Lessons Learned

The violence stalking the country does not let up, nor does it seem to respond to the calculations, strategies, and expectations of the experts, of those in charge, or of the lookers on. The only thing that we know for certain is that it is not a linear process, but rather, that there are many players involved who roll with the punches, adjust quickly, and change the rules of the game. The only certainty appears to be that everything changes dynamically.

As the saying, attributed to Truman, goes, “it’s what you learn after you know it all that counts.” Recent months have been  exhaustive in lessons learned because they have obliged everyone –from the president to the most unassuming of Mexicans- to review hypotheses, dialogue with the opposition, and analyze the underlying themes. During these years, I have observed the upscaling of violence, listened to the experts, and have attempted to understand the nature of the phenomenon that we are experiencing. In this process, I have found everything: from public servants who are clear on the phenomenon and its changing nature, perspicacious analysts who attempt to understand and furnish very valuable pieces of the puzzle, gratuitous critics, and experts who during their 15 minutes of fame can explain the past with great clarity, but who are dumbstruck when faced with forward-looking decision-making with the information available. Along the way, the only thing that is evident is that the Mexican lives in fear and without the least amount of lucidity concerning how the future will be.

I would like to share the things that I have been learning, without any attempt in arriving at a definitive conclusion:

  • The relationship between violence and criminality is indissoluble, and perhaps therein lies the heart of the matter. The intrinsic point at issue is not narco trafficking, but, instead, the impunity that derives from the inexistence of mechanisms and instruments -and probably willingness- to contend with organized crime. This is what differentiates us from countries such as Spain or the U.S., where there is a similar drug trafficking phenomenon, but not the same violence.
  • The origin of the current situation dates back to two circumstances that came about in parallel but independent fashion: on the one hand, the precipitous decentralization of power that began in the nineties and that transferred power, money, and responsibilities to the state governors, but without developing modern police and judicial institutions to replace those of the old PRIist system. The old instruments –corrupt and abusive, but in their time effective at the federal as well as at the state level- were no longer functional, but nothing took their place. On the other hand, at more or less the same time, for commercial reasons, the narcotrafficking cartels decided to begin development of an internal drug market. This conjunction of happenstances could not have taken place at a worse time. When Calderón assumed the presidency, the country was up in flames and required a clear-cut and absolute response.
  • The strategy adopted from the end of 2006 reestablished some semblance of order in places like Tijuana, but failed in coming into effect in time to substitute for the Army, which was never trained for police work – with an able and duly formed federal police force. The result has been loss of prestige for the Army and emboldened mafias.
  • The mafias have developed territorial strategies that hold sway over the entire criminal world: from drug sales up to extortion and abductions. In addition, they call the shots on political decisions and, wherever they go, impose their law.
  • The greater part of the violence transpires among the mafias themselves; thus, the figure of 90% of deaths from the ranks of the narcotraffickers and their hit men of every ilk is credible. The reality is that the government has had relatively little impact on this inter-mafia dynamic.
  • Historically, narcotraffickers have always eschewed the limelight: never wished to attract excessive attention. But that has changed: like all the rest of the de facto powers in the country, the mafias have become power factors and operate as rational and calculating political actors: they send messages, strong-arm, and position themselves with political objectives. Perhaps there is no better example of this than the cover of Proceso with Sinaloa drug cartel kingpin Zambada engaging in a bear hug with Proceso editor Julio Scherer, or the barefacedness and levity with which the Zetas murder at will wherever. This tactical change should elicit reflection from the skeptics: there is no doubt that the narcos are baiting the government in all ambits and a collapse of the government is no longer inconceivable.
  • Violence has become the presentation card of the mafias and that should compel everyone to rethink the strategy of capturing or killing the kingpins.
  • Legalization is somewhat akin to the obverse side of conspiracy theories: everything is resolved with the stroke of a pen. The only problem is that the legalization that would help Mexico is not that of the drugs here (because, as with traffic or taxes, violation of these laws appears to be par for the course), but of those in the U.S.
  • The true problem resides in that we do not have a system of government that works. Narcotrafficking has done nothing more than bring to light the lack of professional police corps, a corrupt judicial system, and an appalling division of functions and responsibilities between the states and the federation. Part of this derives from the corruption and the nature of the old system, but part is the product of the incompetence of our present politicians and their apathy in constructing an effective and functional institutional structure. The problem is the shortfall in governance, which makes criminality possible.
  • Weapons comprise an instrument, not the crux of the matter. There is no doubt that the mafias possess better arms than the Army and the police, but the problem is that weapons enter the national territory, as easily from the North as from anywhere else. The black market in arms operates worldwide, and the fact that these arms are found Mexico is proof of the anarchy at customs checkpoints and other means of access.
  • The rapid rise of violence in Monterrey should be taken seriously. If this, the most modern of localities of the country, succumbs in the face of this escalation, the country has no future. The surprising aspect is the inaction and passivity of the political class, which, due to indifference or connivance, acts as if nothing is at play.
  • Colombia can serve as a reference: there, things changed when the government made its fiscal proceedings transparent; it obtained the support of the whole population, and the media recognized that only by ceasing to be the mouthpiece of the mafias would the country come out the winner. The key lies in a government that communicates, leads, and wins the respect of the population.
  • The government has no choice  but to combat organized crime because that is the real issue. The solution cannot dwell in negotiating with the mafias but in working to eliminate impunity and developing strong institutions from which to impose rules on the mafias themselves. The order here is crucial.
  • There are ways out: what has occurred during this time is that the government has rewarded loyalty above competence. There are well-conceived plans dating from the end of the nineties that were discarded because of ignorance and stupidity, but that without doubt can become the base of an overwhelming and integral response. Monterrey might be a good place to begin implementing these.