“In democratization theories” -writes Joaquín Villalobos- “it is said that authoritarianism is made up of uncertain processes with certain results, and democracy, of certain processes with uncertain results.” Although the interminable democratic transition that Mexico has experienced has been excessively terse, its consequences have been extraordinarily grandiose and not all good. Decentralization of power has had the effect, which should clearly be welcome, of balancing the federal powers, but also, a penchant for demolishing the governing capacity. These changes could not have taken place at a worse moment.
The crisis of criminality that began to overtake Mexico at the beginning of the nineties has not come to a halt in terms of either expansion or aggravation. Not only that: to this criminality, we must add the wars among narcotraffickers, and, more recently, the grandstanding of the losers of these encounters, which is manifested in the form of extortion, selling protection, and abduction. Explanations concerning the causes of these phenomena are many and each offers distinct diagnoses. But none of these clarifies the panorama exhaustively.
There are two types of explanation for the phenomenon of criminality: some are endogenous in nature because they arise from the national reality itself, unique and distinct as it is from the rest of the world, such as that I describe here. The other type of explanation also arises from the domestic reality, but is produced within an international context, which affords to it its own characteristics. The two types of explanation are not contradictory, but they reveal distinct dimensions of the problem, each thus meriting its own analysis.
All diagnoses coincide in that the government’s weakness is the explicative factor. There is no doubt that, as can be inferred from the Villalobos quote, the strength of the authoritarian government allows for certainties that do not derive from the existence of solid and representative institutions, but rather, from the very capacity of the operation itself and of the susceptibility to employ institutions that are not acceptable (nor presentable) in a democracy. The processes of democratization exert the effect of weakening this operational capacity and of canceling the ability for resorting to authoritarian instruments. The wager inherent in a democratization process is that, little by little, institutions will consolidate that will permit processes that afford confidence and that avoid excesses.
The process of the decentralization of power in Mexico arrived at the worst possible moment because it occurred precisely when narcotrafficking was experiencing a transformation. Contemplated in retrospect, economic liberalization and the negotiation for a North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) comprised the first steps in a process of political liberalization and decentralization that came to be generalized with political opening and the 2000 PRI defeat. The instruments and mechanisms of control that previously dominated the presidency shrank and were slowly transferred to state governors, political parties, and the “de facto powers”. Although it took some years to consolidate the true transfer of power, it became evident in 1994 that the presidency no longer possessed the capacity of imposing its will.
While the beneficiaries of these transfers quickly acquired great power, not all had the capacity of action, or, more exactly, the structure to exercise the power. By the same token, the de facto powers required no more than formal separation from the PRI or acquisition of their own public presence to make good on their interests. Something similar happened with the political parties and legislative leaders, although these were frequently very childish and even comical in their manner of making the change in power relations obvious.
True change, truly transcending change in terms of the objectives of the country’s governability, occurred at the level of the governors. In contrast with a union, business, party, or legislative leaders, the governor of a state faces concrete, specific and legal responsibilities for the population’s health and safety, as well as for the functioning of vital processes of the country’s stability. From this perspective, one of the great misfortunes of the political transition resides precisely in that mechanisms that are critical for the country’s stability and public security were never effectively transferred to or developed by state governments. The federal government was losing its capacity of action, but the governors did not develop the latter with the same alacrity, and many, perhaps the majority, have not begun to do so to date. The result is the chaos that we have in the public security: the nonexistence of professional police officers, a dysfunctional justice procurement system (not that the old one worked), and growing insecurity.
The flip side of the coin was the change in the profile of narco trafficking in Mexico. For many years, drug trafficking entertained a logistic rationality: drugs arrived from the south to be exported north. Arrangements between functionaries and governments with narcos, today’s hot topic of conversation, entertained a very distinct dynamic from that of the present because the narco trafficking business was essentially one of transport to the north, while the federal government was exceedingly powerful. This combination permitted a degree of corruption that was functional for narco trafficking and not threatening to the government. All players were delighted.
Everything indicates that toward the mid-nineties, narco trafficking began to develop an internal drug market, an ominous decision that would change everything. At present, criminality –both that which is pure, traditional, delinquency, as well as that deriving from narco trafficking- has become a factor of instability throughout the country and one that grew hand in hand with the disjointedness of the federal government’s security apparatus. The combination of democratization and decentralization of power and the growth of narco trafficking and criminality could not have occurred at a worse moment for the country.
This explanation, as so many others, is lame because it only explains certain parts of what has taken place over the past several years. Marcelo Bergman, a Center of Economic Research and Teaching (CIDE) specialist, has developed a much more comprehensive explanation that permits us to register these processes within a broader context. Bergman says that many countries began to be besieged by criminality in the nineties, and that, although everyone pays heed to their own explanation, such as that which I have attempted to describe here, the general context makes a difference. Thus, this should be observed painstakingly, because in its absence, there will perhaps be no solution.