Date Added: 2010-04-25
Date Modified: 2010-04-25
The State of Mexico
Silver Donald Cameron
document 17 of 17
Viewing the world from Nova Scotia
Silver Donald Cameron
25 April 2010
The State of Mexico
A failed state, says George Friedman, "is one in which the central government has lost control over significant areas of the country, and the state is unable to function." Last year, he thought that Mexico was approaching the status of a failed state. Now he's not so sure. And his analysis is extremely interesting.
Friedman is the head honcho at an outfit called Stratfor, which provides political, economic and military analysis to investors, leaders and others. Last year, he noted that the Mexican government had essentially lost control of northern Mexico to drug-smuggling organizations. The central government was "weakened to the point that decisions made by the state against the cartels are not being implemented or are being implemented in a way that would guarantee failure."
That's still true. But Friedman now believes that the Mexican state has "accommodated itself to the situation." Rather than failing, it has developed strategies designed to maximize the benefits of the drug wars.
The basic problem is that the United States represents an enormous market for drugs -- cheap products, easily made, but worth a fortune precisely because they are illegal in the US. The effects of prohibition are worse than the effects of drugs themselves, including 5000 murders just this year in Mexico. So we've lost the "war on drugs." If drugs can't even be kept out of maximum-security prisons, how can they possibly be kept out of the state of Texas?
The result is a dazzling business opportunity -- a market of desperate users willing to pay almost anything for a product that costs pennies to manufacture. Unsurprisingly, the drug industry has pretty much taken over northern Mexico, where drug militias are perpetually shooting it out over market share.
But, says Friedman, the core of Mexico is far away from the lawless, arid highlands along the US border, and the drug business brings in $35 to $40 billion annually. About 80% is sheer profit. Lakes of cash, sloshing about the country in the middle of a recession, are tremendously helpful to the Mexican government. Why would it shut down the drug trade even if it could?
And so, says Friedman, Mexico makes formal, feeble efforts to stop the drug trade. It discreetly reminds the Americans that drugs are fundamentally an American problem, reliant on the illegality of drugs and the unslakeable demand of US consumers for them. If the US decriminalized drugs, prices would plunge and the trade would dry up overnight. In that spirit, the former presidents of Brazil, Columbia and Mexico recently called for the US to re-define drug use as a public health matter rather than a criminal one. Fat chance. If you thought health care was divisive, just try legalizing drugs.
What can the Americans do? Attempting to stamp out the drug trade by force clearly hasn't worked. Decriminalization won't happen. The US could invade Mexico, bleeding its treasury in yet another hopeless war while turning the drug lords into patriots -- which is roughly what has happened in Afghanistan. Or it could bluster and froth while implicitly accepting the present situation. That has been the actual US policy for years, and will be for the foreseeable future.
Meanwhile, says Friedman, "if massive amounts of money pour into Mexico as a result of this U.S. failure, Mexico is not going to refuse it." Mexico is not a failed state but a clever one, stick-handling adeptly between realities and rhetoric, and prospering in the process.
All very depressing -- and its implications are even more depressing. Here's a problem that's destroying the very fabric of several nations -- enriching thugs, dissolving civil society, and turning vast regions into war zones. The rot and bloodshed could be stopped in an instant by a simple change of policy. Everybody knows this -- the cops, the robbers, the Mexicans, the Americans, everybody. And yet it doesn't happen.
In a global and ecological perspective, the Mexican-American drug dance is a minor regional issue, entirely under human control. It's nowhere near as complex or difficult as ocean acidification, atmospheric change, the decline of biodiversity. If human societies can't solve a problem like that, what chance do we have of solving the really big problems of our time?
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I'm Silver Donald Cameron, a professional columnist and author. My most recent books are Sailing Away from Winter, and The Living Beach. For more about me, go to www.silverdonaldcameron.ca
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