With Mexican president Enrique Peña Nieto’s (EPN) penultimate year in office drawing to a close, there’s little evidence that the Mexican people are faring any better under EPN’s and his Institutional Revolutionary Party’s (PRI) leadership. Indeed, there appears to be little difference in strategy between EPN’s predecessor – Felipe Calderón – and his own.
This becomes even more evident when considering that the arrest of heavyweight leadership and the arrest/execution of low-level criminal soldiers have come to define the primary means of both presidencies to combat organized crime.
Over the last decade, we’ve seen the coming and going of entire decks of leadership, their cards called and pulled, only to see the organizations themselves endure. Yes, enterprises like the Knights Templar Cartel and the Arellano-Felix Cartel have been severely crippled or become defunct altogether. But these organizations have either been subsumed by newcomers, like the Cartel de Jalisco Nueva Generación (CJNG,) or by old guard organizations like the Sinaloa Cartel who had the wherewithal to survive the churn.
How many times over the last decade has the public witnessed, to the pomp and circumstance of Mexican government officials, the parading of arrested narcos – no matter the rank? Leagues of individuals have been arrested or killed over the past decade, and yet with each arrest, the government heralded a coming dawn. But as each year ticks by, the night appears to grow only darker. Glimmers of light are revealed to be mere mirages, tricks of the environment, that vanish as quickly as they came.
No doubt, when EPN took office, battleground cities like Monterrey and Tijuana had already been claimed to be contained, victory called as the state boasted of having expelled the criminal element. But now, as EPN’s exit from the office of the presidency draws nearer, these cities have become once again embroiled in fierce turf wars. Over the course of the war on cartels’ ten years, the terrain of battle has returned in some places (where cities have been temporarily ‘contained’) while other regions, like Tamaulipas have all the while remained contested territories, and still others have become newly entangled into the web of violence, like Guanajuato.
Clearly, 2017 is set to close with an estimated 24,000 murders – while 2011, the deadliest year on record (and the year before EPN took office) counted 22,855 murders. It is evident that Mexico is no better off under the leadership of either PRI or PAN. At this point, it should become painfully clear that the focus on individuals is simply not enough. The focus on organized crime should move from individuals to structures and environment. A decade of evidence should be enough to nail the coffin shut on the matter that more than arresting leadership and low-level soldiers is needed. What should instead be in the focus of both the governments of Mexico and the United States is depriving the criminal organizations of their environment.
In the same way that guerrilla insurgencies are fought through environmental deprivation (i.e. the burning of villages and forests, the moving of entire populations out of contested territories, etc.), forces opposing narcos should develop a like strategy. Of course, burning cities to the grounds or moving populations is not on the table. But what are the necessary environmental conditions for narco organizations to spring from? Such a strategy calls for a war of position on two fronts: socially and legally/politically.
On the one hand, narcos depend on the large scale divestment from society and the public. A system of governance and rationality based on trickle-down economics has proven to be painfully broken. In such a system, cities and regions compete against one another to generate the most business-friendly environments (diminishing the cost of wages, flexibilizing labor, and lowering taxes) in order to secure international investment (job production that is flexible, low-waged, and untaxed). No doubt, in such a world, social and individual precarity becomes the name of the game. It is in such a state of social insecurity that crime festers, as the loss of social investment and transnational competition creates populations that are structurally vulnerable to the lure of criminal organizations. The poor outskirts of cities fighting against one another for investment or the divested countryside that cannot compete against the agro-industry of free trade are the petri dishes of criminal organizations.
On the other hand, a series of reforms have to take place in order to not only make the above possible, but in order to secure the integrity of the state and in order to be able to attack narcos financially. In little words, increasing taxes for public spending counters dominant economic thought, so raising taxes in order to invest in poor neighborhoods and regions will be a long-term battle. However, what should be far easier is reforming the legal apparatus and training state officials such that arrests actually become cleared (as the clearance rate of violent crimes is painfully dismal) and that law enforcement actually has the wherewithal to execute legal investigations. Lastly, attacking the legal loopholes through which money is laundered. This would mean taking tax havens seriously as such outsides to the legal systems of sovereign nations are the structural breeding grounds for illicit financial operations.
Until then, there’s little reason to believe that watching the same play with different actors portraying the actors will result in a different finale.
Reposted from the blog of Interpoint Global Security Solutions. Interpointglobal.com