May 2017 marks another low in Mexico’s battle against drugs, crime, and violence. With 2,186 known and officially registered murders, this past month was the most deadly of the last 20 years. The first quarter of 2017 saw an increase in murder rates of about 30 percent, compared to the same period of the last year.
The increase led to absurd reports of heavily overcrowded morgues and mass graves that almost seem to appear at random. And the increase almost all over the country is devastating. Baja California Sur, for example, registred 36 killings in the first 5 month of 2016, this number increased by 369 percent, resulting in 169 killings in 2017. In some states, such as Nuevo León, the homicide rates dropped, but with decreases at barely 5 percent, those states are hardly describable as a sign of hope.
Additionally Mexico is almost the sole provider of heroin for the US market, the amount of existing cartels multiplied exponentially, while human trafficking as well as femicide are rampant.
The reports on specific locations deliver specific explanations for this kind of explosion of violence.
Guerrero for example has been identified as battlefield over the the local heroin production. Effective this year, Mexico provides about 90 percent of the heroin consumed by the US American market and most of the needed poppy grows in Guerrero.
Tijuana has a history of battles between different crime organizations that are focused on the entrance ports to the US market. Additionally, the state reports a rapid increase of (drug based) domestic violence as well as acquisitive crime. These two being also related to the rigid deportation policies of the US, within which US authorities dump people on the southern side of the border, leaving them desperate and without many non-criminal options.
Baja California Sur is left in shatters due to the weakened Sinaloa Cartel that left a power vacuum, as it fights to regain its power from the past. The New Generation Cartel from Jalisco (Cartel Jalisco Nueva Generation) – CJNG) openly confronts the Sinaloa leadership for more than a year now with escalating violence.
Veracruz sees a pretty open fight between parts of the state, the media, and the cartels, with the press losing ground the fastest.
Quintana Roo, best known to US Americans for hosting spring breakers in Cancún is supposingly one of the main battlegrounds between the Zetas and the Gulf Cartel.
The Relevance of Local Particularities
Most of these explanations true. Some may be flawed or one-sided, or – something that happens quickly in the description of involved forces in the Mexican internal war – already outdated. But the problem of these explanations lies not within their accuracy or actuality, the problems lies within their relevance.
The decade long battle that Mexico and it’s Government’s (under changing leadership) unleashed on its people, as well as all the crime organizations, has proven one thing for certain: The Military, the Police and Federal Judges can manage to eradicate one Cartel, a new Cartel is established before they are finished closing the books on the previous one. Making things worse, the crime organizations seem to be getting progressively more violent, so one should be careful with statements like “it cannot get much worse”. Observing the Gulf and Sinaloa Cartels, many thought the Zetas were the bottom of the barrel, then CJNG made itself known with the infamous “day of violence.”
The core problem lies in the fact that the violence is a) systemic and b) regional. Meaning the following: the strategy to employ military in the interior to fight drug production is utterly nonsense. The military does not have the tools nor the training to confront a problem that is based on medical problems (addiction), economic problems (inequality and no legal economic prospects for the poor), and legal problems (ex: money laundering and corruption are the lifeblood of large scale illegal operations and those are not controlled with guns but directed strategies).
What the deployment of the military in the interior has led to is a remarkably quick upscaling of armament, affecting all involved forces. It is a dynamic we can identify in conflictive regions around the world, from Central America to Afghanistan to Sudan: if one party in the so-called “low intensity conflicts” receives stronger or more modern armament, these tools of war will eventually distribute themselves between all the different involved forces. Guns, bombs, tanks, surveillance technology – they get sold by soldiers, they get lost, and they get stolen. With every new tool entering the game, the death toll rises.
Hence, with the constant influx of military-grade armament the Mexican state funds its own disaster and avoids addressing the actual problems that lay behind the foreground of generalized devastation: lack of economic prospects that offer the majority of the country’s youth an alternative to involvement in illegal markets, as well as corruption in legal and governmental structures that prevent AML strategies from becoming effective. Hence, what the Mexican government tries to sell to the public as well as its northern neighbors as a war on drugs is actually nothing but a slow and steady increase of systemic violence, omnipresent and for large parts of society, unavoidable. With military, government, the judges, the police, the poor, the crime bosses, the migrants, the drug users, the investors, and the banks all involved, there are little places left where one can truely distance oneself from this violence.
Violence as Regional Phenomenon
The next problem is the fact that this systemic violence is regional. It had been said so many times before, but if North America doesn’t get a hold of its drug consumption, the production will simply not end. But currently the US is choosing a similar approach in tackling an issue that roots in mental, economic, and legal problems. All of those can be neither short or arrested, but the national focus remains on arrest and/or deportation transforming overcrowded prisons into networking centers for criminal organizations, simultaneously robbing inmates of future economic prospects, and exposing them to violence executed by the police, the guards, and their fellow inmates.
Internationally the US supports military strategies to battle drug production, exporting violence to regions that already struggle with dysfunctional states and quite often have a long history of violence; namely torture, abuse, and genocide by the hands of military and police forces.
Colombia is one of those cases, where drug production went down thanks to US-backed military intervention but the violence (and with it, the economic and mental problems) remained. Hence, even if Mexico would be able to actually suppress drug production on its soil, we can be sure that such a violent Colombia is well prepared to fully re-enter the market.
Similar possibilities are already building up in Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras, where damaging “gang-policies” are aiming to literally shoot at something that is a social problem and not a gangster.
Hence, if drug producing as well as drug demanding regions do not develop policies that aim at longer lasting success rather than nice press releases and aimless actionism there is hardly hope for Mexico to find peace.
Re-printed from the blog of Interpoint Global Security www.interpointglobal.com