U.S. President Barack Obama is scheduled to venture to Mexico on Thursday for talks with President Felipe Calderon. Officials from the Obama administration say the president will work to curb the flow of U.S.-made firearms to Mexican drug traffickers.
Worldfocus editorial consultant Peter Eisner writes to argue that unless political leaders are willing to commit to real change and take the resulting flak, it will be impossible to alleviate Mexico’s drug problem. See more on our coverage of Mexico’s Drug War.
When President Obama meets with Mexican President Felipe Calderon in Mexico on Thursday, how many people will be thinking about the history of efforts by the two countries to deal with drug trafficking? Anyone who does will have to be listed as a skeptic about possibilities for real change.
Mexico has been stuck in the middle of modern drug trade ever since the rise of the Colombian cocaine and marijuana cartels more than three decades ago. But the United States preferred to look elsewhere. The Reagan administration declared a war on drugs and spent billions of dollars on eradicating crops in Colombia and Peru; the first President Bush invaded Panama, and imprisoned Manuel Antonio Noriega claiming he was a drug dealer. The United States also helped hunt down and kill Pablo Escobar, and even blamed Fidel Castro and Raul Castro for the drug trade. Cynicism abounded and little, if anything, was accomplished.
All the while, the Mexican narco industry was thriving and growing, and no one came up with the key to change the reality –- drug dealing and the associated violence in Mexico operates with impunity. The Mexican drug business is successful because of corruption, weak justice and police structures in Mexico, and because of the driving market right across the border.
Consider this report from the Washington Office on Latin America, prepared in the leadup to Obama’s one-day trip:
The ability to identify, prosecute, and punish drug traffickers is a key element in containing the drug trade. There were over 10,000 drug-related killings in Mexico in the past three years. As staggering as these numbers are, it is noteworthy that the majority of these murders may never be solved. The Mexican Citizen Institute for Research on Insecurity (INCESI) found that initial investigations are begun for only 13 percent of the reported crimes and in only 5 percent of these crimes are the alleged perpetrator brought before a judge. (1) The same institute estimates that of every 100 investigations, only 4 cases result in sentencing the person responsible.
What are the real prospects for change? Well, the American president is stymied by mistrust from the Mexican side –- where officials and the public always feel the United States is trying to bigfoot Mexican government policy. And at home, there’s no possibility on the horizon of ever decriminalizing drugs to puncture the market.
Meanwhile, what American politician would ever get away with curbing the sale of guns, which Mexican traffickers can easily haul in and use in their murderous business? Without meaningful change brought on by officials who see the reality and are willing to take the political flak, there isn’t much room for optimism.
– Peter Eisner