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Seven Ideas for Defeating Drug-Related Violence in Mexico

February 17, 2010

by Arjan Shahani

As headlines continue to report a tale of horror, violence and massacre in what had seemed to be a peaceful country, a growing debate stirs on whether or not Mexico’s government stands a chance to win the war on drugs.

The general consensus is that President Felipe Calderón has inherited a cancer that the Partido Revolucionario Institucional(PRI regime) had contained through institutionalization of corruption. This is a cancer that former President Vicente Fox was unable to effectively cope with when he took office, ending the PRI’s hold on power. Now Felipe Calderón is trying to get rid of this disease by beating it with a big stick and empowering the military to crack down on criminal organizations such as the Zetas and Beltrán Leyva’s group , but as Ana María Salazar has stated recently, “Mexicans are paying a huge price

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Calderón’s war on drugs seems limited if the goal is to effectively address the complex issue of drug-related violence. A recent conversation I had with a group of Thunderbird School of Global Management and Tec de Monterrey postgraduate students proves there are at least seven more ideas that the President should consider incorporating into his strategy:

1. A hard line political and militarily line is needed, but we should recognize this is not the path to a solution. This part of the strategy should be seen as mere containment. Just like the Planarian worms if you try to cut the head off a criminal organization, it will grow back and sometimes even multiply , but you need to keep doing so to prevent the worm from growing stronger.

2. Strengthen the rule of law. Don’t just prosecute dealing. Make possession and consumption outside of tolerance areas punishable by law. Help law enforcement not just by providing better salaries, but by providing the means for officials to get access to credit and health insurance. Bring the police back to your side. Work with U.S. law enforcement and border officials to crack down on arms trading.

3. Accept that the problem is not going to go away entirely. Create drug-use and related industry tolerance zones (relocate casinos and gentleman’s clubs) and tax entry to these areas. Inject the funds allocated though taxation of unhealthy habits into the comprehensive strategy to combat drug-related violence.

4. Create an alliance with the media. Get the national media to understand that its sensationalism is hurting Mexico’s reputation worldwide. Most of Mexico is not facing the level of violence of Ciudad Juarez, but the printed press is making it out to be that way. Responsible, objective coverage is needed to avoid a contagion effect with creative yet less powerful deviants.

5. A comprehensive strategy to strengthen education. This does not relate to the naïve idea that educated people don’t do drugs. However, better schools give children the tools to go out into the world and to have better possibilities of succeeding with an honest job. Investing in education does not just mean a “Don’t do drugs” campaign. It should be seen as a long-term strategy to make it harder for drug dealers to recruit “mules.”

6. Make the economy work for you. Drug consumption in Mexico became relevant when the U.S. economy dropped and security tightened to the point where profit margins for drug sales plummeted in the U.S. market. It will be way more effective to figure out ways to cut their margins in Mexico than it will be to capture or kill a drug leader and wait for the next one to come along.

7. Make it easier for businesses to become your allies. Instead of overtaxing private enterprise, the government should provide incentives to grow. This creates more jobs. People with full-time jobs that are fairly paid have neither the time nor the need to engage in illicit activity. Help business by running an international public relations campaign. Just like he recently did in Japan, Calderón needs to become a better spokesperson and attract foreign direct investment back into Mexico. Volume drops resulting from the recent crisis have temporarily leveled the playing field with regard to China. This window of opportunity is closing and Calderón needs to act on it now.

Mr. President, you need to be more intelligent and creative than they are.

*Arjan Shahani is a contributing blogger to AmericasQuarterly.org. He lives in Monterrey, Mexico, and is an MBA graduate from Thunderbird University and Tecnológico de Monterrey and a member of the International Advisory Board of Global Majority—an international non-profit organization dedicated to the promotion of non-violent conflict resolution.

Tags: Felipe Calderon, War on drugs, PRI, Vicente Fox

To speak with an expert on this topic, please contact the communications office at: communications@as-coa.org or (212) 277-8384.
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