June 05, 2009
The Toronto Star
Criminals, that’s who.
They include the big honchos in the Mexican cartels (and their affiliates in the U.S., Canada and elsewhere) and politicians, business people, police, the army and other well-placed citizens who, under a veneer of respectability, empower the narco-empires.
“There’s no doubt the cartels need them to stay in business,” says Victor Clark Alfaro, an expert on the drug trade from San Diego State University. “Their war is invisible.”
That makes them, for the most part, untouchable.
Sure, there are small victories. Senior U.S. administration officials point to the grisly fallout from President Felipe Calderon’s military war on drugs – with 10,700 casualties over three years – as proof of success.
But is it really success?
Drug arrests in Mexico are mostly small-time. Moreover, there is scant proof of any serious investigation into the Mexican and international financial system that facilitates the flow of laundered drug money, at least according to anecdotal evidence.
“I would say Mexico is a state with a parallel power in its drug cartels. It’s not a narco state yet; we still have a government. But they have true power, beginning with the right to tax (protection money),” argues Clark.” I would say we are in great danger (of becoming a narco- state).”
His bleak view was overwhelmingly echoed during a month-long investigation by the Toronto Star, that included about 60 interviews in Mexico City, Acapulco, Tijuana, San Diego, Vancouver and Toronto.
“This is Mexico,” groans a Mexico City accountant, throwing up her hands. “It’s hopeless. Everybody knows who really runs Mexico.”
Few offer solutions, with an exception. It’s one that evokes immediate passion from entrenched sides: legalize drugs.
“Everything else has been tried,” says Larry Birns, director of the Council on Hemispheric Affairs in Washington. “This is an option that’s definitely worth exploring.”
Dr. Antonio Munoz, coroner in the blood-soaked border city of Tijuana, goes further: “You kill one (trafficker) and another takes his place. I think we’ve got to legalize drugs. I don’t think we’re winning this war, and we’re not going to win. The police know they can’t win, the army knows. Everybody does.”
A week earlier, he and colleagues autopsied the bodies of seven police officers, the latest to be gunned down in shootouts with cartel gunmen in the city. Adds Munoz: “There is no army, police force or government in the world that can win the war on drugs … No one.”
Money poured into the war on drugs, Munoz argues, could be better spent on health, education and public services. He envisions clean injection sites throughout Mexico, just as he’s seen in cities like Madrid and heard about in Vancouver.
Not everyone agrees.
“The involvement of the Mexican military has been showing significant results, including world-record seizures of narcotics, cash and weapons, as well as unprecedented levels in the extradition of criminals, sending more than 180 so far (to the U.S.),” insists Mexican Ambassador Francisco Barrio Terrazas, in an email from Ottawa.
According to Barrio, the Mexican army seized 70 tonnes of cocaine and 31,000 weapons over the past two years, as well as arresting 58,000 people, among them, “several kingpins” from the cartels.
Birns says Calderon “probably deserves more credit than critics like myself have given him. The militarization of the drug war has been only moderately successful, but more importantly, he has shown the magnitude of the corruption. … It’s not anecdotal, it’s systemic.”