Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Hillary beat me to the punch: Mexico's Medellin moment

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton suggested today in a speech given to the Council on Foreign Relations that Mexico appears more and more like Colombia a couple of decades ago. This is a fairly obvious comparison, so the fact that I have been batting this idea around for a couple of weeks but had not yet gotten anything down in writing says less about my own analytical prowess and more about the zeitgeist of the drug war here and analysis of it back in DC. I should credit a New Yorker article by William Finnegan ("Silver or Lead" May 31 2010) for having triggered the thought on my part. His article described the activities of La Familia, a cartel active in Michoacan, whose ability to mete out justice in the stead of a weakened state made me think of a place I used to go to in Colombia, a tiny and beautiful town called San Agustin, in the early 1990s, where the locals described the guerrillas' (the FARC, if memory serves me right) role in very similar terms. In the absence of a fully functioning legal system, sometimes your best bet for dealing with an abusive husband or a petty thief was then and there, the FARC, and here and now, the narcos. Clinton's comparison is a difficult one, however, as the U.S. conflated the guerrilla and narcotraffickers in Colombia long before the guerrilla did indeed cross over into that line of business, for the obvious reasons of seeking a steady source of funding. Twenty, thirty years ago, the guerrilla were a far more respected element within Colombian society and very much at odds with the narcos. The most accurate comparison of Mexico today would be a more local one in Colombia, that of Medellin in the 1980s and 1990s, when the drug lords were duking it out and the common folk paid the price in bodies strewn along the roads on the outskirts of the city every morning (that description comes from a conversation with a taxi driver on such a road in that very same city, circa 1995). The guerrilla in Colombia then operated in different zones than the narcos rather than overlapping ones, although they have since taken the low road of kidnapping and narco-trafficking, and as a result, their politics have become murkier but their links to the narcos clearer. Perhaps one of the most interesting developments here, and by here I mean around Guadalajara, is the emergence of a narco-gang promoting some sort of political agenda, moving in apparently the opposite direction of the guerrilla in Colombia, from criminal activities to social activism. More on this to come....

No comments:

Post a Comment