Security and Government

Luis Rubio

Groucho Marx, a comedian of the last century, said it with absolute clarity: “Politics is the art of looking for trouble, finding it everywhere, diagnosing it incorrectly and applying the wrong remedies.” The government has great clarity about several of the problems afflicting the country but it is critical to ask ourselves: What happens if the diagnosis is wrong?

Of course, the government of López Obrador would not be the first to get the diagnosis wrong and later to apply an incorrect strategy, but what without doubt distinguishes it is its moral arrogance: not only is the President in possession of the absolute truth, but in addition all else is illegitimate, an interested party, or is conservative. His risk of being in the wrong is, therefore, greater.

In matters of security Mexicans have been taking stabs in the dark for decades. Some governments attempted to construct new police forces, others procured centralizing the command; some resorted to the Army, others vowed to return it to its barracks. Some tried to buy off members of organized crime, others tore down the police forces created by prior administrations. In a word, there has been a little bit of everything during the last thirty years, except for clarity about what was sought or continuity in policy. More quips than strategy.

The problem of security in the country entertains many dimensions, but were one to focus on a historical perspective, its character would be transparent, which simultaneously suggests the true essence of the challenge.  The matter of security arose in parallel with the deterioration that, little by little, was being experienced by the post-revolutionary regime, above all from the seventies, but expeditiously since the nineties. The order and respect for authority that had existed up to that time were due to the authoritarian nature of the regime, that is, to the fear the citizenry had of the police and of the government in general. Members of PRI governments spoke of the strength of the institutions, but, in retrospect, it is evident that there were no strong Institutions, but rather a very efficient and effective structure of control that, additionally, enjoyed enormous legitimacy during many decades.

The central government maintained strict control over all of the key factors of power and the functioning of the society, allowing it to hold sway over criminality efficaciously, subordinating the governors (and using them as instruments at its command) and dictating the rules of the game to the elements of organized crime who, during those years, were Colombians whose interest was limited to transferring their wares through the country to reach their target market, the United States. The Mexican government did not, as many imagine, negotiate with the narcos, but instead established the rules of the game that, according to the characteristics of the post revolutionary regime, implied payments to local or federal actors to expedite the process. Security was the product of the strength of the central regime and not of the existence of a professional, efficient and “modern” structure of the police or of the judiciary. It is that authoritarian system of control that Lopez Obrador aspires to recreate.

As that regime began to falter –because of the growth of the population, the needs of the global economy, the incipient political opening- its capacity for control kept diminishing. That is, there was never an explicit decision that would come to modify the regime: its deterioration was the product of its gradual depletion and of decisions in other ambits that exerted an impact on its power. And here we come upon the underlying problem: while the country has been changing in all of its spheres -political participation, freedom of expression, technological change, economic globalization- the government has remained bogged down in its own structures of yesteryear.

The security problem (and so many others) arises from the exhaustion of a system of government that has not transformed itself in the last fifty years and that is not on the same page as today’s reality. Involving the Army in security issues was a desperate decision to confront a real problem, but without recognition of the nature of the heart of the matter. In this context, the debate over the National Guard is utterly legitimate and meritorious: elevating the Army as a factotum in this matter is not a solution, it is solely another foolhardy measure.

The core problem is the inexistence of government –much more momentous in some latitudes than in others, as illustrated by Tamaulipas vs. Querétaro, to cite two prototypical cases- and not the drugs, the corruption or the violence in themselves.

The government of President López Obrador must focus on the correct problem to be able to resolve the matter besetting the entire population and that devours resources, spirits and lives like no other. Of course the Army will have to be part of the solution, but it cannot be the solution in itself: it is not trained for police functions nor does it respond to the citizenry. In the same manner, merely endeavoring to reconstruct the old all-powerful government of the sixties is absurd because it is not possible: the conditions that made the latter viable came to a halt when the society and developed and there is nothing that the government can do to recreate that schema, unless it aspires to emulate Pinochet.