Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Five Factors Leading to Failed State in Mexico

José Antonio Ortega Sánchez,
author of Rumbo al Estado Fallido

There’s a mistaken impression that questions about the degree to which Mexico is a failed, failing, or fragile state are being asked only in the United States – by the U.S. military or intelligence, by right-wing analysts as part of their history of Mexico bashing, or even by those eager to find more justification for the regulation or decriminalization of narcotics and other illegal drugs.

It’s true that in Mexico there is deep concern that any conclusion that the state is failing may precipitate and justify U.S. military intervention.

But the inability of the Mexican government to halt the spread of narco-violence, associated with both international drug trafficking and the expanding domestic market for cocaine and other drugs, is raising concern within Mexico that the criminal forces are gaining increasing control.

One sign of the new thinking in Mexico was a Jan. 22, 2009 editorial in El Milenio titled “Mexico: Failed State?" Yes Indeed.

According the Milenio editorial:

“State authorities are showing themselves to be impotent, disorganized, inefficient, or penetrated by corruption, and total disorder in their actions or their lack of action with respect to the delinquents. What’s more "the Mexican State finds itself a prisoner of depraved circles of action that prevents it from promoting economic development or from reforming itself.”

The Mexican State is no longer defensible…. The only way to overcome this situation is to confront it with political actions – not with the rhetoric outpouring of ignorant and self-styled patriot politicians.”

Other Mexican dailies over the past couple of years have published equally alarmed editorials, raising the acceptance in Mexico, particularly outside Mexico City, that something is seriously rotten in the state of Mexico and that organized crime is taking over while the political classes play politics as usual.

In El Siglo de Torreon, a Jan. 29, 2009 op-ed by René Delgado, observed that outside Mexico it was becoming increasingly common to perceive Mexico as a failed state, but not within Mexico, especially among the political elites. “Within the country,” he asserted, the political elite isn’t paying attention to the danger of instability, the increase in violence, and social discontent – in short, the ungovernability. For the same reason, it is not inclined to change its traditional conduct not even a tiny bit.”

With both the PAN and the PRD discredited as credible opposition and governing parties, Mexico faces the prospects of the return of the yet-more-corrupted PRI taking power in a couple of years.
A broader discussion is needed about how to face down the organized crime organizations, assert the rule of law, and take back the public spaces from armed delinquents.

An important contribution in that regard is the recent release of a new book by José Antonio Ortega Sánchez titled México: ¿Rumbo al Estado Fallido? (Oct. 2010, Planeta). Ortega Sánchez, a human rights lawyer and author, has served as president of the Mexican Human Rights Commission and is currently president of the Citizens Council for Public Security and Criminal Justice.

The new book notes that the state is losing its control over the ability to impose and prevent violence, to control territory, and to collect fees and axes, as well as the capacity to prosecute and punish those challenging these traditional state roles.

The story of a failing or at least a fragile state is also evident in statistics. The murder rate has increased 100% since 2007, and organized crime, which was responsible for about 10% of crime in 2000, now accounts for two-thirds of all crime.

According to the new book, three Mexican cities – Juárez, Chihuahua, and Culiacán – rank among the top ten cities in the world in murder rates. Also of great concern for the region is that four Central American cities – San Pedro Sula, San Salvador, Guatemala, and Tegucigalpa – also rank in the top ten. The other cities, according to this listing, are Caracas, Kingston, Cali, Kabul, and Baghdad.

Members of the Mexican security forces are being increasingly targeted, either because of their involvement in organized crime or because of their obstruction of the ambitions of the criminal organizations and their lackeys. The number of assassinated agents, according to a table in the book, is 275% greater than in 2004.

It’s not just about narcotics. According to Ortega Sánchez, hundreds of thousands of innocent Mexico regularly pay “cuotas” to organized crime to escape retribution. He estimates that in a couple of years, continuing the current growth rate of extortion, organized crime should be able to obtain as much money from "quotas" as it does today from heroin trafficking – an estimated $1 billion.

The author concludes that five reasons are leading Mexico on the route toward a failed state:

·        * Unlimited corruption at both federal and local levels that has protected the narcos for decade in exchange for payoffs.

·         *  The government’s decision, beginning with the administration of Carlos Salinas, to let the narco organizations wage war among themselves, which has presented the seed of the failed state.

·       *   The government’s willingness to accept rising impunity.
·         Recent strategies that oscillate between indiscriminate massive crackdowns, demagogic political pronouncements and initiatives, and a small number of surgical hits.

·        *  A politics of passiveness in the face of domestic terrorism.

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