Sunday, May 1, 2011

"Ending the Mexican 'drug war'" (Dallas Morning News, Sunday Commentary, May 1, 2011)

Mexican Flag/www.esparta.com
The Mexican people are growing increasingly frustrated with their role in the “war on drugs.” As the violence expands, common citizens are wondering whether such an enormous human sacrifice is really worthwhile. The hundreds of clandestine graves and the assassination of the son of a poet in Cuernavaca are only the most recent cases that belie the Mexican government’s theory that 90 percent of the almost 40,000 violent killings over the past four years are supposedly criminals. Mexico is losing an entire generation of youth in a losing fight to “protect” willing drug users in the United States.

President Barack Obama’s contradictory policies toward Mexico have made matters worse. Instead of articulating a new vision, he has half-heartedly played out failed policies initiated under the George W . Bush administration. If Obama doesn’t change tack soon, Mexico may soon become more of a headache than Libya, Syria or Afghanistan.

The U.S. has been more effective at arming and funding the criminals than supporting the Mexican people. During 2009 and 2010, U.S. customs agents seized only 386 weapons, a fraction of the approximately 2,000 that the Brookings Institution estimates cross the border daily. The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms & Explosives has intentionally allowed 1,700 high-caliber weapons to find their way into the hands of Mexico’s most bloodthirsty killers. The Wachovia bank scandal has revealed that U.S. banks launder billions of drug money yearly with almost complete impunity.

Instead of changing course, Obama has bowed to NRA pressure and refused to implement basic reporting requirements for multiple purchases of assault weapons at gun stores in the Southwest. He has made little to no progress on combating money laundering. He also has failed to deliver over two-thirds of the support originally pledged as part of the $1.5 billion Mérida Initiative set up by Bush four years ago.

Obama did not mention Mexico once in his 2010 or 2011 State of the Union addresses. He has shown little interest in naming a successor to the U.S. Ambassador in Mexico, Carlos Pascual, whose resignation last month made him the first top diplomatic casualty of the present administration.

Meanwhile, Mexican public opinion has reached a turning point. Two-thirds of Mexicans now think the government’s U.S.-backed militarized strategy has been a failure. Mexican President Felipe Calderón’s overall approval ratings are in free fall, and anti-American sentiment is on the rise. Next Sunday, hundreds of thousands of protesters are expected to take to the streets throughout the country to protest the increase in violence.

Next year’s presidential election will be highly charged. Seventy-four percent of Mexicans are convinced that the political system is performing badly and needs to change. The old-guard Party of the Institutional Revolution (PRI), which governed Mexico for over 70 years and is largely responsible for the present strength of the drug cartels, leads by 20 percentage points in the polls.

Meanwhile, the mean age in Mexico is only 26, and the use of social media has expanded significantly. This has fed an increasingly active movement whose rallying cry is “No more blood!” It may be only a matter of time before Mexico’s youth follow the example of their Egyptian colleagues.

Obama still has a last chance to fulfill the promise he made in The Dallas Morning News in 2008 to give priority to Mexico and articulate a broad new vision of mutual responsibility in North America . The new policy should repudiate the “war” framework and focus on what the U.S. can do on its side of the border to improve the situation. Rep. Michael McCaul , R-Austin, is wrong to call the drug cartels “terrorists,” since this plays in to the same failed militarized strategy led by Calderón over the past four years.

The new approach should begin by significantly expanding ATF supervision of gun sales near the border, broadening financial oversight of U.S. banks and appointing a new high-profile ambassador. The next step would then be to include bold new economic development initiatives, as well as a definitive immigration reform. The increasing violence is not only linked to the drug trade, but also to the lack of economic opportunities and the fact that tougher border policies in the U.S. have increased the demand of migrants for the services of organized crime.

In general, the U.S. needs to stop seeing Mexicans as a threat. Hundreds of thousands of people legally cross the U.S.-Mexico border daily, and the two economies are fully intertwined.

There is no possibility of cutting ties. Peace and prosperity in North America depends on taking into account Mexico as an equal partner and moving the needs of the common Mexican citizen to the forefront of the binational agenda.

The failed “war on drugs” should take a back seat. Development, the rule of law and mutual responsibility should be the priorities.

ORIGINAL PUBLISHED TEXT AVAILABLE AT DALLAS MORNING NEWS