I’ve had some telling glimpses over the years of how politics and diplomacy really work. There was the time years ago when I sat in a U.S. ambassador’s office in Bolivia and listened to him brazenly giving orders to the country’s interior minister.
Or when I watched how an American official tried to cajole the president of Honduras into a military dispute with Nicaragua.
And the time when I was told that a top U.S. official was traveling to Mexico City to observe Mexico’s drug interdiction program.
“What drug interdiction program?” a confused Mexican government spokesman asked me. I had gotten advance warning of the visit. “We don’t have a drug interdiction program.”
Five minutes later, the same Mexican spokesman called me back and said — without a trace of irony — that I was invited to attend a meeting between U.S. and Mexican officials who would be discussing Mexico’s “drug interdiction program.” It had somehow materialized.
Those anecdotes are the product of the last century, but I was reminded this week that things haven’t changed much.
The U.S. government arrogantly figures that the governments of other countries can meet the imposed values that the United States expects. One can respect the people of Mexico and honor that country’s heritage and sense of pride, but still say: The Mexican government is over-gunned by drug dealers and will not be able to stop the violence and out-of-bounds profits earned by the narcotics trade.
For some sense of the absurdity of the fight, have a look at the New York Times story about Mexican prisons, headlined: War Without Borders: Mexico’s Drug Traffickers Continue Trade in Prison
The cycle of violence and death waxes and wanes, but the reality hasn’t changed for decades; there is too much money in drug dealing to stop the industry. Drug cartels practically own the Mexican prisons where they are held. Plagued by corruption, drug producing nations have been unable over the years to control the production and flow of illegal narcotics.
Mexican President Felipe Calderon won praise from President Obama this week during the annual North American summit in Mexico:
We will work to make sure Mexico has the support it needs to dismantle and defeat the cartels. And the United States will also meet its responsibilities by continuing our efforts to reduce the demand for drugs and continuing to strengthening the security of our shared border — not only to protect the American people, but to stem the illegal southbound flow of American guns and cash that helps fuel this extraordinary violence.
I have to say that the words are mighty, but if history is a guide the U.S. Congress will do little if anything to halt the sale of guns southward. And the United States has not shown signs of augmenting Mexican security efforts to the degree needed. International money laundering of drug trafficking appears beyond control. I’d love to end up being surprised that I’m wrong.
A must-read to see the depths of the problem is an extensive report in the Washington Post by my old colleagues Steve Fainaru and Bill Booth.
This paragraph sums it up:
Beyond the reach of the U.S. and Mexican governments in their fight against drug traffickers is an intimate, complex world of communal violence and crippled institutions. At the center of the drug war is Michoacan, a rugged, rural state in the southwest where all forms of traditional authority — city hall, the military, police and even the Catholic Church — have been unable to protect the people against the assassinations, kidnappings and extortions associated with the narcotics trade.
The United States has acknowledged the obvious many times: that U.S. consumption of drugs is a driving part of the problem of the international narcotics trade. But no politician in the United States will seriously consider drug decriminalization, or broad social programs and education that will change the formula of drug consumption, or laws that — heaven forfend — would curtail gun sales.
The promises are all words, and nothing changes.
– Peter Eisner