jueves, 15 de enero de 2009


"The Mexican possibility may seem less likely, but the government, its politicians, police and judicial infrastructure are all under sustained assault and press by criminal gangs and drug cartels. How that internal conflict turns out over the next several years will have a major impact on the stability of the Mexican state. Any descent by Mexico into chaos would demand an American response based on the serious implications for homeland security alone."

The above isn't the half of it. I'd like to be able to write some kind of chart that illustrates all the groups that are "assaulting" Mexico today. But to stick with the narco for a moment, here's a map: The shaded areas show [my own estimate of] territory where power is wielded by the narco or sometimes by the narco/guerrilla, as in the south. Official estimates are that some ten percent of Mexican counties are under narco control, but, as bad as this is, it is surely an underestimate. This just shows the geographical extent of the above phrase, "criminal gangs and drug cartels." Narcomapa

The geopolitics of this is more interesting and dangerous: these regions have never been brought under state control. Never. Ever. [Well…maybe Don Porfirio accomplished this for a while] The phrase is "lawless regions" but this isn't all that accurate: it's more like feudalism, with the feudal lords (called caciques in Mexico) controlling overlapping fiefs, each with its own laws. Like in other areas of the world controlled by insurgencies, these narco/caciques provide social services—as people like to say about Hizbollah and Hamas—that the government can't. They get the loyalty of the people by these means, but violence is their main MO. Nobody would be so stupid as to refuse an offer by the narco, if they wanted their families to survive. They have no other resources. They can't call the cops, like people can in the States. The cops are hundreds of miles away across dirt tracks and they are narcos as well. Today, of course, the government is establishing a presence in these areas in the drug war by the army. It amounts to Mexico invading itself, or a civil war.

Another way to look at it is with these World Bank charts:

Apart from the narco, there are many other groups holding fiefs in Mexico: the various security branches—federal police, army; guerrilla [shown on the map]; "opposition" political groups, both in the government and out of it [these include the different "militant" unions, who disrupt daily life on a daily basis]. It's important to note that all of these groups are violent.

That's just considering the domestic situation. What about the bugbear of foreign intervention? Just as in the Cold War, the drug war is fought through proxies. Our proxy is of course the government of Mexico, under Felipe Calderón. But Hugo Chávez has his proxies here. Chávez is a proxy of Hizbollah and Russia.

It's encouraging—although it is distressing for anyone living in this wonderful country—that the US is dealing with the facts by ranking Mexico as a risk of failure. As the above shows, the drug war intersects with the problem of illegal immigration in important ways. Immigration is caused by the failures of the Mexican economy to provide opportunities for the people. They abandon their land and it's taken over by the narco. The drug war itself is destroying any legitimacy the government has by attacking the livlihoods of Mexico's poorest citizens. Lacking legitimacy, reforming the economy is pretty-much impossible.

It won't do any good to have Obama shaking Calderón's hand and calling him a courageous leader for fighting the drug war. It's not a test of machismo.

The narco is an insurgency, but not quite. It has no interest in taking power. It has an interest in preventing anyone else from doing so. It will prosper most in an anarchy. Mexico will fall off the brink into anarchy instantly if the president is ever assassinated (got forbid). That's because there is no law of succession. There is only a procedure for choosing a new president, which means up to eighteen months of an interim government, elected by congress upon the president's murder (god forbid). One can't even imagine all the armed groups in this country playing the political process to maneuver themselves into power. So if Calderón's futile display of machismo risks his own life, maybe he's "courageous" but since he's risking anarchy, he's reckless.

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