Friday, August 22, 2008

Calderón's War and support for Authoritarianism in Mexico

My guess is that many readers have at least heard in passing the increasing level of violence in Mexico as a result of President Calderón’s offensive against drug trafficking and organized crime. Since his election in 2006, Calderón has been relying on the Mexican military to attempt to dismantle organized crime networks throughout the country. Many of these cartels are heavily armed, and many times better trained than the military. The result has been catastrophic. El Universal reports that in 2004, there were 667 executions related to drug trafficking, in 2005, there were 1003, and in 2006 1410. Last year, the number of executions rose to 2673, and in the first 8 months of 2008, there have already been 2682 assassinations related to Calderon’s war against the cartels. The police, especially local law enforcement organizations, have been completely ineffective and in many cases are helping the cartels by alerting them of any actions taken by the federal police or the military. So far, the military has supported Calderón, as he is one of the first presidents to really pay attention to the military in Mexico and gave pay raises to soldiers and officers soon after taking office. (El Universal also has an interesting interactive map here, that shows the extent of the different cartels throughout Mexico)

In addition to the increasing drug-related violence in Mexico, there is increasing outrage directed at the level of kidnappings and other criminal activities, that the police have also been completely ineffective in stopping. Most recently, the kidnapping and subsequent murder of the 14-year old son of a prominent Mexican businessman  has led to calls for the death penalty for kidnappers and the legalization of firearms. Calderón himself has voiced his support for increasing the penalty for kidnapping from 70 years to a life sentence, although all these options seem unlikely to be effective. The government recently released figures (probably highly unreliable) that suggest 97% of all crime goes unpunished. And of the remaining 3%, only half ever lead to some type of punishment.

All of this drug-related violence, impunity, and police corruption has of course led to all kinds of attacks from politicians of the PRI and the PRD in an attempt to lay the blame for the rise in violence on the PAN. The public is angry, and politicians are attempting to capitalize on this anger for their own electoral gain. It is somewhat ironic that the PRI is most likely to benefit from the outrage against all the violence in the 2009 election. If the blame should be laid anywhere, it should be with the decades of PRI governance that did very little to professionalize their police forces or combat drug traffickers.

The point of this post is not to give a history of public security in Mexico over the last couple years, if you are interested in reading more about Calderon’s war, click here and here. There are plenty of other stories available in English regarding what is going on. What I’d like to comment on is that the violence in Mexico is leading to an increase in voices that support more authoritarian and repressive policies, which is why I am very disturbed by an editorial from yesterday’s edition of La Jornada. La Jornada is probably the most important left-leaning paper in Mexico, and widely available (although like most newspapers, only read by the elite, politicians, and those interested in politics).

The editorial, entitled “The Weakness of the State,” was written by Soledad Loaeza, a Mexican political scientist well known for her work on the history of the National Action Party. In this piece, Loaeza argues that the inability of the Mexican government to deal with the increasing levels of executions and kidnappings is due to a weakening of the Mexican state, to the point where the state has lost its monopoly over the use of force within its national territory. All in all, this is fairly obvious, but she lays the blame for the weakening of the state on democratization, the economic reforms of the 80s and 90s, and electoral competition between the major political parties. According to her argument, these reforms and increasing political competition have weakened the Mexican state’s ability to provide security and public services, and have led to the politicization of the bureaucracy. Loaeza suggests the political parties in Mexico only have private interests, which has led them to weaken the state’s ability to serve its basic functions, instead of looking out for the public good.

I find the implications of such an argument fairly dangerous, especially in a country like Mexico, which has made some significant advances in democratization but still has a long way to go. If electoral competition and democracy weaken the state’s ability to provide security, then what is the solution? I don’t find it very far fetched that one could make an argument in support of more authoritarian rule and increased militarization from Loaeza’s line of reasoning. I find this especially disheartening since this is coming from a political scientist.