Can drug warfare in Mexico be controlled?

Friday, 27th March 2009 at 9:00 UTC Leave a comment

The Mexican government is to offer rewards of $2million for information about drug chiefs. In a country ravaged by the effects of the drugs trade, tough action is certainly required, but will this type of policy really work? The BBC wants people “to have their say” about this, but as my thoughts are probably too detailed to fit in a post to their site, I thought I’d lay them out here.

Of course, the US are behind a lot of this. If there is such a thing as a drug problem, then really, its an American problem reaching over into Mexico. With Mexican citizens forced to compete with Americans for jobs and yet unable to sell most of their services and products “up north” due to government subsidy and developmental abilities, it should not come as a surprise that drugs are seen as the easy way out. They are in demand, and Mexico has proven an easier place to grow them than the States.

But as with domestic implementation of Plan Colombia, what might look like a domestic solution to a domestic crime is almost certainly nothing of the sort. The States want a population that is fit for work, and highly submissive to poor labour terms, and it needs that labour force to be both sides of the border.

The fact is, starved of legitimate means to support themselves and to develop, the people of Mexico can hardly be blamed for this turn of events. To add to this, offering such huge sums of reward money seems unlikely to really solve the crises. If people aren’t coming forwards for a tenth of that money, then questions need to be asked, starting with “why is the population so wiling to hide this?”.

Now, obviously, we’re dealing with a sort of mafia situation, where no one believes its worth their lives to break the silence. But there might also be another reason, that the money from drugs are, in a tiny way, reaching everyone, and everyone knows that without it, they’d starve.

Which brings about a problem. As seen in Iraq, one doesn’t need to know that one’s neighbour is a criminal to decide to turn them in. In fact, in grinding poverty, this is a bit like a guaranteed lottery win. Someone is going to commit fraud, someone will be jailed, and the first someone is going to move into a posh neighbourhood.

If the Mexican government wants to win hearts and minds, it needs to do it better than just offering lumps of cash to people. It needs to actually prove that its better to live off the state’s support than that of the drug barons. Of course, the problem here is that state support isn’t what the Mexican government has in mind. Nor does the American government. The idea of a welfare state is just anathema in that part of the world.

But then we already know about the desires of Ruling Class America for its Southern neighbour. The Zapatista experience, forced to rise up in defiance of the oncoming mass-mining of resources from under indigenous lands, should inform us that successive governments in America have used their southern border as a means of social dumping. If instead there was cash injection into communities, giving people a real alternative to “mafia protection”, through education, health care and employment, the fingers of the drugs Lords might come loose, but that seems a far cry for a country that loses millions in extracted value over the border to the richest in America each year.

Whether the legalisation that several commenter’s refer to on the BBC website is a good idea or not is hard to say, but its certainly the case that the drug barons would be hit fairly hard by this, or forced to become licensed traders. This therefore brings me rather nicely to the point about addiction; drug addiction is a mental health issue, and should be treated as such. Like with many other conditions, its very easy to use it to make the case for more law enforcement, but in reality, it should be the reason for more treatment and rehabilitation.

The fact is, this all has more to do with imperialism and social control than it really has to do with building strong communities that can be resilient in the face of organised crime. It isn’t an either/or between government and mafia, its really an either/or between elite control, be that governmental or criminal elites, and some kind of grass roots attempt to create the space for autonomous and sovereign development. Otherwise its between those who ultimately sell the drugs on American streets, and those who punish Mexico for hosting the fields those drugs are grown in.

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Entry filed under: America, Development, Drugs, Economics, Mexico, Politics, Poverty.

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