Counterinsurgency is not the answer for Mexican drug cartels
Mexican drug cartels are not an insurgency, argues guest blogger Patrick Corcoran, and thus a US counterinsurgency campaign in Mexico probably wouldn't solve the country's crime problems.
Some in Washington are calling for a counterinsurgency strategy against Mexico's drug gangs – this not only misrepresents the security situation in that country, but its proponents have provided no good arguments for the move.Skip to next paragraph
In surprise landslide, Jamaican opposition wins back power
Parading back to Rio de Janeiro: the bookish and brainy
After dramatic 2011 in Cuba, will US-Cuban policy shift in 2012?
Boom goes the churro: Chilean court upholds damages for exploding sweets
Why did Hugo Chavez spam Venezuelans on Christmas?
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
The most prominent recent advocate of counterinsurgency, or COIN, is US Rep. Connie Mack (R) of Florida, who used a Congressional hearing earlier this month to call for a revamped Merida Initiative that would be based on COIN, and presumably include a far larger role for the American military. Some analysts outside the government have made similar pronouncements, while Secretary of State Hillary Clinton famously referred to an "insurgency," comparing Mexico to Colombia at the height of its conflict with guerrilla groups.
But these voices are mistaken. One clue that COIN is not the appropriate philosophy for Mexico is that the nation is not suffering from an insurgency. Insurgencies are political movements that seek to extract concessions from the government, or the government’s downfall, through violence. The Mexican gangs are motivated by profit, and have no visible ideological agenda. Their only political goal is weaker law enforcement.
IN PICTURES: Mexico's drug war
A counter to this assertion could be offered by gangs like the Familia Michoacana and its offshoot, the Caballeros Templarios, as well as some traffickers' use of pseudo-religious icons like Jesus Malverde (a Robin Hood-like figure) and Santa Muerte (Holy Death). In an era where the best known insurgencies have been led by Islamic extremists, it does not require a great deal imagination to conceive of a religiously motivated drug gang morphing into an insurgency.
But imagination notwithstanding, there’s simply zero evidence of such a scenario. Mexican groups’ religious patina is just that, not a guiding philosophy. While gang members use religious icons as a sort of good-luck charm, nothing that has happened over the past five years suggests that Santa Muerte or any other religious figure has an appreciable role in any gang’s operations.
It’s also worth noting that hearts and minds, famously the battleground of insurgencies, are not in play in Mexico. While President Felipe Calderon’s popularity has declined in recent years, the citizens he represents overwhelmingly favor the government in its aggressive combat of organized crime. The proportion of Mexicans who support the use of the army against organized crime is somewhere between between 74 and 83 percent, depending on which poll you use – this serves as a good proxy for support for the government, given the prominence of the issue. Eighty-eight percent of the respondents to a September 2010 poll by the firm BGC expressed support for aggressive combat of the nation’s drug traffickers.