Monday, July 12, 2010

Measuring Improvements

A portion of a recent paper about Mexican government strategy from Georgetown's John Bailey illustrates why it can be hard to make heads or tales of Mexico's public security ups and downs:
Beginning with the politically relevant criteria in Mexico’s case, the key issue is that gang-related violence continued to rise through the first quarter of 2010. Eerily reminiscent of the public support in the United States during the Viet Nam war, public opinion has focused on the body count despite the GOM’s emphasis on impressive results on a variety of technical indicators. The government could plausibly argue that increasing violence was an indicator that DTOs are fighting among themselves in response to heightened pressure from the armed forces and law enforcement. At some point, however, and especially as more ordinary citizens were affected, the violence must be seen to recede. As to kingpins captured, the paramount symbol, Joaquín Guzmán Loera, remained at large.

By late March 2010, public opinion appeared negative with respect to the government’s strategy. A government spokesman’s reference to Colombia’s experience to argue that much more time is needed to reverse negative trends is plausible in the abstract, but it appears unpersuasive in the current public debate. In substantive terms, the GOM strategy will be judged over the longer term by whether significant progress was made by 2012 to train and deploy a federal police of acceptable professional competence and ethical character. Also important is the perception that judicial reform is having visible effects in reducing public insecurity.
From the distance of several decades, the Vietnam comparison feels about right (though I wasn't alive during the war), though more in reverse; the body counts are usually used in Calderón's critics' arguments rather than the government's. In any event, the reliance on several different, relatively simple statistics, the conclusions stemming from which often contradict each other, to measure security declines or improvements remains a significant source of confusion about the situation in Mexico.

No comments: