fight against them. Even if it is a useless war.