To Convince and To Win

The war on narcotrafficking has paralyzed the country. The Colombian experience demonstrates that the key to defeating the criminal mafias lies in the conviction of the population that the enemy must be defeated. However, for whatever reason, this conviction does not exist in Mexico. Thus, the “war on drugs” has become yet another of many themes rife with political controversy and means to discredit the government. This said, if one analyzes the diversity of stances, the true problem is found in the president’s action on the political and media fronts.

In weeks past, the president has held meetings with all sorts of people and groups, analysts as well as politicians, representatives of the media, intellectuals, and victims. At each of these sessions, there has been a plethora of debate and interchanges. At first, parties and governors refused to participate because, they adduced, the president’s calling everyone together was the result of his plan being stuck, and not because he was truly interested in dialogue or in restating his strategy. In the end, good sense won out.

What is interesting is that, if one removes the stuffing and the posturing, differences in content are not very great. Eduardo Guerrero says that the objective of the government on initiating combat with the narcotrafficking mafias was the following: “1. To fortify the security institutions; 2. To diminish, stop, or prevent drug use; 3. To incapacitate the criminal organizations, and 4. To regain public spaces”, objectives that would appear to be logically related among themselves, but, “unfortunately, this is not the case”. On his part, Manlio Fabio Beltrones, the PRI Senate leader, states that “Felipe Calderón made the correct decision: to take the fight against organized crime and narcotrafficking to its ultimate consequences. It is a decision that must be supported and continued. I only say that the strategy must be set forth anew. It is not by confronting delinquency with the firepower of the State that we will solve the problem: we would only generate more violence. We should act with greater intelligence, police intelligence to deliver precise hits, bring an end to the capos, desiccate them where they are most affected: the money”*.

Everyone is uneasy about the deaths, and rightly so. According to Joaquín Villalobos, who after spending more than twenty years in the jungle ought to know something about these themes, responds that “Violence is an inherent part of war, and is not in itself a sign of how badly the war is going. The opponents’ demand is reasonable if we focus on exacting more efficacy, better inter institutional coordination, integrality of plans, and political agreements on security, but it is illogical when they clamor for an end to violence at all costs, because this is impossible”. Villalobos’s essential claim is that violence does not depend on the government, but that it is, rather, an instrument that drug cartels have decided to employ to defend their places of business. “Their natural fight is with other cartels, not with the State”. “The violence of the cartels against the Mexican State is, therefore, a last-ditch resource, because attacking the government does not help their purposes, something clearly expressed in their explicit bylaw avoiding, in the vernacular, “heating up the plaza”, that is, calling attention to itself from the State”.

The basic problem is not in the definitions, but instead, in the political differences. On making the war his, and only his, the president left the actors -politicians and governors-, as well as the society in general, in a comfort zone, one with no responsibility and with broad opportunities for critiquing. Thus, for the so-called dialogue to be successful, it must entertain commitments and minimally reliable conditions. The president should be clear that his proposal is not a media ploy, and that there is, in truth, a genuine space and vote for confidence ensuring that all positions will be heard and assessed, and equally important, that this agenda will not wind up contaminated by electoral affairs. It is particularly important to build consensus behind the mutual objective, which has become more relevant in view of the recent abductions of journalists. However, no dialogue will prosper unless it concludes with a division of responsibilities, particularly between the Federation and the governors.

Stratfor, an institution of intelligence professionals in the U.S., affirms that “one of the two things that needs to happen is to reduce violence to politically acceptable levels: A single drug trafficking entity must dominate, or an alliance and/or understanding between the remaining two DTOs must restore the cartel balance of power. Either outcome would see battles for territory end, with the remaining organization (or organizations) then able to focus on its/their primary raison d’etre: making large sums of money.”**

Gustavo Flores-Macías reasons that President Calderón’s strategy will not be successful until it attains two previous conditions: strengthening the government’s fiscal position, and including the population in backing the government’s efforts. Different from Colombia, notes Flores, the Mexican Government has not executed significant fiscal reform, has not advanced in public rendering of accounts, nor has it launched a campaign against drug use, all of the latter key factors in the strategy of Uribe, the out-going Colombian president. As Uribe made fiscal accounts transparent, the population began to have confidence in his project and was disposed to support him. His main success, says Flores, was that the population came together behind the president because it was convinced that the effort was real and that the battle embodied no partisan logic.***

It is commendable that President Calderón has thrown open the theme that dominated his six-year term to debate, and that he is doing this straightforwardly. The positions that he heard and his own assertions in these forums evidence the enormous effervescence in Mexican society. And not without good reason: the theme dominates the media, and violence relentlessly persecutes the population. At heart, people want to know what the government proposes in this war and what the yardstick is for gauging success. It’s not much to ask.

Judging by the experts, it appears evident that the key to success lies in the intrinsic fortitude of the government and of the popular support it amasses. Both are debatable at present. I have no doubt that the best legacy that the president could bequeath has less to do with his successor than with the scaffolding necessary to win this war, because the alternative is worse than anyone could imagine. But the precondition is that this theme be his theme, i.e., that he is able to convince his interlocutors that the objective is public security and not presidential succession.

*Nexos, Agosto 2010-08-05