Friday, November 26, 2010

Boo to boots on the ground

Edward Schumacher-Matos said the unsayable when he recommended that it was time for Mexican elites and the military to call in the U.S. Marines. Mexican editorialists will be up late tonight, drafting heated replies, and Schumacher-Matos is not wrong to fault them for clinging to a nationalism forged during the nineteenth century in the wake of the U.S.'s devastating show of force, although it's really more a cultural tick, much like our need to compulsively talk about bringing democracy to the world. But Schumacher-Matos is off the mark when he defends Secretary of State Clinton's remark conflating the narcos and a growing (and by the way--nonexistent) insurgency. That's what stuck in the craw of the Mexican intelligentsia, as it is fairly obvious that no one out there in the campo is offering any sort of political alternative a la the guerrilla in Colombia several decades ago, and while the leading narcos occasionally engage in the some populist hospital-building or vigilante justice, neither has anyone been fooled into thinking that the cartels themselves are offering a political alternative. They don't need to, as they are part and parcel of the existing political system, even if Calderon had the poor grace to go and rock the boat by actually aspiring to bring them to justice. It's easy from the comfortable perspective of the U.S. to stand in judgment of the precarious position in which the Mexican state now finds itself. The study Schumacher-Matos cites, on the growing threat that the cartels pose to states within the hemisphere, appears to build on a concept, that of the "captive state," that has been a fashionable alternative to the highly inaccurate notion of the failed one for some time here in Mexico. The corruption issue, the other side of the coin of some (imagined?) debate Schumacher-Matos suggests is occurring in the U.S. on what to do about its southern neighbor, might better be understood as complicity, both willing and coerced, as the influence of the narcos has penetrated virtually every aspect of Mexican life, even if there is still much more than narco-trafficking to Mexico today, a point easily forgotten if one relies upon the U.S. media for one's perspective. But retaining one's honesty and integrity as a public servant, or even as a private citizen today in Mexico is far more complicated than what most gringos can imagine, and in many cases, might well be suicidal if one has been approached by the narcos. Perhaps only someone who takes it at face value that Plan Colombia has indeed succeeded, regardless of the costs (which were not merely financial) or the rather obvious fact that the Colombian cartels still exist, still produce most of the cocaine consumed on the planet through their control of poppy production throughout the Andean countries, and still exert tremendous influence, whether financial or otherwise, within Colombia, can suggest that a few boots on the ground will make the difference here in Mexico.