We will not be able to move towards pacification as long as organized crime continues to interfere in the appointments of police officers, says Eduardo Guerrero Gutiérrez.
Thirteen years. The time that Mexico has been mired in a crisis of criminal violence. For young people who are just beginning to enter working life, hearing news about executions, confrontations, and drug blockades has been the daily bread, at least throughout their adolescence. Thirteen years is a long way. The world has also gotten used to seeing us as a violent nation. In global stereotypes about the Mexican, the picturesque image of the Day of the Dead is mixed and confused with the folklore of drug trafficking, hitmen, and armed violence.
A few days ago I received some questions – formulated to guide a discussion with graduate students at an American university – about the security landscape: has the power of organized crime in Mexico reached a point of no return? Can the Mexican State regain control over its territory? What is the role that the United States can play in this regard? The questions are provocative, but not far-fetched. They reflect what many of the people north of the border think about Mexico, including senior officials in the government and the Army.
A few months ago, General Glen VanHerck, head of the Northern Command of the United States Department of Defense, caused a stir by stating that between 30 and 35 percent of Mexico’s territory is under the control of organized crime. An alarmist statement and a figure without further support. However, at the time the data was perfectly credible for a public accustomed to hearing news and seeing images of Mexican violence.
The unthinkable in any country (at least anyone that is not in a civil war) has become more or less common in Mexico. There are not only daily clashes between armed commandos. Organized crime also blocks roads for days or weeks, attacks establishments in tourist destinations forces entire communities to move, and destroys infrastructure. As long as this reality does not change, abroad it will make sense to ask if in Mexico a domestic solution is viable, or if the country is gradually heading towards a scenario of extreme ungovernability; if perhaps in the not too distant future, perhaps in two or three decades, some form of external military intervention will be necessary.
I don’t think Mexico has yet reached that point of no return. Under the correct leadership, our institutions might still be able to reform and regain effective control of all land and peace. I agree to a certain extent with the position expressed a few weeks ago by Foreign Minister Ebrard. We don’t need the Americans to send us more weapons or more helicopters. The underlying problem is not that the Mexican State does not have sufficient firepower to deal with criminals.
I am afraid, however, that the return is more difficult today than ever. We will not be able to advance towards pacification as long as organized crime continues to interfere in the appointments of police commanders (or even controls police corporations or entire city councils), and as long as it continues to corrupt or intimidate elements of the Armed Forces. Unfortunately, the political class has simply not recognized that it is necessary to take forceful measures to limit criminal penetration of the institutions of the three levels of government. On the contrary, criminals have been allowed to play an increasingly prominent role in politics. In the last elections, not only was the number of attacks against candidates unprecedented. The intervention was also qualitatively different. In some parts of Sinaloa, Cartel del Pacífico practically completely hijacked the electoral machinery of the PRI.
Putting a stop to the criminal cooptation of State institutions is a task that primarily corresponds to Mexicans. However, the United States and other countries could support Mexico in the difficult task of cleaning up its institutions. In a sense they already do. North of the border, security agencies and prosecutors have a tool that, unlike helicopters, authorities in Mexico cannot buy or build in the short term: a network of informants, which allows them to have key evidence to bring corrupt officials to trial (these are mainly criminals who were arrested there and who seek to collaborate to obtain some benefit).
It is for this reason that the most important investigations against Mexican officials linked to organized crime, such as that of García Luna and some of his collaborators, were initiated there by the Department of Justice, and not here by the Attorney General’s Office. However, the lawsuits that are brought abroad against Mexican officials and commanders, although high profile, are just a drop in the ocean of criminal penetration into our institutions. If we want to avoid reaching the point of no return, it is urgent to find other ways to clean the house.