Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Crespo Criticizes

José Antonio Crespo evidently spent part of his vacation in Spain, and was worried by the impressions that Spaniard had about Mexico:
I overheard a conversation of a few diners at a table near mine that were planning where to spend their winter vacation; Mexico emerged as a suggestion, and one of them immediately objected: "You'd have to be crazy! The security there is out of control. What I want is to rest and be relaxed, not to risk my scalp".


The paradox is that drug consumption and the number of addicts in Spain is much higher than in Mexico. In fact, it is the country with the highest consumption in Europe, including liberalized Holland. My Spanish interlocutors tell me that it is a thousand times better than the frontal, police, and military combat of the supply of drugs, and less dangerous socially...The military confrontation of the cartels is not considered there "brave", but rather "absurd". A very flexible drug policy is preferable and, whatever the case, leaving consumers to assume the responsibility for their self-inflicted wounds, with the state in charge of prevention and rehabilitation of those who require and seek it. The contrast between enormous security and calm on the streets continues to be paradoxical in one of the nations with the highest level of drug consumption in the world. Shouldn't it be the reverse? They are doing something right there, and here we are not. It can be said that the high levels of consumption are due precisely to the inactivity of the state, but not even in Holland is there similar consumption. And, in Mexico, despite the social cost of the present fight, consumption continues rising. There is no direct relation. Here, meanwhile, instead of rethinking the present ineffective strategy, increasingly absurd proposals are made, like those of Mayor Mauricio Fernández...
A couple of things: a) It's always a good idea to be a little wary of opinion columns based on encounters with random people. After all, these may have been some of Spain's stupidest people for all we know. In any event, Mexico as a whole is safer than Miami (which had a murder rate of 19 per 100,000 inhabitants in 2007), but something tells me the same people Crespo overheard wouldn't have freaked out about a week on South Beach. Therefore, as far as vacationing Spaniards are concerned, Mexico's problem is as much one of image as it is of anti-crime strategy. The two are related, of course, but Crespo writes as though the former was an absolutely trustworthy expression of the success or failure of the latter.

b) His assessment of what Spain's experience means for Mexico is very misleading. Addiction and drug-trafficking are two related but ultimately very different phenomena. What works for one country in addressing trafficking is not necessarily relevant in another country's attempts to deal with addiction. And whatever your opinion of it, Mexico's frontal attack on organized crime is not designed to lower addiction rates; its primary goal is to eliminate areas where the drug gangs operate with impunity, limit criminals' capacity to threaten the state, and reduce government corruption. There are a lot of legitimate criticisms of Calderón's strategy, but for Crespo to act as though Mexico's rising addiction rate is an appropriate measure of the strategy's effectiveness is a bit silly. Especially considering all the recent changes to Mexico's treatment of addicts, which have made Mexico's approach to addiction much more like Spain's.

As far as I know, Spain has never had criminal gangs anything close to as powerful as those that have embedded themselves in Mexico for the past two decades. Spain can take a laid-back approach to drug enforcement, because that doesn't mean handing over big chunks of the country to mafia groups. I'm all for a more laid-back approach to addiction, but I don't see how you deal with the proliferation of gangs in Mexico without at least one plank of your strategy being enforcement. Spain's approach works for Spain because Spain's biggest problem is addiction and the annual murder rate is 1.2 per 100,000, but a strictly hands-off approach does not effectively address the corruption, kidnapping, and extortion that are plaguing Mexico. As far as attacking organized crime head-on (and that's not to say that such an approach cannot be complemented by social initiatives; indeed it should be), Calderón's problem isn't one of concept as much as execution.

c) Despite the column being titled, "Alternatives against drug-trafficking", Crespo only criticizes, and he proposes nothing concrete in terms of dealing with drug traffickers. I realize that such is the prerogative of the opinion columnist, but, aside from returning the military to its barracks and strengthening the Federal Police (which is really like robbing Peter to pay Paul), I've yet to read an effective articulation of an alternative approach to organized crime.


Paul Roberts said...

Of all the commentators on Canal Once's Primer Plano, which I think is a great programme, I like Crespo the best. Interestingly, though when he appears, I always think he ends up last to make his comments.

Having said that I broadly agree with your comments in response to his article, especially the huge difference between the power and reach of organized crime in Spain and Mexico.

When will politicians seriously consider legalization as a strategy? I have not read any good arguments against this. They always seem based on a kind of 'moral panic'

pc said...

I've never seen Crespo on tv, but I really like reading him, even though I often disagree. I think legalization of marijuana in the US will come in the next generation. Right now it's just under half who are for it, according to opinion polls. And once it gets well above 50 percent, and as the cocaine and crack booms become more distant memories, you'd think the pressure would be hard to withstand. Although lots of people have probably said that we were just a generation away.