Dicembre 23, 2015

War, silence and the politics of crime

War, silence and the politics of crime

In his book, The Better Angels of Our Nature, Steven Pinker sustains that violence has dramatically declined in the last century. Mexico is going the other way round. Violence (understood as murders) has been raising since 2007 (figure 1).

Mexico is living an internal conflict with the dimensions of a civil war. Since 2006, 121.126 people have died, 160.000 people have been displaced and 12.990 people have disappeared. This is not accidental. It’s the consequence of the intensification of the so- called “war on drugs” by the previous president, Felipe Calderon. This intensification transformed a Turf War between criminal organizations into a State vs Criminal Organizations conflict. The idea of the Mexico Bronco (rough Mexico) was back.

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Mexico has been having a historical presence of drug trafficking criminal organizations. These “Cartels” have mainly operated in the North of the country in order to transport drugs through the U.S. Border. Mexican government chased this organizations and eradicated long extensions of illegal crops for decades. At the end of the 20th Century, the Northern organizations decided to control Southern states, with the most important illegal crops of poppy. The two main cartels, Gulf and Sinaloa, invaded the South and began fighting for the valuable crops and routes through the Pacific Ocean to Colombia and other Latin-American countries. The bloodshed initiated in the states of Guerrero and Michoacán.


In response to the violence in the South, Calderon deployed a new kind of military operations in those regions. In December 2006, Calderon deployed the first military operation in Michoacán and months later in Guerrero. At the end of 2007, the government of Calderon deployed more than six operations in other states. The violence descended quickly. But, like the eye of a hurricane, homicides rate increased in the state under military presence. The cartels attacked military and police forces. They also killed many public servants. The retaliation of drug cartels was brutal and homicides was brutal. New violent organizations arose, like the “Familia Michoacana” (Michoacán Family) and the Cartel of Beltran Leyva Brothers. The government of Calderon answered killing or detaining the leadership of the new cartels. The result was even worst. The Beltran Leyva organization was fragmented into numerous gangs and the Familia Michoacana transformed into a more violent organizations, “Los Caballeros Templarios” (Knights Templar).


At the end of Mr Calderon’s government, the situation of violence and criminality was common attribute of several regions in Mexico. In states like Tamaulipas and Nuevo Leon, the main streets of the cities were often blocked by cartels. Homicides made Ciudad Juarez, a frontier city, one of the most violent place in the world. Veracruz and Morelos, relatively peaceful center states, became perfect places for extortion and kidnappings. Since then, the state of Guerrero has been living a daily confrontation between drug cartels, paramilitary groups, guerrillas and the army. And the government of Michoacán was coopted by the Knights Templar.


The common response to this situation was the use of military operations and blockages of roads by the police. Calderon´s government implemented a series of security reforms in many directions. First, congress made strict laws against cartels, like the so-called arraigo. Governments bracketed civil rights for those people who had been prosecuted for “organized crime” for more than eighty days. Moreover, the government implemented a national executive organism for coordination of state polices forces and general attorneys’ offices. Third, the federal government pushed states to eliminate municipal police forces under the figure of a unified state command. This came together with a police reform, which certificated officials and gave subsidies to municipal and state polices forces. Finally, a constitutional reform incorporated international human rights standards and a new oral justice system. Even with these strategies, violence and crimes continued. An inefficient and politically biased judicial system undermined the very scopes of reforms.


Now, in Mexico, the justice system is not able to deter crimes. Evidence from the victimization survey shows that most of the crimes are not prosecuted. Simply, citizens don’t believe that making an accusation would work. When army and marine detain the leaders of criminal organizations, many crimes are still unpunished. Total impunity is the landmark of Mexico.


The security collapse in Mexico and the war on drugs is one part of a terrible reality. A widespread violation of human rights. Forced disappearances, torture and lack of respect of detainee’s rights are common violations committed by police and army forces. Moreover, the state-of-war rhetoric have been justifying poor investigations. For instance, Juan Francisco Sicilia, son of the poet and journalist Javier Sicilia, and other relatives of victims of violence challenged the Calderon´s security policy and demanded recognition for the victims of violence. The Movement for Peace and Justice with Dignity accomplished a national bill for victims and created a strong social alliance for the change of security policy in Mexico.


Mr Peña Nieto promised changes. For example, he promised a new national militarized force to substitute the army in security policy. Policy has never changed. Only media coverage of criminal and violent news has been changing. The idea of a troubled country has been replaced with an imaginary of growth and economic reforms.


Mr Peña, yet, has to confront with reality. In 2013. the citizens of Tierra Caliente, region of Michoacán, decided to upraise as vigilantes to expel the Knight Templars. The federal government, a year later, had to intervene. They deposed the local government and attacked all the positions of the Knights Templars, with the key assistance of the autodefensas. In 2014, a mass extrajudicial killing was performed by Army officials in the village of Tlatlaya. In the city of Iguala (Guerrero), 43 students of the teacher’s school disappeared on the 26th of September. Local police force were suspected to participate in the disappearance of the students. They were also suspected to help the local gang called Guerreros Unidos. This case, together with the death of six persons the same night, provoked massive protest and demonstrations against the government. A message with candles in Mexico City’s Zocalo Square made clear the feeling of the protesters: “Fue el Estado” It was the State, they said.


Since then, the government has not been able to keep the situation under control. Moreover, a recent ruling of the Supreme Court has opened for the possibility of legalizing marihuana for recreational proposes. Silence has proved not to be a good tactic. Homicides keep rising. Mexico needs extraordinary efforts in order to stop such a tragic war. Political forces have not proposed a new agenda for public security. And the bloodshed continues.

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About Raúl Raúl Zepeda Gil

Raúl Raúl Zepeda Gil

Raúl Zepeda Gil is currently PhD Student in the Security Studies School of King's College London. Part of the Conflict, Security & Development Research Group in the War Studies Department. He is currently working on his doctoral project on the process of mobilisation of criminal organisations into violent conflict in the current drug war in Mexico. He studied political science at FES Acatlán of the National University of Mexico (UNAM) and at El Colegio de México.

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