Mexico and Colombia

Luis Rubio

The temptation to imitate the Colombian process to pacify their country is immense. Although that process is yet to be concluded -or enjoy widespread support- the Colombian experience is exemplary for the depth and solidity of its conception and process, but also because it sought not only to resolve an ancient dispute with the oldest source of violence in the continent, but also to incorporate the violent ones into the normality of everyday life. I imagine that this is the source that inspired the new governing team to proceed with a process of negotiation, pacification and transitional justice, all terms that, as the extraordinary text of the Colombian negotiator Sergio Jaramillo* illustrates, come from there. The problem is that the Colombian circumstances bear no resemblance to Mexico’s.

In Colombia there are two essential factors that made the peace process possible: first, over three decades, one government after another built institutional capacity, which not only strengthened the government itself, but also conferred upon it solidity to act. Different presidents led the effort, which ended up constructing the foundations for a functional government. That is, they first built a professional police force and an independent judiciary as means not only to be able to negotiate, but above all to deal with the consequences after the negotiation process itself. The negotiation carried out by the government of President Santos would not have been possible, not even conceivable, without the existence of a true State.

Second, in Colombia the source of violence was not merely drug trafficking, although this was a central component, but the guerrilla that for half a century had controlled a huge swath of Colombian territory, from which it operated, kidnapped and killed systematically. A guerrilla is not the same as a criminal organization, although both collaborated over time: the central issue of the Colombian negotiation was the fact that there was an alternative political project that was financed by the narco. The negotiation was not with criminals but with a political entity.

In contrast with Colombia, Mexico´s institutions are weak, there are no professional police forces capable of guaranteeing security, nor are they capable of administering a peace process like the one that has been advanced in Colombia, or the one that is pompously being proposed for Mexico. Nor are there judicial institutions -either on the side of the prosecutor’s office or the judiciary- to be able to talk meaningfully of justice in any of its potential denomination. No less important is the fact that the initiative of the Colombian government was extremely ambitious, centered on the citizenry, especially on the victims, to build a democratic political project anchored on well-founded civil rights, that would protect the peace project in the long term. The idea was that those rights would also eliminate the resentments and hatreds that decades of armed conflict had generated. In Mexico, the real challenge is much more basic: to build the institutions that Colombia already had, as well as a political project of democratic institutionalization.


Of equal importance is the fact that in Mexico the potential interlocutors are not politicians who seek to advance an alternative project of a nation (a paradox with the fledgling government that proposed the same thing) but organized crime, pure and simple: these are not guerrillas and their project is not political. Perhaps there is some of this in the mountains of Guerrero or among the Zapatistas in Chiapas, but this is certainly not the source of extortion of store owners of Guanajuato, protection money in the La Merced market, or of murdered women in Ciudad Juarez. There is much to learn from the Colombian process, but that learning is clearly not present among those who are promoting a process of pacification or transitional justice.

Pacification is a praiseworthy and necessary objective, but it is not a substitute for the government’s ability to fulfill its nodal objective, which is to govern and confer certainty and trust to the citizenry. After two administrations that pursued a strategy that has not achieved their avowed objective, it is not only valid but necessary to change the approach, but this must start from a diagnosis about the true nature of the problem. Only from an accurate definition of the causes of insecurity in the country can a solution be developed. This can include negotiations and amnesty, but its essence does not lie on the other side, that of criminal organizations, but on that of the government itself. In the end, it is the government’s weakness that made it possible for organized crime to grow and multiply.

There are many potential models to follow in developing a structure of public security, some of which start from the municipal governments, while others, recognizing the municipal government’s inherent weakness, contemplate state governments as the heart of a secure nation. Whichever is the right one, the crucial thing is to have a correct diagnosis, so as to concentrate all forces and resources in the creation of an effective security system, one to which the governors would be fully accountable.

What one can see in the discussion forums on security that were launched in the last few days illustrates the most ingrained spirit of Mexico’s political nature: we crack the eggs first and then start looking for a pan. There are better ways.