TOPICS > Politics

U.S. Cash Fans the Flame of Mexico’s Drug Violence

June 16, 2010 at 12:00 AM EST
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For more on the deadly war that rages along the U.S.-Mexico border and the United States' role in fueling the drug trade, Ray Suarez talks with Allert Brown-Gort of Notre Dame University and Andrew Selee of the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars.
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RAY SUAREZ: For more on the escalating violence, we’re joined by Andrew Selee, director of the Mexico Institute at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, and Allert Brown-Gort, associate director of the Institute for Latino Studies at the University of Notre Dame. He is a citizen of both Mexico and the United States.

And, Allert Brown-Gort, let me begin with you.

Was the president pushed to speak to his countrymen on television by this sudden upsurge in violence?

ALLERT BROWN-GORT, Institute for Latino Studies director, University of Notre Dame: Oh, I think very much so, because one of the things that is important to remember is that it is the perception that is — that is so important here, the perception of insecurity that is driving this.

RAY SUAREZ: Indeed, Andrew Selee, the Mexicans call it “la inseguridad,” the lack of safety. Why do you think Calderon went to the country last night?

ANDREW SELEE, Mexico Institute Director, Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars: I think he’s facing a situation where he’s waging an all-out war on drug cartels, trying to do some very interesting things that Mexico probably needs, taking on organized crime, trying to make some important institutional reforms.

But he hasn’t really brought Mexican society along with him. And there’s some skepticism about whether this is a war that is being won or last. And I think he’s now trying to reach out, trying to build a bridge to citizens, and say, this is about the security in your communities.

And we will have to see if it’s too late or if he’s actually able to build a larger consensus around what he’s trying to do.

RAY SUAREZ: Allert Brown-Gort, the violence has been ongoing for several years now. Can you give us some insight into what’s fueling this sudden upsurge, both in the ferocity and in the death toll of these crimes?

ALLERT BROWN-GORT: Well, I think one of the things that we should see is — but we really don’t know right now whether we’re at a tipping point or not.

But, if we were to ask the government, I think the government would tell you that it is exactly the success of the work that they have been doing that has pushed criminal organizations into confrontation with one another, into an increased competition.

One of the points they keep making is that so many of the deaths, so much of the violence is really between drug gangs or really the — the organized crime syndicates.

RAY SUAREZ: And does that seem like a plausible explanation to you, that the pushback is coming much harder because they’re actually pressing these gangs?

ALLERT BROWN-GORT: I think, certainly, that’s part of it. I think we — we see that there are all sorts of changes going on.

One of the things that we can’t take off the table is, what is happening in the United States that — that is responsible for part of this? What is the response of the United States, and are they being able — are they successful in also squeezing the drug cartels from this end?

RAY SUAREZ: Are they?

ANDREW SELEE: I think it’s starting. I mean, we have seen a real increase in cooperation between Mexico and the United States. I think we’re starting to see some efforts to go after the finances of drug traffickers on this end, some attempt, too, to go after — to try and address prevention and treatment of drug addictions, which would be…

RAY SUAREZ: But what about the hardening of the border? Has that contributed to this…

ANDREW SELEE: Very much so. I mean, I think you have seen a situation where the hardening of the border and the efforts the Mexican government have done also to make it harder to traffic drugs within Mexico has put a premium on controlling transportation routes.

And, so, the cartels are fighting over each other because it really — these things matter right now. It means a lot to control pieces of the border, control major highways, and to control ports within Mexico.

RAY SUAREZ: Allert, go ahead.

ALLERT BROWN-GORT: Well, I would say this. I think the hardening of the border, we should be careful that it isn’t only the question of fences.

One of the most important things that this government has done, that the Obama administration has done, Secretary Napolitano has done, is really to start putting resources in interrupting the flow of guns and money into Mexico. And I think that is — that potentially would have more of an effect.

RAY SUAREZ: Where is Mexican public opinion during all this? There was support initially, I understand, when the president escalated and militarized this war against the drug gangs. Now that we’re several years into it, where does it stand now?

ANDREW SELEE: I would say there’s support and skepticism.

I mean, people still think that President Calderon, for the most part, is doing the right thing, that it’s important to take on organized crime. This is a major issue. But they’re skeptical that the government has the capacity to do it.

And he — he’s almost in the position that President Obama was last night, where you need to make some sort of gesture that — that gains public sympathy if you’re going to step out there. And one thing that President Calderon might look at doing is — is, how do you go after some of the public officials that have aided and abetted organized crime or make some sort of gesture that brings citizens in?

Right now, people, I think, continue to think it’s the right thing to do for the most part. They may be skeptical about parts of the strategy, but they think it’s the right thing to do. But they’re not quite certain if the government is going to succeed. And I think Calderon is trying to say, we can succeed. You know, I need you with me. We need to do this together. And it remains to be seen if that will be successful.

RAY SUAREZ: Well, Professor, in Mexico, you only get one six-year term. We have spent fully half of the Calderon administration at this work. Has he staked his presidency on this?

ALLERT BROWN-GORT: Oh, I think very much so. I think this is really his legacy. He came into office very much believing in this fight. He has done much more than — than previous administrations to do this.

In fact, he — he spent a lot of time on his speech the other night talking about why he felt like he needed to take action. And, more importantly, I think, an interesting part of that speech was how much he — how careful he was to make sure that everybody understood that what he is really going after is personal security, what he’s really going after is the security of the average Mexican citizen, and not so much the fight against drugs. He tried to unlink that a little bit.

RAY SUAREZ: Andrew, both in his speech to Congress, in his essay in the national newspapers, and then in his speech on television last night, President Calderon reiterated his belief that American demand for drugs fuels most of his country’s problem.

And he called for more drug treatment in the United States, a shutoff of the flow of arms. Does this kind of thing play well in Mexico? Do Mexicans hear and that and thus are sympathetic to his plight?

ANDREW SELEE: I think so. I mean, I think it is something — I think, first of all, it’s crew. I mean, clearly, demand drives the drug trade.

I also say that it is a mixture of the world’s largest drug market, the United States, next to a country that has weak rule of law, in that case of Mexico, that has really created this problem. So, I think it rings true to Mexicans. It certainly shows that they’re not the only ones in this.

But it’s also good — it’s good politics and good policy, because he does need the United States to really invest in prevention and treatment of addictions. He needs the U.S. to do more on money-laundering, and he needs the U.S. to do more on arms trafficking, as well as a lot more intelligence cooperation and being able to share information.

And that’s happening. It’s gradually increasing, the ability to sort of track the traffickers as they move across the border.

RAY SUAREZ: Andrew Selee, Allert Brown-Gort, thank you both very much.