Monday, May 10, 2010

Chabat on the US's Concerns about the Next Mexican President

Here's what he wrote in response to comments from Anthony Placido:
What is true is that this possibility [of a return to power of the PRI] keeps the US government up at night. And not because it can’t get along with the PRI –indeed it did for 71 years—but because it perceives the possibility of a change in antidrug policy….[I]t’s difficult to ignore the fact that if the PRI knew how to do anything during its seven decades in the presidency and in almost all of the realms of power in Mexico it was precisely how not to chase a lot of criminals. And of course more than one PRI politician must be thinking that if they win the presidency it would be better to return to the “pax narcotica” that existed during the PRI era in which narcos killed less but also became stronger.

But, how realistic is that possibility, beyond the preference of the politicians? What’s true is that the future of antidrug policies will depend a great deal on their being some visible results that allows the population to maintain some support for the policy of confronting drug traffickers. What is surprising is that despite the growing narco-violence, which is causing collateral victims, innocent people that have nothing to do with the business, there appears to be a consensus among the political class that what is missing is more contro0ls on the use of state force against drug traffickers so as to not leave the country to the mercy of the criminals. At least that’s what the politicians’ speeches say. And it’s also true that the polls continue to show some support for a war against drug trafficking despite the growth of pessimism about the eventual victory for the government. And from that point of view, public opinion will be fundamental for deciding the future of combating drugs, independently of who is the president. Certainly, there won’t be a reduction of violence overnight, despite Gómez Mont’s optimism on that issue. But it is possible there is a more careful use of public force that at least sends the message that the government “knows what it is doing” and that it’s not blindly firing away. If this occurs, if the “collateral” victims decrease and in the cases in which they do happen what happened is made clear beyond that shadow of a doubt and the responsible are punished, it’s likely that the fight against organized crime will continue during the next administration. If that doesn’t happen, we could return to the policy of simulation and tolerance of drug traffickers, even if the next president is from the PAN. The US is right to worry about the future of the war against drugs in Mexico. A return of the policy of tolerance is possible, which will only make things worse in the medium term. That’s why it’s urgent to strengthen institutions and the controls over the use of public force. Of course, if the deputies can agree at some point about what they want from the National Security Law…
I think it’s important to remember that at this point, even if the army goes back to its barracks tomorrow and the next president calls off the dogs, there’s no reason to think that violence will immediately plummet. After all, the vast majority of the narco-deaths in Mexico don’t involve the army. You get the sense that in Mexico, Pandora’s box has been opened, and there’s no easy path to much lower murder rates. The gangs operating today are far more decentralized than they were a generation ago, and if a governmental pact really was the key to drug traffickers' relatively low-key MOs a generation ago, it seems unlikely that such a scenario can be recovered. From that standpoint, there’s no reason to expect a softer gloves from the next government, because what would the benefit be?

In any event, the security forces should absolutely behave more responsibly and humanely and cases of civilian deaths could be handled with a great deal more professionalism and attention to public opinion, and I completely agree that strengthening security agencies is a good way to avoid the ebbs and flows in attention to security (and other issues) that are implicit in changes of power.


jd said...

To echo a point you've made many times, it may just be that the DEA is stupid and has no credible analytical basis for its fear.

One non-analogous-but-vaguely-comparable situation that will be interesting to watch is what happens in Colombia if Mockus wins. I guarantee a set of folks in DOD are fretting that a Mockus administration will "ease up" against the FARC (pax Farcana?). The catch, of course is that one reason why Santos is struggling is the sense that while Uribe's security policies were hugely "successful", the human rights abuses (extrajudicial executions, surveillance run amok, etc.) have limited Santos's ability to benefit from a dedazo. This basically goes with what Chabat is saying - success is important, but so is the way the fight is fought. The situations are far from analogous, but it will be fascinating to see what Mockus actually does with security policy if he wins, how the bad guys respond, how the military reacts if they perceive a "softening," and so on. I'm always loath to suggest that Mexico should "learn" much of anything from Colombia, but the question of how militarized a fight should be, what level of dirtiness is taken as acceptable, and the political effects of different policy directions, is certainly an issue that bears watching in comparative context.

pc said...

I'd not really thought about that, but yeah that is pretty interesting for comparison's sake. I'm following only from a distance, but are human rights abuses a big reason why Mockus is winning?

RE the DEA, Id forgotten but Placido has made comments like this before. I don't know if he really thinks it's true or has specific worries about Peña Nieto or what, but it's odd. Before he was talking about dealing death blows or body-blows to drug traffickers in the next two years, which makes you wonder what he is even talking about. Does he think that dramatically reducing Mexico's drug trafficking industry in two year is possible, or good? It also makes you think that there is little if any long-term, big thinking at the DEA, which would make some sense given the agency's futile mission.

jd said...

Placido may just be annoyed at the thought of being mildly personally inconvenienced by a change of administration. Obviously I have no way of knowing this, but given the DEA's general rigidity and shortsightedness, it seems plausible.

In Colombia, no, Mockus is not winning due to Uribe administration human rights violations per se - if those were the top issue, Gustavo Petro would be the candidate best positioned to benefit, and he's polling around 5 percent. But the perception of generalized scandal that has surrounded the Uribe admin in recent years, which includes human rights abuses like the extrajudicial executions, corruption scandals including one not dissimilar to the Procampo affair, and hybrid corruption/human rights/abuse of power problems like the massive DAS spying operation and the parapolitica scandal, have left Colombians feeling fatigued and a bit in need of a shower. Mockus has been very well positioned to take advantage of that, despite what I think are frequently questionable and impulsive responses to questions on important issues. Santos, meanwhile, is getting the downside of the Uribe admin's penchant for scandal while only getting part of the upside for security gains. The irony, pointed out to me by an astute analyst the other day, is that the Mockus campaign actually is somewhat reminiscent of Uribe in 2002 in terms of choosing nonalignment with any preexisting party and focusing on an anti-politiqueria platform. The security context, and its effect on issue emphasis, is much different, however.

A proper comparison to the Mexico context would require much more space, but the basic issue is that Uribe combined military aggressiveness against the guerrillas with somewhat of a "pax paraco" in terms of the paramilitaries, who were increasingly inextricable from narcos by the 2005 demobilization anyway. Thus, any change under Mockus - either a shift away from a no-quarter, no-dialogue mentality against the FARC, or more aggressive action to break the Sicily-style mafia politics in parts of the country, will be vaguely comparable to policy choices in Mexico. Again, I don't endorse cutting and pasting, just noting that for angst-y Mexicans it could make for interesting viewing.

pc said...

I could have sworn I responded to this with an elegant and insightful answer yesterday, and it seems to have disappeared into the ether. And now I have nothing. Interesting stuff anyway. Any idea on what the Farc is saying about the possibilities?