Saadi Gaddafi´s plan to seek refuge in Mexico is a direct consequence of the U.S. backed “war on drugs.” The effort to eliminate the drug cartels by brute force instead of through intelligent strategic planning has weakened Mexico´s institutions to such an extent that the country now has turned into a safe haven for international criminals. The typical knee-jerk reaction to such news, calling for increased military intervention to stop the “terrorists” and “insurgents” south of the Rio Grande, will only make things worse. It is high time for rational thinking finally to predominate over macho saber-rattling when dealing with the Mexican humanitarian crisis, which has taken more than 50,000 lives, displaced 230,000 persons and “disappeared” another 10,000 over the past five years.
The idea that Mexico´s President Felipe Calderón has conducted a “frontal attack” against the drug cartels is patently false. There are no signs that organized crime actually has been weakened since the present Mexican president came to power in 2006. To the contrary, the cultivation and use of drugs in Mexico has risen dramatically, organized crime groups now have more firepower than ever before, money is freely laundered in the country and the impunity rate has reached an historic high, with, at most, 5 percent of all crimes receiving punishment.
All that Calderón´s U.S. backed tactics have achieved is the detonation of an increasingly violent “arms race” in which the drug cartels need to kill more ruthlessly and bribe government officials more aggressively in order to maintain their market shares. As long as drugs remain illegal and assault weapons are freely available in the United States, the short-sighted militarized tactics implemented today will only lead to an increase in the carnage. In addition, President Barack Obama´s crackdown on illegal migration has had the effect of increasing the power of human smugglers linked to organized crime by making their services more needed and valuable than ever before.
The only way out is for the United States to invest in the future of North America by launching an aggressive economic investment and reconstruction program for Mexico, similar to the Marshall Plan in post-war Europe. Real per capita income growth has been almost nonexistent over the past three decades in Mexico. The recent global financial crisis has taken a heavy toll on the country, with the economy losing 6.1 percent of its GDP during 2009 alone. This has led to the creation of a vast reserve army of unemployed youth who are easy prey for the drug cartels.
The combination of economic crisis and increasing insecurity also poses political risks. According to this year´s LatinBarometer scores, only 23 percent of Mexicans are satisfied with the way in which democracy works. This puts Mexico in a dead tie with Guatemala for last place in Latin America. Mexicans are also worrisomely tolerant of the participation of the military in both law enforcement activities and politics. Only 53 percent reject out of hand the possibility of a military government taking power.
Instead of responding to this delicate situation by strengthening institutions and consolidating democratic politics, Calderón has stubbornly stuck to his guns and aggressively silenced his critics. For instance, through full-page spreads in leading national newspapers and prime-time interviews on TV news programs he has pounded his fist on the table and threatened to “take legal action” against the over 20,000 Mexican citizens who have brought a petition to the International Criminal Court in The Hague to investigate the probable commission of crimes against humanity and war crimes in the country. The petition asks the court to help combat impunity in Mexico by investigating the responsibility of both drug cartels and top government officials for the present situation. But instead of welcoming this international attention and support, the Mexican president has reacted like a typical authoritarian leader by publicly intimidating and discrediting the petitioners. Meanwhile, in the last week alone, two leading human-rights activists have been assassinated and another brutally assaulted precisely for reporting on crimes which involve government complicity.
On July 1, 2012 Mexico will elect a new president for a six-year term beginning the following December. Independently of who wins the election, this is a crucial historical moment to change the terms of the relationship between Mexico and the United States. The fact that Muammar Gaddafi´s son thought he would be able to hideout safely only a thousand miles from the U.S. border, speaks eloquently to the profound political decay south of the Rio Grande and the failure of the militarized “drug war” during the Calderón administration. It is time for the U.S. to stop blindly supporting the Mexican government´s heavy-handed authoritarian tactics, and change course to directly help the Mexican people in their struggle to construct a thriving new economic and political system.