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For the first time a senior American official has compared the Mexico drug war to an “insurgency” akin to the situation in Colombia in the 1980s, sparking tensions with Mexican officials who reject the comparison.
“[W]e face an increasing threat from a well-organized network, drug-trafficking threat that is, in some cases, morphing into or making common cause with what we would consider an insurgency, in Mexico and in Central America,” Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said at an event hosted by the Council on Foreign Relations on Wednesday. “It's looking more and more like Colombia looked 20 years ago.”
The BBC reported today that "comparisons have been made before between Colombia of the 1980s and Mexico today with regards to drug-trafficking. But never before has a senior member of the US administration made such an explicit comparison."
The United States has long expressed concerns about the worsening security situation south of its border as a result of the Mexico drug war, which has cost 28,000 lives since 2006 and long worried US politicians who fear it could migrate north.
Mexico’s security spokesman Alejandro Poire acknowledged that there are “some similarities” to Colombia. But Mr. Poire also said “there’s a big difference between what Colombia faced back then and what we are facing right now," Euronews reported. He added that America’s demand for illegal drugs is the root cause of Mexico’s problems. He also pointed to US guns trafficked to Mexican drug cartels as a serious concern.
The secretary of state’s speech came as the US is trying to decide if it will increase assistance to Mexico to combat the drug trade, leading to speculation that Washington is pushing to increase its presence in Mexico. Washington's three-year, $1.4 billion Merida Initiative to combat drug trafficking ends this year.
Among Mexican officials, there are serious concerns that Clinton’s remarks may be trying to lay the foundation for a US intervention in Mexico not unlike Plan Colombia. Under that anti-drug program, the US sent military forces to work with the Colombian army to break up drug cartels. The program has cost the US $7 billion and is widely controversial in Latin America.
“Whoever thinks Colombia is a cure-all, and if the United States thinks it is necessary to apply the same model to us they applied to Colombia, they are mistaken,” Mexican Senator Ricardo Monreal was quoted saying in the Guardian. He added that US assistance to Colombia had not brought an end to the drug trade there.
As Mexico struggles to contain ever-more-powerful traffickers, analysts say it could adopt lessons from Colombia. No one is claiming that Colombia has vanquished its drug cartels or stopped them from corrupting government officials. But its practices may provide a useful guide to Mexico’s own battles.
For example, says Edgardo Buscaglia, an organized-crime expert and professor at Mexico’s Autonomous Institute of Technology, Colombia has gone after the drug lords – and their assets. “Regardless of how many thousands of organized crime members you detain, the end result will always be determined by how much of the economic structure of organized crime you destroy,” he says. “This is exactly what you’ve seen in Colombia in the past five years.… In Mexico, nothing like that has even started.”
Meanwhile, US frustration has been mounting as authorities allege that corruption is a major hurdle in working with their Mexican counterparts to curtail the drug trade. In the Los Angeles Times today, Alonzo Pena, deputy director of US Immigration and Customs Enforcement, said Mexican authorities do not always act on intelligence provided to them by the US. Though Mexican law enforcement agencies may not always be responsive to such leads due to a more cautious approach, Mr. Pena says that often times the delay is “completely corruption” at work.
Clinton’s remarks came on a grim day for Mexico as armed gunmen killed Alexander Lopez Garcia, mayor of El Nranjo in northern Mexico, reported Al Jazeera today. He is the third Mexican mayor killed within a month. The town is next to the restive state of Tamaulipas, which was the scene of the drug-related killing of 72 migrants in August.