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Why a truce between Mexico and the drug cartels makes no sense

After the latest massacre of Mexican citizens, former President Fox said authorities should seek a truce with the gangs – a suggestion that isn't feasible, says guest blogger Patrick Corcoran.

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However, in recent years, the major groups have fractured further into dozens of smaller gangs. In addition to longstanding major networks like the Familia Michoacana, the Beltran Leyvas, the Sinaloa Cartel, and the Zetas, there are upstarts like the Jalisco Cartel - New Generation, the Independent Cartel of Acapulco, and the South Pacific Cartel. The rise of the domestic drug market has ushered into existence scores of well armed local groups, capable of defending their turf against outsiders.

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The proliferation of actors makes a peace deal much harder to enforce. The industry is governed by imperatives of self-defense and retaliation, and so if one gang defies the truce, its competitors will likely follow suit, kicking off a chain reaction of violence that would obliterate the agreement. This downward spiral becomes far more likely with the addition of each extra group. Recent events bear this out: According to various reports, the government has tried to foster a truce between the different warring groups on a number of occasions during the Calderon presidency (though without the promise that the government will back off), but these have always failed.

Today’s more adversarial political dynamic would also make a pact more tricky to maintain. Presumably, the president would be obligated to keep such a policy quiet. Doing so was far easier in the 1980s, when the long-ruling PRI controlled the political system at virtually every level across the country. Today, dominance is split between three major parties. Any attempt to negotiate a back-room deal with the capos would be far trickier for a president that has to worry about scandal-hungry and powerful opposition parties, not to mention a much larger and more aggressive group of muckraking journalistic enterprises, all eager to bludgeon the president.

At the most basic level, this reflects another major difference: Today Mexico truly is, for all its faults, a democracy, which couldn’t be said in the 1980s and most of the 1990s. This means that the leaders must be more in tune with what the populace wants, and poll after poll has shown that most favor an aggressive combat of organized crime, headed by the military, and not a truce.

That isn't to say that the government and the gangs couldn’t find a more peaceful equilibrium. Indeed, any real improvement in security depends on just such a development. But seeking an explicit truce with the gangs is not a practical way to make criminal groups more defensive and less violent and create a safer Mexico.

--- Patrick Corcoran is a writer for Insight – Organized Crime in the Americas, which provides research, analysis, and investigation of the criminal world throughout the region. Find all of his research here.

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