Thursday, August 25, 2011

Kleiman's Essay in Foreign Affairs

Mark Kleiman has a new essay on Mexico in Foreign Affairs. I'll have more to say on this in a coming piece, but in short, it is very informative and authoritative with regard to demand reduction, but, though he has some good ideas, the piece is not very well thought out with regard to its impact in Mexico. Boz writes:
Kleiman also suggests (as he has before) the Mexican government should not target all drug traffickers equally and specifically target its resources against the most violent trafficking organization. While I see some weaknesses in this strategy, I do think it would be better than the current policy of the Mexican government.

One flaw I see in Kleiman's strategy is that he is solely focused on drug-related violence. I realize drug policy is the whole point of his article, but the violence in Mexico is not just caused by drug trafficking. Even if drugs magically disappeared, there would be significant criminal organizations taking advantage of Mexico's weak police and judicial institutions. For the Mexican government, they must focus beyond drugs on strengthening institutions and halting the influence of powerful criminal organizations that threaten the state and society.
I certainly agree with the second paragraph. With regard to the first, I think it's worth pointing out that this isn't all that different from Mexico's present strategy. Mexico has definitely focused more resources on the Familia and the Zetas, because, they say, these gangs represent the greatest threat. That assessment may or may not be correct, but the logic is the same as what Kleiman is advocating.

And beyond that, Kleiman ignores the fact that the Mexican government hasn't proven capable of taking down the gangs it identifies as the most dangerous, because it has an utterly inefficient judicial system, jails that are completely uncontrolled, and police agencies that are corrupt and incompetent. As Boz mentions, the problem goes far beyond being able to identify the worst gangs (a strategy that is pulled from gang interventions in the US, where the context is very different); it's about building effective institutions first.

Update: Kleiman responds in comments.


malcolm said...

ASide from the fact that the first sentence is completely inaccurate, I guess it's an ok piece.

"More than a thousand people die each month in drug-dealing violence in Mexico, and the toll has been rising."

Drug-dealing violence? What the hell is that? Dealer vs dealer? What evidence is there that these are the circumstances of the deaths?

pc said...

He gets off to a rough start, doesn't he? That's an odd formulation. In a number of ways, the piece is predicated on the idea that all violence in Mexico is due to drugs, which just isn't true. He also writes with absolute certainty of the six drug dealing organizations in Mexico, like it was that clear-cut, like he was talking about the big four accounting firms or something. I'm not sure which are his big six (Sinaloa, Beltran Leyva, Zetas, Gulf, Familia, Juarez, Caballeros, Tijuana all seem like they could be included, not to mention the newer groups like South Pacific, CIDA, Cartel de Jalisco, et cetera), but the reality is of course a bit murkier.

Mark Kleiman said...

Yes, Malcolm, mostly dealer-on-dealer violence. On this point there's consensus among Mexican scholars, journalists, officials, and citizens, aided by the fact that many of the killings are "signed." Of course not all violence in Mexico has to do with the DTOs, but it's drug violence that's pushing things over the top.

No, the current Mexican strategy is not at all the one I propose: I'm not aiming for a little more enforcement here or a little less there, but a conscious and public strategy to put one of the big organizations out of business by making it uncompetitive with its rivals. That might or might not work, but it certainly hasn't been tried.

pc said...

Hi Mark, Thanks for reading. With regard to the strategy point, I really think your comment is a bit too sweeping. The current Mexican strategy means a lot of different things, and it depends on what you are referring to. I grant you that a rubric like the one you mention in the piece has not, to my knowledge, ever been published or mentioned by Los Pinos, though they may well have something like that they use internally, who knows. Nor was the idea of targeting the worst offenders was not mentioned in the strategy rollout from June 2010. However, I think the idea that they should identify the worst gangs of the bunch and then prioritize them has a great deal in common with what the Calderon administration has done particularly with regard to the Zetas in the past six months or so.

But I also think that one reason Calderon cant go further on this is that Mexico is fundamentally different from US cities, in that there's much less of a gap in the behavior of the Zetas on one hand and the Familia on the other than there is between a peaceful drug dealer and a violent one in the US. In other words, its harder to reward the better behaved drug gangs because there aren't any, at least not the degree that there are non-violent drug dealers in the US.

Insofar as the strategy is based on making the designation more public and really trying to disincentivize certain behaviors, I certainly agree with that, I think the administration could do a lot more on that score.

pc said...

I realize it probably looks like I glossed over a big element of your response, so let me just address it once again. You write:

"I'm not aiming for a little more enforcement here or a little less there, but a conscious and public strategy to put one of the big organizations out of business by making it uncompetitive with its rivals."

I wouldn't phrase it as "a little more enforcement here and a little less there", as it sounds trivial when you put it like that, but I think there is an element of that to what I read in your article. In your words, the basic animating impulse is "targeting violence". My point is that, while they haven't implemented the system of metrics you propose, the Calderonista policies have a lot of overlap with that same logic.