~ This op-ed was originally published by SinEmbargo on 4/20/17 ~
It has been ten years since Mexico declared war on narcotrafficking. In that span, thousands of dead and disappeared reveal, daily, the failure of that “strategy.”
The price has been tremendously high. No country should suffer so much unpunished bloodshed and pain.
The most serious problem is the lack of progress: organized crime continues to run rampant, powerful, and diversified. The 2017 Peace Index shows that 19 states have higher homicide rates than in 2011, the year experts refer to as the “year of the epidemic.” An epidemic that before was localized is now national.
Amid this atrocity, it seems schizophrenic to continue with the prohibitionist paradigm when more than half of the United States has begun to legalize marijuana. On January 1, 2018, California will do so, and I cannot imagine what will happen in Tijuana. How will the cartels react? What will the authorities do?
Meanwhile, the myopia is so powerful that the discussion no longer addresses solutions, but rather how to normalize the current state of affairs: how to regulate the behavior of the Army in the streets, rather than building an effective police force. Experts and activists have noted the failures and ambiguities in the proposed Interior Security Law that is currently in the senate.
In a text published in El Universal, Catalina Pérez Correa says it perfectly: “a responsible proposal on security matters would be accompanied by a plan to withdraw the military and, in parallel, develop the police forces.”
What is worrisome, and what academics and international organizations have noted, is the unconstitutional nature of the proposals. The problem is that unconstitutional policies are now the norm in many states: crime is fought with the army, not just working in collaboration with local police, but as the leaders of that fight.
In Sinaloa, using the understandable, true, but simultaneously insufficient claim that there is a shortage of police and those that remain are corrupted, Governor Quirino Ordaz deployed the military to the streets. He did so without discussion or engagement.
In Culiacán, you can see the camouflage uniforms riding on municipal or state police trucks. The military police patrol the state and directs the security operations.
It is a measure that is, by all lights, unconstitutional, to which citizens accede with an awful excuse: since we don’t trust the police, we hope that the army can contain organized crime. There’s no other option. It’s temporary.
But after four months, that has not happened. The bonds of trust between citizens and security forces are shattered.
Murders in Sinaloa have grown by double digits since 2016. The ruptures inside the Sinaloa Cartel have led to gunfights in Navolato, Culiacán, and Elota. Extremely dangerous prisoners escape through the front door of the Culiacán prison with ease, car robberies affect even judges, newly installed security cameras are destroyed by bullets, and a victim is thrown from a plane in Eldorado.
The message is clear: criminals are in charge. And they will do everything to remain in power.
Anxiety and fear reign, even in a society that has grown accustomed to living with a certain level of violence because it has no other option. A society that has decided to go blind to reality and which prefers to buy into the denials that the state authorities sell.
The central government’s support in security matters has been active in Sinaloa. General Cienfuegos has visited on repeated occasions to reiterate his support for the governor. He was pleased with the death of Francisco Zazueta, aka “Pancho Chimal,” the gunman responsible for the September 30 ambush of a military convoy.
“Pancho Chimal” was chief of security for the Guzmáns [particularly El Chapo’s son Ivan – ed.] and following his death was buried this week following a funeral procession featuring men firing rifles into the air, trained horses, and a live band. Authorities turned a blind eye to the bursts of gunfire as though it was something absolutely normal. The videos went viral, but the government looked away.
Ultimately, the mixture of violence is growing ever thicker in Sinaloa and elsewhere in the country. The most recent INEGI survey showed that citizen perceptions of insecurity were on the rise: 75% of the population feels unsafe.
I support what Genaro Lozano wrote in his column in Reforma this week: it is time to enter into a serious discussion about legalizing marijuana. It is time to stop dancing around a topic that is unavoidable.
Legalization would not eliminate organized crime, but it would remove some incentives. The tasks of security, of creating police forces, of guaranteeing justice, will remain, but at least we will have put one of the puzzle pieces into place. It is time to legalize, to try an alternate model, to be bold.
To keep debating the role of the military is to develop a costly medication for the wrong disease. We must be smart.
Adrián López Ortiz is the director general of Noroeste in Culiacán.
Translated by Michael Lettieri, Trans-Border Institute