Halting drug war corruption: What Mexico can learn from Colombia
As Mexico struggles to contain its drug traffickers and endemic corruption, Colombia, which has long developed strategies to confront both, may provide a guide.
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Long traditions of corruption
Colombia and Mexico have long traditions of corruption, creating a permissive atmosphere for trafficking and organized crime, says Francisco Thoumi, an economist in Colombia who studies drug trafficking’s economic and social impact.Skip to next paragraph
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Like Colombia’s Uribe, President Calderón has made security a cornerstone of his presidency, launching a military-led crackdown on drug traffickers upon taking office in December 2006. He has promised a two-pronged approach – to root out corruption as well – by retraining the police and revamping the justice system. But if the crackdown in Michoacán, Calderón’s home state, is the leading edge of his effort, it’s failing, say critics.
Reginaldo Sandoval, the president of the Labor Party in Michoacán and a critic of Calderón, says traffickers continue to corrupt politicians, especially in the form of campaign financing. “The power they have is incredible,” says Mr. Sandoval. “Politics here is completely contaminated.”
Traffickers also wield influence through intimidation, not just with their deep pockets.
Sandoval himself was briefly kidnapped in June 2008, when gunmen burst into party headquarters posing as federal police. “When I asked to see their badges, they pulled out their guns,” Sandoval says. He was blindfolded and held for 16 hours – until his family paid a ransom – and warned to keep a low profile.
It is still unclear if drug gangs will follow the same stages in Mexico as they have in Colombia. “The evolution of corruption is difficult to predict,” says Mr. Thoumi. And as someone once quipped, he adds, there’s a major difference between the two nations: “In Colombia, drug traffickers want to become politicians; in Mexico, politicians want to become drug traffickers.”
Many Mexicans suspect official corruption goes deeper than has been made public, and the sweep in Michoacán only hints at how many politicians moonlight for organized crime. Many suspect the government has not launched sweeps in other troubled states because the state wouldn’t be able to handle the aftermath. “[Michoacán] is just the tip of the iceberg,” says Pedro Isnardo de La Cruz, a security expert at National Autonomous University of Mexico.
According to a study by Buscaglia, organized crime – including drug smuggling, prostitution, and two dozen other areas – affects 63 percent of Mexico’s municipalities.
In Michoacán, for now, the traffickers seem to be co-opting local politicians. “Michoacán is not a failed state, but it’s a state where there is dual sovereignty,” says George Grayson, an author of the new book “Mexico: Narco-Violence and a Failed State? “You have the elected governments; parallel to that, you have the cartels.”