Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Drug war suggestions

I usually shy away from making suggestions on how to combat the drug war in Mexico, preferring to leave that to the policymakers. But a few things have struck me in recent weeks, so I thought I'd comment over the course of the next few days.

First off, I and others have argued against talk of the Colombianization of Mexico in the past. But Mexico is now at risk of becoming Colombianized, in the following way.

When Uribe took office in 2002, he faced one major challenge, and it wasn't making sure the cartels or FARC etc launched an insurgency. He needed to secure the country's main roads for economic purposes.

So he bought some tanks from Spain, which everyone laughed at because everyone knows tanks can't patrol Andean roads or jungles. And they sat outside Bogota, looking menacing to anyone (read: no one) who wanted to take on the capital.

But Uribe did eventually secure the roads, particularly the one from Medellin to Bogota, and trade picked up.

Calderon, when he took office, didn't face such a problem. He has pledged to invest $10.25 billion into highway construction, a promise which I have read is being followed up on, albeit slowly.

But at the same time, the government doesn't appear to control some of those highways. In Sinaloa, a new highway is being built from Badiraguato through to Chihuahua. I saw a gunman standing atop a hillside near the end of the currently paved road. Once built, the road will serve as a gateway for the drugs, not as a legitimate transportation route. (Admittedly, the two go hand in hand everywhere, so Mexico is not really an exception here.)

Dozens of attacks have occurred on highways throughout Mexico, often on major routes like Highway 16 – through Ojinaga – or Highway 45, which goes up through Ciudad Juarez.

The road from Mexico City to Monterrey has been blockaded several times in recent months; last week, two US agents were attacked along the route in San Luis Potosi. A Mexican military official told the AP that the military doesn't have checkpoints along the route.

It needs to. The Mexican military must prevent Mexico's roads from falling into the hands of the narcos. If they allow this to happen, then unfortunately, we will be able to talk about the Colombianization of Mexico. A few permanent checkpoints (you have to arm them well, given the narcos' propensity for attacking such outposts) will act as a deterrent, at the very least.

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