Colombia during the Uribe did exactly the opposite [compared to Mexico's recent history]: it centralized power and its security agencies; it militarized its only police; it established deep cooperation with the United States, Great Britain, and France and their respective intelligence services, so as to work jointly; it accepted Plan Colombia because it knew that without the active participation of the United States, it couldn't defeat the Farc and the cartels that had over time become the same thing. In the context of the democratic security system, they began a frontal attack against corruption; carried out a judicial reform, so as to adopt an oral and accusatory system, which began immediately and has advanced in a progressive but constant form; negotiated with the belligerent groups, such as the paramilitaries, so as to demobilize them, as it did with many groups of the Farc. As was the case in Mexico, war was declared against drug traffickers and guerilla groups that controlled up to a third of the territory and that had support and bases in neighboring countries like Ecuador and Venezuela. But, unlike Mexico, this was taken up as a national commitment: the president made it, but also the parties, Congress, the media, big business, and the unions. And all of the national effort was concentrated on recovering lost territory: if eight years ago you couldn't travel on highways, today the state has complete control of them; if eight years ago Bogotá, Medellín, Cali, and Cartagena, to mention only the large cities, were subject to attacks, violence, kidnappings (which were in the thousands) and robberies, today they have absolutely normal levels of security. This is reflected in investments and in an open economy. Colombia today exports three times more than it did eight years ago, while inflation went from 7 to 2 percent, and the economy has grown consistently, even with the crisis.
What's the difference? The national project, a cleansed political class convinced that there exists a common cause, the decision of the authorities and the people that they couldn't continue on the same path, so they faced up to all of the reforms that they had carry and accept all of the efforts and combats, of all types, that this implied.
Lots of points here (in the interest of space, I'll stick to the areas of disagreement, but there are points I agree with). First of all, it depends what you mean "rid itself of the cartels". Mexico can see to it that its smugglers in a generation don't have Chapo's wealth or power or fame, but it will most certainly not rid itself of drug trafficking organizations. As Bonner alludes to, Colombia could not provide a better example of this; it defeated Escobar and the Rodríguez Orejuelas, but Colombia remains the world's largest producer of cocaine, with more than 450 metric tons produced in 2008. Colombian drug traffickers are arrested on a regular basis in Mexico, to say nothing of Colombia. So Colombia may have rid itself of cartels if you define them as organizations resembling Pablo Escobar's, but in no way has it rid itself of people who perform the same function as Escobar's gang (albeit in a less threatening manner, which is an extremely positive development, as Bonner says).
There are several lessons to be drawn from Colombia’s successful campaign. First, since the cartels were vertically integrated, transnational organizations, the campaign against them required the involvement of more than one country. A multinational approach, with strong support and assistance from the United States, was essential.
Second, the goal must be clear. In Colombia, the objective was to destroy the Cali and Medellín cartels — not to prevent drugs from being smuggled into the United States or to end their consumption. Indeed, there are still drug traffickers in Colombia, and cocaine is still produced there, but these cartels no longer pose a threat to Colombian national security.
Third, a divide-and-conquer strategy can be effective. The Colombian government chose to attack one cartel at a time rather than fighting a two-front war. Importantly, Colombia and the United States used the “kingpin strategy” to dismantle the cartels; a strategy that hinged on locating, capturing and incapacitating the kingpins and key lieutenants, while vigorously attacking the vulnerabilities of their organizations, including disrupting their cash flow and sources of supply.
In the longer term, law enforcement and judicial institutions must be reformed. Success in Colombia required strengthening the capacity and integrity of the country’s policing, prosecutorial and judicial institutions.
Moreover, the limits on the usefulness of the military must be understood. The Colombian military played an important part in the defeat of the Cali and Medellín cartels, yet it did not play a decisive role — the Colombian National Police did. Militaries are ill-suited to carry out the law enforcement actions necessary to ultimately bring down criminal organizations, including investigations and the use of informants and electronic surveillance to gather evidence.
Finally, extradition is essential. Imprisonment in the United States was the only thing that Colombian traffickers truly feared. If Mexico takes these lessons to heart and continues to show strong leadership and firm political will, it will rid itself of the cartels for good.
Another thing that is as ever missing from the Mexico-Colombia comparisons is a little bit of context. For example, in Medellín, which Fernández somehow calls "absolutely normal" and which was hailed as a miracle of peace in 2008 by the Washington Post, more people were killed in 2009 than in Juárez. Medellín is more than twice as big as Juárez, so the Mexican border town's murder rate is higher, but post-miracle Medellín is still one of the most dangerous cities in the hemisphere. Even after eight years of Uribe's efforts, Colombia is still among the most violent countries in the region, with a murder rate of 36 per 100,000 residents in 2008. That's down from more than 60 in 2000, but still three times higher than Mexico's present murder rate. Murder isn't the only way to measure security, and I'm not trying to say that Mexico should ignore Colombia because the latter is so much more violent. Furthermore, each country has certain security problems that the other doesn't, but that just brings into starker relief the differences between the two nations, and makes all the more clear that we should be very cautious in advocating Colombian solutions for Mexico's problems.