Colombia offers clues for solution to Mexico drug war
The Mexico drug war is pushing officials to take heed of Colombia, which made progress with social welfare programs and acknowledgment that force alone doesn't work.
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During a visit to Mexico this spring, US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said that the Mérida Initiative, the three-year, $1.3 billion US aid package to help Mexico fight organized crime, will expand to emphasize community fortification.Skip to next paragraph
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"We are expanding the Mérida Initiative ... because it is not just about security," Ms. Clinton said. "Yes, that is paramount, but it is also about institution-building. It is about reaching out to and including communities and civil society, and working together to spur social and economic development."
Security comes first
But challenges persist in Mexico, including a debate that's familiar to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan: Should security or development come first? Edgardo Buscaglia, a leading security expert at Mexico's Autonomous Institute of Technology, says that strengthening civil society is crucial to winning the fight. But Mr. Buscaglia doubts the effort can succeed if Mexico does not first improve security – as was done in Colombia.
Colombian President Álvaro Uribe did not plunge nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) into the fight until a degree of public security was restored by going after mafia assets and holding accountable public officials for suspected collusion.
"Uribe made sure that there was a basic level of safety, with his new approach, so NGOs could work within cities," says Buscaglia. "Once [perpetrators of] organized crime [are] hampered in their daily operations, when they cannot move, store, kill as much as before, then you generate a social environment in which you can work on social prevention."
Mexico is a much larger country than Colombia, with a federalized system that makes nationwide programs harder to implement uniformly. Mexico also has hundreds of law enforcement agencies, unlike Colombia's single force. And with long-held suspicions about American intent, Mexico will also reject outright the kind of US military cooperation that Colombia depended so heavily on.
But incorporating a "softer approach" is considered the right formula for moving forward. "I think they realize that one of the drivers behind the success of organized crime is the fact that they do fill an economic void in the regions where they operate," says Armand Peschard-Sverdrup, a senior associate at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington.
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Why It Matters: Mexico's initiative to model its drug-war strategy on Colombia's may quell rising violence there. It also raises a question that echoes one now being asked in Iraq and Afghanistan: Should security or development come first in a nation's push for democracy?