On Hilary Clinton's visit to Mexico 03/23/2010


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This is an English translation of the article published on 03/26/2010 in the IMDOSOC portal after Secretary Clinton's visit to Mexico that week.

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On Hilary Clinton's visit to Mexico 03/23/2010

  1. 1. QUO VADIS MEXICO-USA? By Sergio Ferragut On March 23rd the U.S. National Security Cabinet arrived in full force in Mexico City. The delegation headed by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, included Defense Secretary, Robert Gates, Homeland Security Secretary, Jane Napolitano, the Head of the Armed Forces Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Michael A. Mullen and other cabinet members. They were joined by Ambassador Pascual and members of the embassy staff. Why this display of personalities and what for? During the extensive working session U.S. officials joined their Mexican counterparts to review, evaluate and redirect the various collaboration programs under the Merida Initiative. There in no doubt that the many past and future contributions have played and will play a significant role in the joint struggle against the drug cartels. The Mexican “war on drugs” has benefited from the contributions of the U.S. partners. Independently of past successes, a change of strategy was explored during the meeting. There is a breath of fresh air coming from Washington; the Administration of President Obama doesn’t feel comfortable using the term “war on drugs” and wishes to place greater emphasis on demand reduction and health treatment. Clinton went as far as accepting U.S. share of the responsibility for the drug violence in Mexico and pointed out President Obama’s recent request to Congress for a budget of $5.6 billion to reduce drug demand in the U.S. Undoubtedly a step in the right direction, however, is it enough? As reported by Mary Anastasia O’Grady in her March 22nd column in the Wall Street Journal under the title The War on Drugs is Doomed, “the first step in dealing with a problem is acknowledging that you have one.” O’Grady pointed out that “U.S. recognition of this shared problem is healthy” and emphasizes that “even militarization has not delivered the peace. The reason is simple enough: The source of the problem is not Mexican supply. It is American demand coupled with prohibition.” Prohibition and the associated war is the engine that keeps drug prices high and provides great incentives for organized crime to persevere in the business. Far from becoming a deterrent to the illicit drug trade, prohibition has become one of the primary drivers. President Richard Nixon declared the war on drugs back in June 1971, since then the U.S. has been waging a war with highly questionable results. After almost 40 years, more quantities of drugs and at lower prices are consumed than at the beginning of this so called war. Any first year student of economics can explain why the drug market behaves in such a way. The U.S. and Mexican officials meeting in Mexico City laid out a new strategy to face drug trafficking and violence. The new strategy, as reported by the Mexican press, was summarized by Clinton as follows: 1
  2. 2. 1) Face the criminal organizations, strengthening the administration of justice, creating a 21st century border for security and trade, and developing stronger communities capable of offsetting the influence of the cartels. 2) Put in place new key initiatives, including pilot programs to combat border violence in Tijuana-San Diego and Juarez-El Paso. 3) Improve the exchange of financial information intelligence, police coordination to identify financial crime and the funding of the cartels. 4) Develop a joint program to fight the illicit flow of weapons from the U.S. to Mexico. Undoubtedly praiseworthy goals, however, are we recognizing the true nature of the problem? O’Grady talked about American demand and prohibition; however, the reports coming out of the meeting do not mention the word prohibition. It all looks like we are playing the ostrich game! Why? There are a huge number of people that, based on ethical, moral and religious considerations, perceive drug prohibition as a “just and necessary policy” to keep drugs away from their children and other relatives. These people --who we could identify as the promoters of morals and good behavior-- perceive the current policy as necessary and equate its cancellation to the approval of drug traffickers and the indiscriminate consumption of drugs. Unfortunately this current of thought prevails in many Mexican and American circles and has been an important source of justification for politicians not to dare to go against the current --they could risk their political career. U.S. media, except for some outstanding exceptions, is not willing to promote currents of thought against the orthodoxy of most of its readers. This posture has the blessing of those in charge of conducting the war, the fundamental instrument of the prohibition policy --the anti-drug warriors. Many of them, unfortunately, have turned the war into their modus vivendi and it doesn’t matter to them if the war can be won or not, what’s important is for the war to continue. Simultaneously, the drug traffickers have the most interest in the continuation of the global prohibition policy. Even if it sounds contradictory, the drug traffickers are the greatest beneficiaries of the war on drugs and the ones who have the most to lose from a policy which brings an end to it. I wish to think that the deafening silence we are exposed to is due to the pressures coming from the promoters; however, I am afraid that the influence of the anti-drug warriors and the drug traffickers might be far more influential than that of the promoters. These two groups making use of appropriate masks will never hesitate to join forces with the promoters. The Obama Administration emphasis on demand reduction in the U.S. is a step in the right direction and an important sign that the government of President Obama is open to exploring “out of the box solutions” to a problem that has lasted for too many decades. If we go back to the beginning of President Calderon’s Administration, it was no possible then, 2
  3. 3. and neither is it today, to let organized crime control patches of Mexican territory and operate with impunity. Calderon actions were and continue to be congruent with his obligations and commitment to the Mexican people. At the same time the presence of a new administration in Washington, headed by someone with the potential to pass on to history as a great statesman, opens new opportunities for a joint exploration of profound solutions to the drug problem. A solution at the root of the problem requires a global approach, no country can do it on its own. International treaties forbid it; besides, any country that might try to implement a policy different from prohibition on its own will attract consumers from all over the world and will turn into an international pariah. The problem is a global problem and requires a global solution. By leveraging the current juncture, President Calderon, as an interested partner, has within his reach a window of opportunity to bring to the table with President Obama out of the box solution proposals: They must be innovative, take the laws of economics into account and not be ruled by public opinion polls. Some analysts believe there is no appetite in Washington for a policy based on the decriminalization, regulation and control of today’s illicit drugs. It is unfortunate that many politicians chose to look at public opinion polls before defining their position in the face of a controversial issue --they are concerned with the upcoming election. Statesmen, on the contrary, know their mission, develop a vision, which they effectively communicate to the citizens with the purpose of educating and serving them and lead their people into new states of community living, progress and happiness. Nelson Mandela is one of those statesmen that come to mind; to those not familiar with his trajectory I suggest they watch the movie Invictus. Calderon and Obama are in the threshold of passing onto history as statesmen that knew how to face a problem that evaded a root solution for decades; the latter as the representative of the leading illicit drug consuming country and the former as the representative of the country that, because of its geographical location, turned into the main provider of the product. In recent times voices have been raised in Mexico in favor of negotiating with the drug cartels in order to reduce or eliminate the wave of violence engulfing the country. The Mexican government has taken a strong stand against any negotiation with the drug lords. The ability to govern the country does not include the coexistence with organized crime, be it linked with drugs or with the many other crimes delivering huge riches outside the law. What’s more, the government initiatives to strengthen the rule of law and the administration of justice go beyond the drug cartels and include organized crime in all its facets, among them kidnappings, extortion and human traffic. This suggests that the struggle initiated by Calderon against the drug cartels, besides confronting drug trafficking head on, allows for the strengthening of the law enforcement institutions in order to combat organized crime in all its flavors. At the same time, if through joint initiatives with Washington a radical paradigm change is achieved with respect to 3
  4. 4. drugs, the road towards a more secure, tranquil and law abiding Mexico will be better paved. The decriminalization, regulation and control of today’s illicit drugs is not an easy path to follow; many issues must be addressed in other to take this new policy to safe harbor and deliver a lesser evil to society, and abandon the impossible dream implicit in the current prohibition policy and the war on drugs. The agreements of the 23rd of March must be complemented in order to address 100% of the problem and drive a paradigm shift. A great commitment and huge political will are required from the authorities; the kind of political will usually seen in the world of statesmen and seldom found in the traditional politicians space. The dialogue between the United States and Mexico, on the options at hand, must start with a sense of urgency in order to take advantage of the window of opportunity provided by the new attitude within Obama’s government. In the process, it will be necessary to confront the special interests that because of diverse motivations prefer to remain silent and/or silence those committed with the search for the lesser evil. ************** Sergio Ferragut is the author of A SILENT NIGHTMARE: The bottom line and the challenge of illicit drugs. He was a member of the staff of former Mexican Attorney General, Eduardo Medina-Mora, in charge of a major transformation project until Medina-Mora was appointed Mexican ambassador to the United Kingdom late in 2009. 4