Friday, November 13, 2009

Plague of Toads

Jorge Chabat says that the Mauricio Fernández affair reminds him of the havoc that the cane toad wreaked in Australia after its introduction in 1935:
When confronting a persistent problem, one frequently begins to think about false exits. It's evident that the problem of insecurity and violence generated by organized crime encourages the contemplation of solutions that aren't solutions. Resorting to death squads, which combat crime through criminal methods, is an illusion. As is it's opposite: negotiating with drug traffickers--a possibility curiously broached by Mauricio Fernández. None of these options resolve the problem. They seem to but they only aggravate it. The terrible deterioration of security from which Mexico suffers is the precise result of false exits: the tolerance/complicity with organized crime or the creation of groups for tough jobs, such as the Halcones, the Brigada Blanca, the Federal Security Directorate, or the mafias inside the police. These types of exits do away with a minor problem to substitute a major problem. In the case of combating crime there is only one exit: relying on honest police bodies that have institutional controls. Certainly, it's easier to propose spectacular solutions than to have a long-term strategy that resolves the problem. The former brings about more votes--although eventually it also brings about more victims. The latter has political costs. Mauricio Fernández is acting simply as an opportunistic politician: he proposes "solutions" that are going to give him immediate popular support, just as the introduction of toads to Australia. The problem is that the toads will turn into a plague. But maybe then he won't be mayor of San Pedro Garza García. That won't be his problem anymore. It will be for the inhabitants of that city, some of whom are today enthusiastically applauding the arrival of the cane toads.
This gets to the absence of a sustainable, long-term, government-wide anti-crime strategy in Mexico. People want solutions today, and politicians flail about in seach of them. But why hasn't there been a careful public debate about how to recover Juárez, and how to prevent other border towns from going the same route? Ideally a careful public debate resulting in a plan that every municipality along the border could implement with the support of the federal government. Instead, we had the deployment of the army to Juárez this spring, which after delivering a brief respite utterly failed (and we have never seen a public accounting of why exactly it failed, which would also be enormously helpful), and we have the proposal to call in the UN, which seems patently unserious. And of course, we read endless lamentations about Juárez.

This is as much a problem for Calderón's critics as it is for the government: Calderón's strategy certainly hasn't been successful based on the results thus far, but no one is offering comprehensive alternatives. Instead, with some exceptions, they just launch bromides picking at elements of it.

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