Ending the Violent Order

Luis Rubio

“The solution to the problem, says Rachel Kleinfeld, lies in re-civilizing society and the political system.”  Violence has very clear and distinctive explanations in each specific situation that can be reverted if the problem is focused correctly. The author* affirms that it is possible to restore peace and order if a leadership is disposed to join forces and confront the problem that produces the “violence of privilege” with a middle class capable of mobilizing itself to obligate the government to act.

Violence destroys civilizations or transforms them.   It begins because of the structural weakness of a government or due to the complicity existing among the members of the government with the criminal organizations that, notes the author, is commonplace. Typically, criminality involves those who govern, it seduces them and corrupts them, to the degree of making the accomplices, thus closing the circle. Once the government forms part of the criminal order, the entire structure of the police, prosecutors and judges ends up becoming weak because it then comprises part of the problem and not part of the solution.

At the heart of the argument appears the concept of the “violence of privilege” that arises from the established order that is devoted to preserving what exists, characteristically in very unequal and polarized societies. Authorities can become accomplices because they want to benefit directly or because they respond to greater interests committed to the status quo. In practice, the difference is small because, once complicity is the order of the day the violence starts and the governmental apparatus ceases having the capacity to protect the citizenry.

The most interesting facet of the book, at least in Mexico’s experience, is that it engenders a very discerning distinction between governments that have been outpaced by criminality and those in which the authority has entered into collusion with organized crime. Although the latter can lead to the former, there are experiences, as in Afghanistan, in which very powerful forces can impose their law. In the case of Honduras and Mexico, for the author there is no doubt that this is about the second case: the authorities were corrupt or were corrupted by organized crime and that’s what brought about the collapse of the whole apparatus dedicated to the protection of the citizens and to the procurement of justice.

Once that happens, the options are few and not very difficult to elucidate. To begin with, states Kleinfeld, as soon as the authorities are accomplices, deterioration occurs in all ambits, despite that they do not appear to be linked together because they lower the behavioral standards in everything. For example, persons whose past conduct was impeccable, now see nothing wrong in stealing something from the supermarket; electricity inspectors become virtual extortionists not very distinct from those who extort “dues” –protection money- from businesses; the political discourse acquires an aggressiveness that never before existed. When civilization deteriorates, the sole possibility resides in reconstructing it, but that can only take place when a new government assembles that is willing to break up the networks of complicity and impunity in conjunction with a society that demands it.

The text almost seems like a script: a new government arrives and finds itself enmeshed in an extenuated governmental set-up, one that is incapable and finds itself in pieces because the out-going authorities had surrendered to enjoying the pleasures associated with crime, instead of combating the latter. The new government has no choice other than to make arrangements and engage in agreements with the criminals to avoid a sudden surge of violence. It is at that moment that the future is defined: the fledgling government has two possibilities; on the one hand, it can accept the new status quo (a pact) as an end in itself and proceed as if nothing had happened. The alternative would be to utilize that truce to gain time and to employ that time to build a new capacity of the police, of the judiciary and of the prosecutors. The majority of governments get bogged down in agreements and the result ends in more violence.

The difference between a benign result and the other is the civil society. When the society exacts accountability from the government, supervises its acting and keeps watch over it and exhibits its weaknesses, the government preserves a compass towards what the author calls “re-civilization.” When the society does not apply pressure or possess the capacity to do so, the government is inexorably intimidated and gives way to everything.

The new government must decide whether it wants to resolve the problem or merely own it: this is not the same. “The solution to the problem of the Mafia,” says Italian anti-Mafia district attorney Paolo Borsellino, “is to make the State work.” Will the AMLO government restore peace and security? The President is wagering yes, through the Army. The evidence that this book yields is that this will not work: only the conjunction of society and government can achieve it.

Leoluca Orlando, the Mayor of Palermo, phrased it lucidly: The fight against the Mafia was like a cart with two wheels: police and culture. Only one wheel leads to the cart spinning around; only two wheels functioning together can make it work.


*A Savage Order, Pantheon, 2018