What happens when an irresistible force meets an immovable object? Fentanyl in the United States is not only an electoral issue, but one of survival for its society. Although it is clear that the key to the enigma lies in the circumstances that lead to its consumption (of this and other drugs that came before), it is absurd to claim that Mexico is an irrelevant actor in this matter. In fact, the fentanyl crisis in our neighboring country is not different, in concept, from the security crisis that Mexico is experiencing and, more importantly, neither of the two nations can solve their own crisis without the concurrence of the other. It is the story of two crises that feed on each other.
In his novel about the era of terror before the French Revolution, A Tale of Two Cities, Charles Dickens scoffs at revolutionaries who aspire to make liberty and death compatible: “Liberty, equality, fraternity, or death; – the last, much the easiest to bestow, O Guillotine!” Fentanyl is no different for Americans than extortion, the narcos, and death that stalk countless Mexican cities and communities. The export of this drug, as occurred with its predecessors, feeds the power (and weapons) of the mafias that harass Mexicans.
Perhaps it is no coincidence that the president rejects both components of the equation: fentanyl is not produced in Mexico, nor is there a security crisis in the country. What the citizens of both nations suffer from is the product of their imagination. But both crises are real and have inexorable effects. Each society reacts to its circumstances differently due to the nature of their respective political systems, but that in no way changes the very fact that both societies are beset by factors that are irresolvable exclusively through internal action.
Drug use is not a product of their availability, but of the social factors that lead to the existence of demand. That is the challenge of American society. In the same way, the insecurity suffered by the Mexican population is not the result exclusively of the availability of weapons, but of the non-existence of police and judicial forces in Mexico to protect it. As the saying goes, it’s easy to see the speck in someone else’s eye and not the beam in your own.
Two of the most contentious issues in current American politics, especially considering the upcoming electoral contest (2024), are illegal migration and fentanyl. In both, Mexico is a leading actor. That is the irresistible force that is approaching and that is going to impact, whether Mexicans like it or not. In analytical terms, it is possible to discuss the wisdom of blaming third parties for the fact that there is demand, respectively, for drugs and labor, without which neither of these factors would be relevant. But that in no way changes the very fact that it is an onslaught that is already there and that no one can stop it. The big question is whether the Mexican government will continue to behave like an immovable object and, if so, what would be the consequences.
Insecurity in Mexico began markedly with the gradual weakening of the federal government’s security structures in the 1990s. It was the time when robberies and kidnappings suddenly increased. Until then, since the era of pacification that took place after the Mexican Revolution (1910-1917), the federal government had had such power and presence throughout the territory that this allowed for relative calm and harmonious coexistence. Due to its centralizing nature, the political system never favored the development of local capacities, in this case of security and justice. In this context, it is no coincidence that the gradual, and then accelerated, weakening of the federal government was accompanied by a collapse of security throughout the country. It was this vacuum that organized crime filled, undoubtedly assisted by the weapons that their profits from both criminal activities in Mexico and from drug exports allowed them. But the underlying problem is not weapons or drugs, but the lack of an effective government in Mexico.
It is useless to pontificate against the Americans when Mexico’s problems are so deep and indistinguishable, or at least not addressable, without the concurrence of the other. Therein lies the fallacy of the Mexican political discourse that, in turn, feeds the American rhetoric and makes it credible, as the recent criminal trials of Mexican characters in the US have illustrated. Instead of acting as an immovable object, Mexico could be looking for ways of mutual cooperation aimed at two inexorably linked objects: drugs in the US and violence in Mexico.
“Death may beget life, but oppression can beget nothing other than itself” Dickens concludes in the aforementioned novel. The story of two crises that can only be resolved to the extent that both nations cooperate together with their own action internally. Both live in denial, one blaming the other for their ills when their problems are internal, but they require the assistance of the other to attack them.