Where to start? Security has become the most important matter for the population and, however, we have taken decades without being able to square the circle. The governments -federal and state- hold forth on the matter and propose grand solutions that later come to nothing. Everyone delivers sermons, but insecurity is mounting. For some the problem is one of education, for others one of confronting the criminals; for some the most imperative aspect is to take on crime, while for others the solution lies in greater political control. At the heart of all the proposals there is always a political, ideological or personal agenda that ignores the elemental, which should be the point of departure: the first is to protect the population. From that point forward, it is necessary to construct a reliable security system for that population; everything else is demagoguery.
I would like to believe that, beyond the individual agendas, there exists a generalized coincidence that security is the condition sine-qua-non for the development of a country. Where the coincidence stops is in the how: from there arise agendas, prejudices and interests, but also, I imagine that most of all, nostalgia for a happy past. For many of Mexico’s politicians and opinion makers, Spanish poet Manrique was right in writing that any past time was better when, in reality, the peace and security that Mexico experienced for some decades was to a greater degree the product of authoritarian controls than that of a system of sustainable security.
If one observes the way that societies with low crime levels function, the Mexican discussion in this regard is senseless. In Japan security begins with the neighborhood police officer, who is a member of the community and knows everyone, thus being capable of identifying abnormalities. Something similar happens in Europe, each country with its own ways and traditions, but the essence is exactly the opposite of what has been proposed in Mexico: security is only possible from the ground up; that is, security cannot be imposed, it must be built. A serious debate, above all in anticipation of the presidential race next year, should be concentrated on constructing a security system of that nature: from below.
Perhaps the most absurd of the discussions of recent years has been that relative to the political “Mando Único,” or united command, meaning a single state police force replacing all municipal contingents. This notion has two types of promoters: those who have a vested interest and those who sought a “realist” solution given the obvious fact that most municipal governments are extremely weak both institutionally and financially. For the former, above all innumerable state governors, insecurity became a unique opportunity to submit the municipal presidents in order to control them and to limit their capacity to act independently. It is not by chance that the most avid drivers of this strategy have been the most satrap governors, often those who constantly challenged the mayors of parties different from theirs (or of whom they feared competition) and with the same political ambitions. The point is that security was not the true objective: from their perspective, the population should fend for itself.
More sensible were those who pursued a solution in the face of the deterioration of security in vast regions of the country where weak municipal authorities meet organized crime head-on: an impossible situation. If the federal government -with the Army, federal police and all of their weapons and resources- has not been able to deal with the narcos, what can be expected of the embattled municipal presidents? As Mark Kleiman, a security expert, says, “the debate over criminal-justice policy often seems to take place between the disciples of Michel Foucault and the disciples of the Marquis de Sade, with the Foucauldians winning the academic debate even as the sadists mostly get their way in the real political world.” In one word, the resulting policies manage to combine enormous cruelty with unsatisfactory crime-control results.
In view of the institutional weakness at all levels of government, the governmental response has been the sole one possible: send in the Army. But soldiers are not trained for police activities and the results have not been successful. That has led to desperation, which immediately rebounds to nostalgia. Unfortunately, the past is not a viable guide for security in a country as diverse, disperse and complex as the Mexico of today.
It seems to me that there are three obvious principles that should be followed: first, security can only be built from the ground up, thus the relevant question is how to achieve it; second, the federal forces, or even state forces where they are trustworthy, can be deployed to stabilize the local situation: that is, the Army or the Federal Police should have as their mission the pacification of the zones in which they operate, but with a clear objective, which can be no other than to create conditions for constructing local police capacity. Therefore, third, there is the need for what has not been done: a plan for the construction of local security systems from the municipal level and with ample participation of the population affected. The point is that security will never be achieved if there is no understanding that the nodal objective is to protect the population and that, due to this, the population itself must be an integral part of the solution.
As in so many other aspects of our national life, the challenge resides in digging ourselves out of the hole bequeathed to us by the old political system. The problem lies there and will not end until we -all Mexicans- opt to build a “new” country.