A Government Besieged

Luis Rubio

 Like so many other things in life, organized crime functions in and adapts to the environment in which it operates: when it encounters resistance it retreats, when the lay of the land is auspicious it advances. Where there are rules and compliance to them is enforced, there is adherence to them. In the Mexico of today there are no rules and the terrain is more than propitious: it entices. It is only in this manner that one can explain the temerity of the assassination attempt executed against a government official. Where is the government left in all this?

 The most elemental definition of a Narco State applies when a government’s fundamental institutions have been infiltrated by organized crime. A similar, but not equivalent, term is “Failed State,” which implies the incapacity to satisfy the basic functions of a government, such as security and providing services. Neither of the two is applicable, strictly speaking, to Mexico, but there are clear elements of both in distinct parts of the national territory.

There are vast regions of the country that are narco areas, where the government exercises neither presence nor capacity of action. In the northern state of Tamaulipas, for example, the Mexican Army provides a custodial service for vehicles requiring transport from one city to another: convoys that are formally organized in order not to be intercepted by the dark overlords of the territory. Instead of resolving the problem, an alternative reality is created. Similar situations take place in states such as Michoacán and in parts of the Northeast, from Jalisco to the border. There are entire regions of the State of Mexico, Guerrero and Guanajuato that are the territory of organized crime. Without resistance, the reality is institutionalized.

To the latter one must hasten to add the impunity with which the mafias operate in the country. The attempt against the life of the Mexico City Minister of Public Security is illustrative: it was not only the size of the operation, but also the audacity of effecting out on the main avenue of Mexico City in broad daylight. That cannot happen without the complicity of some authorities.

Beyond the circumstances of the specific case, the fact itself denotes a truism: that it is possible to deploy an operation of this nature. The same is true whether it was an act of revenge, whether the government had taken sides in the so-called war on drugs or whether the interests of this particular mafia had been affected. The fact is what counts.

The larger accusation is that the Federal Government has aligned itself with a drug cartel, which would imply, in criminal logic, that it has become a legitimate target. There are videos showing the President conversing with the mother of the Sinaloa cartel leader, not in itself constituting evidence of a pact, but in politics, appearances are reality.  While this is not the first time that the Federal Government has allegedly engaged in negotiations with the Sinaloa cartel, what is new is that it was the President himself, in its territory and in public, speaking with a person so close to the heart of the cartel leadership. There are many ways of combating organized crime, but what the attempt reveals is that the strategy that the government has adopted, regardless of whether an agreement does in fact exist, is not bearing fruit.

Negotiating does not imply, in technical terms, that Mexico has become a “Narco State” but, were the presumed negotiations true, it would not be far from being one. And that is the problem. The government has acted without considering the implications and repercussions of its actions. Nor has there been an improvement in the security of the population, wherein lies the government’s principal responsibility.

What is clear it that there exists no strategy to fight against the mafias or that the one that there is, that is, bear hugs not bullets (abrazos no balazos), is inadequate. The question is whether the weakness of the government in this matter has rendered it possible for the criminal organizations to advance their positions, making it increasingly more difficult to change the status quo. The assassination attempt intimates that the balance of power shifts in favor of the mafias, whose objective appears not to be to govern but to operate their business without governmental interference. Every retreat by the government is capitalized on by some drug cartel but, to guarantee this, the cartel must liquidate its rivals, perpetuating the world of violence in which Mexicans live.

What is important is not the label –Failed State or Narco State- but rather that the government continues not to recognize and accept that security is its most basic responsibility. Its sights are focused on the only thing that matters to it, next year’s election, while its personnel, not to speak of the garden-variety Mexican, lives in the fear of an unexpected attack on their life.

When the attempt is against a figure of the relevance of the Chief of Police Chief of the capital of the country, the affront is evident and the symbolism impossible to hide.  The president’s nonresponse is an obvious response for those involved.

In the absence of the pandemic and the recession, it is possible that the policy of security of this government would have ended up as no worse than that of its predecessors. But the pandemic changes everything: highly sensitive times are in store for the security of the populace that do not refer to the narcos or to organized crime as such, but instead to the urgency of parents to resolve their immediate family needs, beginning with food. While the narco will be (is) there to capture local support, the government does not protect the citizenry. In place of engendering effective municipal police forces from the bottom up, it de facto promotes a response from the population that is nothing more than “Every man for himself.” This is not a serious way to govern.