ratiocination: mexican drug insurgency edition

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Chris Dierkes

Chris Dierkes (aka CJ Smith). 29 years old, happily married, adroit purveyor and voracious student of all kinds of information, theories, methods of inquiry, and forms of practice. Studying to be a priest in the Anglican Church in Canada. Main interests: military theory, diplomacy, foreign affairs, medieval history, religion & politics (esp. Islam and Christianity), and political grand bargains of all shapes and sizes.

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  1. Avatar Roque Nuevo
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    It’s a good thing people are finally picking up on this in the States. It would surprise you to know that what you’re reporting on here has been going on for years.

    I’m going to add some info to what you say, plus try to widen the focus a bit to consider the geopolitics of the Mexican situation. Is that OK with you? Since I doubt that anyone will read this to the end, I’m putting my conclusion up here: the war on drugs is the most egregious US intervention in Latin America in history—and that’s saying a lot. It’s destroying society, government, any chance at development. Its anarchy and corruption permeate all aspects of society. It begins with the criminalizing drug use—how in the world did this ever happen? Where did people get the idea that being sober 24/7 was a value to be enforced by police power? I assume it was just one more bright idea that jesus freaks have foisted upon us in the US but how did it get to the point of being accepted in Mexico, which has one of the world’s most intense drug-use cultures? With respect to the US, where are all the “US Out Now!” demonstrations? How come nobody ever protests this intervention? As a gringo down México way, you can imagine I’ve been held accountable for US interventions worldwide throughout history—one reason I never go into cantinas. Most of these complaints are just stupid and there’s always two sides to every question etc etc. I mean, for example, yes, we did steal half their country in the Mexican war, but we paid them for it and it was a defeat for the criollo elite, which allowed the modern mestizo nation to emerge. But the war on drugs is so completely destructive that I can’t find any argument at all to defend the US—which is what I do when people attack it. It doesn’t matter, though, because nobody ever says that we should get out of here with our war on drugs. People just don’t question it. I think it’s some kind of taboo.

    You’re extending the “war” metaphor when you say that there’s a “narco insurgency” in Mexico. The narco is not an insurgency. They’re criminals. They don’t want to take power here. They want to create anarchy, which is the best business environment for them. In this they have already won the war.

    You say the local police are on the payroll of the narco, which is why the federal police are being used. This is not correct. First, the local police don’t pose a threat to anyone and I doubt that any narco would have to pay them off because they’re hopelessly out-gunned. It’s like Israel vs. Hamas. Then, the federal police have always been used in the drug war—Calderón did not initiate this. They are the group that is on the payroll of the narco and always have been. Calderón’s innovation was to use the army to fight the drug war. The army is usually thought of as being at least less corrupt than the federal police and it’s probably true. In normal times, the army is like a gigantic Red Cross. Their main duties have been disaster relief. Otherwise, nobody ever sees them—unless you’re a real insurgent, and they will hunt you down and kill you, breaking all the human-rights laws in the book.

    Maybe they are trying to use Petraeus’s COIN doctrine down here. But it sure doesn’t show if they are. The basis of this doctrine is to protect the populace from the insurgency so that normal economic life can resume while the military deals with the insurgents themselves. I suppose that this was McCain’s reason for suggesting it for the drug war in the US. Aside from the constitutionality of the idea (which you have correctly questioned), the idea makes some sense. In Mexico, it doesn’t. First, the narco protects the people from the army, not vice versa. The narco allows whatever development there is out there and the army is attacking it. So, if anything, the narco is applying Petraeus’s COIN doctrine, not the army. The army is the insurgency here, not the narco. There are vast areas of the country that are outside state control completely and always have been since the Aztecs—well, with the exception of Díaz regime in the nineteenth century. He was the most badass ruler Mexico has ever had and that includes Moctezuma. It’s violent, poor, and ignorant. It’s not really lawless. Under the surface, it’s really a throwback to feudalism: overlapping fiefs fighting it out for territory. This is inevitable since the state cannot extend its control to these places. These are the places the illegal immigrants come from. If you’re a kid from there, you have the choice of staying there and digging in the mud for corn and chile, going to the “other side,” like they say here, joining the narco, or joining the army, where you can get the training you need to desert and join the narco for ten times the money and a lot more respect. If you do go to “the other side,” then what happens to the people you leave behind, your mother, wife, sisters, kids? You promised to send them money, which is why you went in the first place. They will keep on plugging away at the corn and chile because they don’t have anything else. When the narco comes for a visit and offers to rent your land or to hire you to guard the fields, what do you say? Do you say, “No way, José! I refuse to be part of this dirty business which is the bane of society. For the children?” Not if you want to walk away from the meeting in one piece, you don’t. Do you call the cops? There are no cops and even if there were, they’d be working for the narco too. So you’re going to let them grow drugs for the children on your land. Or you can die and someone else will let them do it. In any case, development starts to happen in places where there was never even a chance of it before.

    So… how does it look to you when your “corageous leader” sends the army in to shoot the place up and destroy the crops? Are you going to shake Calderón’s hand and call him a hero like Obama did? This is why it’s absurd to talk about the COIN doctrine here in Mexico: the government is attacking the livilihoods of the poorest people in the country in the name of 24/7 sobriety. That’s no way to establish legitimacy, stability, peace and prosperity. It’s how you get moved into the “failed state” column over at the State Department.

    Back to my example of the forlorn Indian kid living in the mountains: He can go to school, pull himself up by his own bootstraps, and become president himself in twenty years. Just kidding! He can go to school and then he still has the above choices. Or he can quit school and start doing this stuff younger, which is obviously more attractive to him when he sees all the pimped-out Caddys and Hummers cruising the main square of his little shit-town. Official government statements say that around ten percent of the nation’s counties are under the control of the narco. This is surely a serious underestimate. This map shows my own bullshit estimate of the geography behind this statistic. This is why education is not the solution, like so many people think it is. It’s worthless, given the opportunities there are here. It’s just rational to quit school and make money however you can, because that’s what you’ll be doing anyway. 

    This brings up the more interesting geopolitics of the problem. My imaginary Indian kid can also go to the city and drive a pirated taxi or sell pirated CDs and DVDs on the street by joining some “opposition” political group. Then, he gets to blockade highways and camp out on main streets whenever the “opposition” wants some attention. So… long story short: up to now you can see that there are many different “insurgencies” here: the narco; the police; the army; the opposition. I haven’t even mentioned the guerrilla, which is on the map. Any talk of education is just blather to people whose main problem is survival in an extremely violent world. It’s not like living in Connecticut.

    Just like in any war, the different factions can and will be used as proxies by more powerful nations. We have our proxy in Calderón, which is pretty stupid. He just has no chance of winning this thing. But other countries are not so stupid. The FARC, for example, has its finger in this pie—in the narco, the guerrilla, and in the “opposition.” Hugo Chávez has his finger in the FARC’s pie. Putin has his finger in Chavez’s pie, as does Iran/Hizbollah. What would happen if the state lost all authority here, even the pretend authority they have right now? If the casualty figures today are worse than Iraq, well… “all hell breaking loose” would be an understatment. This is pretty-much what happened here a hundred years ago in the so-called Mexican Revolution and in many areas of the nation one fifth of the people died and the economic destruction that was wrought was not overcome until the early ’60s. This could happen instantly, due to the laws of succession of the presidency in case he dies. There is no law, like in the States, when the VP is instantly taking the oath of office and life goes on. Here, there’s just a proceedure for choosing a new president. It says that the congress will choose an interim president to either serve out the dead president’s term or to organize new elections withing an 18 month time span. It’s a nice proceedure but it has no chance of ever being followed if the worst happens. There are too many groups willing to use violence here that want power for that to ever happen. The best case would be that the congress chooses an interim president (think Manuel Camacho, a wily character) and he’s quickly pushed aside. The worst case is the most likely: the shit hits the fan. I hope you can see by now why this will be a much more serious problem for us than Iraq ever could have been. We could have just withdrawn from Iraq and apologized. But we can’t withdraw from having a border with Mexico. This is why Calderón is not a “corageous leader.” That might be true if he was just risking his own life. But he’s risking the presidency itself. That’s not “corageous.” It’s stupid and reckless.

    It’s time for some of Obama’s famous prescience and proactive outside-the-box thinking before it’s too late. Otherwise, we’ll be blindsided by this thing. If he has it in him.Report

  2. Avatar Roque Nuevo
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    says:

    Why the hell didn’t my bullshit map embed properly? It looked OK in the preview. http://s388.photobucket.com/albums/oo323/roquenuevo/?action=view&current=e36601d2-1.pngReport

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