Thursday, September 8, 2011

Paradigm Shift

President Calderón is still befuddled as to why the strategy that he has been pursuing for the last 5 years has not produced the results that he had expected (and for which he is still waiting), i.e., to win the drug war, as evidenced in his speech last week [1]. Aside from a close examination of the colossal failures of Plan Columbia and its kinship to Mexico’s imbroglio, I would like to humbly suggest that the problem is the paradigm through which Calderón views the challenges facing Mexico with regards to organized crime, drugs and security. His rhetoric indicates that he continues to view Mexico at war as is most recently seen by his labelling of criminal acts, such as the recent arson attack of the Casino Royale in Monterrey, as terrorism (of which they clearly are not, no matter how horrific, since these actions are perpetrated for financial gain rather than political aims) [2]. Moreover, Calderón, still operating within this “war-paradigm”, is also incorrect in thinking that the continuance of his current strategy is the only way to win (no matter how long it takes nor how many deaths result) [3].

One thing that President Calderón does get right, however, is that the prodigious US demand for drugs fuels the TCOs in Mexico and in turn the violence that has claimed nearly 48,000 lives (a large part of this is due to his misguided war and security policies) [4]. Everything else he gets wrong including relying on the US and its advisers to continue to follow this path of waging a war upon his fellow citizens (something to which the TCOs are now responding in kind through using any and all military grade weapons and munitions as well as building their own homemade tanks [5]).

It is erroneous for Calderón to adopt US “war-paradigm” policies and strategies to address social issues. We know this because, after over 40 years and trillions of dollars (yes trillions, not millions, not billions), the US still does not have a definitive policy nor practice that can enforce prohibition. As an example of this failure, the US tries to build a wall along the Mexican boarder when it cannot even keep contraband out of the most secure facilities it has--prisons--where drug use and abuse is rampant (just ask any warden or guard). The US continues to jail anyone who buys, sells or uses illegal drugs, with nothing to show other than the highest incarceration rate in the world coupled with the highest drug use in the world (clearly the tactics of fear are not working). As a grand social experiment, which has been conducted for over 4 decades (and is still, sadly, underway), the US has proven, without a shadow of a doubt, that the use of force to address social and health issues is not efficacious, that this “war-paradigm” does not work.

So, given the above, President Calderón needs to realize that if the use of force did not work with the US with its well-funded, well-trained and well-equipped armies (both police and military) it certainly will not work in Mexico with its poorly-funded, poorly-trained and poorly-equipped security forces (both the military and the police) stumbling along, relying “on numbers over intelligence and [which] falls back on time-worn tactics, such as highway checkpoints, of limited use against drug traffickers... [and] left the U.S. pointedly criticizing the force as "virtually blind" on the ground” [6]. Furthermore, for Calderón to continue to operate under a “war-paradigm”, and the poor results being achieved so far, has some seeing US forces in Mexico as inevitable [7].

But, what if we step back from this paradigm, and realise that it is not a war, what is to be done to address the threat of the TCOs? One option is to examine the structural elements--those that give rise to organized crime; the venues for their profits; and, the recruitment of Mexico´s poor into its ranks--something that is lacking under Calderón’s “war-paradigm”. A good example for us to turn to is Britain’s fight against highwaymen, desperate ex-soldiers-turned-robbers who, for the most part, when released from the war with little or no opportunity for work and the availability of quick cash to be made by a gun, turned to robbing stagecoaches in the 17th and 18th Centuries. Operating under the “war-paradigm” soldiers were deployed, strategies employed, rhetoric evoked and victories announced with each arrest made (sound familiar?) all for naught as the highwaymen continued in their trade, frustrating the British government’s efforts to combat this threat. Despite the efforts of an Empire nearing the height of its power and glory, one where the phrase "his Majesty's dominions, on which the sun never sets," was apt, and yet could do little to to prevent the scourge of highwaymen.

What did prove effective against the highwayman was a structural adjustment, i.e., the invention/introduction of bank drafts and cheques, the innovation of transferring money through the use of a document rather than physically bearing one’s riches (gold, silver and other valuables were untraceable and could be used by anyone) instruments which could then be tracked and canceled if they were stolen (and a new draft reissued) thus making useless those stolen by the highwayman.

A paradigm shift, something for President Calderón to consider as he enters the sunset of his governing tenure...

[1] Tovrov, Daniel (2011 Sept 5) Mexico's Drug War: Can President Calderon Win? International Business Times. Retrieved Sept 5, 2011 from

[2] ibid.

[3] ibid.

[4] But, Calderón is incorrect in thinking that the problem solely rests from being a neighbour to such a voracious consumer for Canada is as well yet does not suffer from the atrocious deaths and powerful TCOs that plague Mexico. Why is this? This is where the finger has to point back to himself, his fellow politicians, and the elite who control the wealth and resources of the country (with no intention of sharing), of the corruption that runs throughout all levels of government and without any serious efforts to bring about reform, accountability or transparency. For a count of those killed since President Calderón came to power see:

[5] Housworth, Gordon (2011, July 19) 'Narco-tanks': Cartel Competition Elevates to Asymmetrical Weapons. Insight Crime. Retrieved September 05, 2011 from

[5] Wilkinson, Tracy and Ken Ellingwood, (2010, December 29) Mexico army's failures hamper drug war. Los Angeles Times. Retrieved June 22, 2011 from

[6] Laplante, Matther D. (2011, February 07). Army official suggests U.S. troops might be needed in Mexico. The Salt Lake Tribune. Retrieved April 22, 2011 from

For a map of the killings: click: Narco-killings
Website: WM Consulting

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  1. Excellent write up. Not sure it’s intentional or not, but you hint at the need to stop hiring so many people to fight wars or snoop on us or patrol the streets and act as though we’re all guilty until proven innocent. And of course that leads to the notion that we already have a dizzying array of them already.

    However, I would add that if those people are really concerned with law and order as they say they are, then we should not be worrying about them doing thuggish acts. :-) However, some might call that naive. From what I’ve heard, once the Soviet Union collapsed and disbanded its police, they were immediately hired as private security, and things went rapidly downhill from there.

    But in related news, my worries about bands of former DEA, CIA, NSA, FBI, DOJ, cops, and prison guards roaming the streets with pipes in their hands and robbing us is not at the top of my list. I consider it grossly unfair to tell sick people (addicts, mmj patients, etc…) to wait (and keep buying on the black market), or tell those unjustly imprisoned to wait, or the rest of us — and inordinate generations to come — paying for all this, to wait until we can come up with an acceptable plan to rehire drug warriors and “Top Secret America.”

  2. President Calderón has hinted that if the U.S. can't or won't reduce demand for illegal drugs, then we should look into alternative policies. It's becoming harder to ignore the lessons of alcohol prohibition when the war on drugs causes more deaths in Mexico each year, and certainly more than the drugs themselves cause. Many if not most Americans support marijuana decriminalization. Once that proves successful, we may be able to improve the policies on other substances as well. By the way, the spelling should be "Plan Colombia".


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