Monday, 28 February 2011

Welcome to The Wild West

Many say that the level of violence in Mexico is exaggerated; that things aren’t as bad as the media portrays. In fact, President Obama said, only in September, that comparisons between Mexico and Colombia at the height of its drug war are void. The families of the four headless corpses displayed in the city of Nuevo yesterday may beg to differ. And they won’t be the only ones. The murder rate in Mexico has rocketed from around 200 per month in January 2007 to around 1,100 in June 2010. In total, an estimated 34,600 individuals have met their end in drug related incidents since Felipe Calderon began the ostensible war on drugs at the end of 2006.

Thus, perhaps the most shocking aspect of this most recent exhibition of extreme violence is that, well, it’s not that shocking. In addition to the grossly inflated monthly murder rate that is largely supplemented by gang on gang crime, there were over a dozen mayors and mayors-elect assassinated in Mexico last year as well as a candidate for the governor of Tamaulipas in June and the former governor of Colima in November. It’s becoming less of an anomaly and more of a regular strand within the fabric of Mexican society. And it’s not only the political class under attack; the media has also been victim of an intense campaign of violence and intimidation as have the judiciary and law enforcement agencies.

The situation is becoming dire. It shares more than an eerie similarity with Colombia’s plight in the 80s and 90s where Pablo Escobar’s “plata o plomo” (silver or lead, money or bullets) policy ruled Colombia with a genuine sense of fear. There, the assassination of Presidential candidate Luis Carlos Galán was the culmination of a campaign of terror which targeted Colombia’s democratic institutions; the free press, the judiciary, law enforcement agencies and the government. Spot the difference? There isn’t one. Mexico’s cartels are following in the well-trodden footsteps of Escobar. Palming the situation off as “exaggerated” is burying one’s head in the sand.

And Mexico’s military oriented response is not so much helping matters. Taking out the likes of Gulf Cartel’s drug lord, Antonio Ezequiel Cárdenas Guillén, aka 'Tony Tormenta', may be necessary if Mexico is to break up the cartels’ activity, yet the similarities with Colombia’s drug war mean that similar means of beating the problem are required. Mexico must make use of the very institutions which are currently under siege in this struggle; giving the centre stage to its law enforcement agencies and judiciary. A militarised response may give the impression of speedy gains but in reality it is a dangerous platform that encourages a full blown war bringing Mexico’s cocaine cowboys’ own “plata o plomo” policy into a legitimate light.

by Dane Vallejo

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