Wednesday, September 7, 2011

The Persistence of the Violence in Mexico

From Jorge Fernández Menéndez, writing last week:
It's politically incorrect to declare, before a tragedy of this size, that the criminal groups have become weaker. But it's true: in all of the cartels, the operational level of the high-ranking and intermediate capos that really run the business and even the groups of gun men, that the chiefs of these organizations formed over the course of years have weakened with the killings and the arrests, In some cases the bosses have fallen and figures of second or third level have taken control of the cartels, which has happened with many, for example, the Zetas, the Familia, or the the Barbie. In each of the, the norm has been the incorporation, in the most overwhelming form imaginable, of young gang-members, simple members of common crime that suddenly have turned themselves into gunmen or operators of organized crime.


Why doesn't the violence stop then? Because the local police don't combat crime, neither the organized nor disorganized versions. Because the two criminal realms of fused, the police (in some cases co-opted, corrupted, in others, fearful) simply have refused to fulfill their role.
That point about the fusion of common and organized crime is right on, and it's a point I don't think is made nearly often enough. It drastically increases the threat to the regular population, for two reason: first, the common criminals have more ability to intimidate the local business owners who in the past would have told the 17-year-old extortionist to piss off. Now, said business-owner thinks twice, because who knows if the kid is backed by the Zetas. He (or she) may suspect not, but he is likely not willing to bet his business, not to mention his family's physical well being, on that hunch. And second, the petty crimes that are now the province of the Zetas (among others) by their nature affect civilians a lot more. He goes on to draw the conclusion that a unified police command, with the municipal departments reorganized under state control, is the only exit from this morass, though I remain skeptical. It's not as though the state police are a model of honesty.

I also think Fernández Menéndez doesn't pay enough attention to the fact that as the violence increases, the reasons for it, ultimately hope-inspiring though they may be, matter less and less. In 2007, the idea that the grizzly news from Michoacán was an unfortunate side effect of a necessary process was a lot easier to swallow for most Mexicans. But at a certain point, as a resident of Juárez/Torreón/Monterrey/Reynosa, you stop caring that the violence is a sign of an otherwise optimistic development. The generally positive sweep of Mexican history, the idea (unverifiable, to be sure) that Mexico will be safer in 2025 because of Calderón's actions today, mean nothing compared to the murder of your neighbor, or the closure of all your town's nightclubs, or whatever symptom you like. This phenomenon, of course, depends on how close the violence is to you, but as it expands and encroaches on an ever-increasing number of people, that explanation loses force.


Richard Grabman said...

"In 2007, the idea that the grizzly news from Michoacán was an unfortunate side effect of a necessary process was a lot easier to swallow for most Mexicans."

-- Really? I realize those of you in Torreón-Monterry-Juarez-Reynosa are going to have a different point of view, but Michoacán is much more the Mexican "heartland" than the north ever is, or will be. The center of PAN power, perhaps... and violence up there, which happens for a change to affect not the working class or migrants, but the middle-class PAN voters, is more likely to make those that the Calderón Administration needs are going to "stop caring that the violence is a sign of an otherwise optimistic development."

Certainly, this latest atrocity (and we have both been saying for several years now that the "cartels" would simply turn to other criminal activities if they were driven out of the narcotics export trade -- why don't the Powers That Be ever listen to us??)could be a game changer at least politically, but I see no sign of any interest by the existing power elites to changing the overall "strategy" that relies on state violence and preserving the status quo.

pc said...

I'm a little confused as to what the disagreement is--do you disagree with the idea that as the violence spreads and grows, people are less convinced by optimistic takes on it?

As to whether or not that will lead to a change in strategy, I agree with you in that I don't. But I don't think those two ideas are in conflict.