Success in Mexico’s fight against drugs can’t be measured like a game of baseball, in which you simply add up the score at the end of nine innings. It’s a war with many fronts, and it requires a much different perspective. Drug trafficking is only one element of the larger problem: the reach of organized crime into every facet of our national life and economy.
Mexico has chalked up major victories—and will continue to do so, thanks to its multi-track approach that focuses not just on eliminating drug trafficking, but on building stronger law enforcement institutions and reinforcing our social fabric.
That would not have been possible without the engagement of both government and civil society. Thanks to the leadership of President Felipe Calderón and the work of groups such as Asociación Alto al Secuestro, led by Isabel Miranda de Wallace, and México SOS, headed by Alejandro Martí, we have come a long way.
In recent decades, the drug traffickers’ criminal business model has changed, and Mexico is bearing the brunt. Before, the primary goal of drug traffickers was securing an uninterrupted flow of drugs into the United States. But the sealing of cocaine trafficking routes through the Caribbean, the increased security on the U.S. border after 9/11, the mismanagement of Mexico’s economy from the 1970s through the 1990s, and the lack of professionalization in municipal and state police departments—among other factors—have led drug traffickers to seek control of a large variety of unlawful activities as a means of enhancing their earnings and competitive position in the criminal market. The end of the Assault Weapons Ban in the U.S. in 2004 has made this change all the more threatening to Mexico’s security.
Addressing this escalation of crime and insecurity required not only a plan for domestic action, but also recognition of the transnational dimension of the problem. That recognition has been the key to our comprehensive, multifaceted approach.
The National Security Strategy, launched in 2006, rests on three main tenets: severely weakening criminal organizations; massively and effectively reconstructing law enforcement institutions and the legal system; and repairing the social fabric through, among other things, enhancing crime prevention policies.
To date, there have been significant achievements.
Our enhanced intelligence capabilities and close collaboration with U.S. agencies have allowed us to arrest or kill 21 of the 37 most-wanted leaders of major criminal organizations. Moreover, Mexican authorities have seized over 9,500 tons of drugs that will never reach U.S. or Mexican children, and captured more than 122,000 weapons since 2006—most of which were bought in the United States.
At the same time, the professional caliber of Mexico’s Federal Police force has improved significantly through strict recruitment, vetting and extensive training—even as the force has grown nearly sixfold to 35,000 federal policemen. But it is not just a question of numbers; police intelligence capabilities have been reinforced by the recruitment of an additional 7,000 federal law enforcement intelligence personnel from top-level universities.
A new judicial framework is in place, thanks to the introduction of legal reforms designed to strengthen due process guarantees, provide fuller protection to victims and increase the efficiency and transparency of trials. Much of this has been the result of the introduction of oral procedures in the federal court system, which is expected to be fully implemented in 2016.
We have also achieved significant success in dismantling criminal financial networks. Authorities have confiscated a record amount of cash from the drug cartels—although more can still be done—and special investigative units are spearheading a national effort to combat money laundering. Currently, Congress is working on passing a bill aimed at increasing the capacity of the federal government to investigate and prosecute money launderers.
To improve Mexico’s social fabric, we have focused on the economic and social roots of crime and addiction since Calderón took office. We consider drug addiction to be a public health problem. Accordingly, national legislation has decriminalized personal consumption of drugs, while directing drug users to proper medical help.
Also, public spending devoted to addiction/prevention programs has more than doubled during the first five years of Calderón’s administration. Mexico now boasts the largest network in Latin America of centers for prevention and early treatment of addiction, with more than 330 units distributed throughout the country providing counseling, medical treatment and referrals to over 2 million people every year.
We have recovered thousands of public places—including parks, civic plazas and sports fields—through the improvement of infrastructure, recreational activities, citizen participation, and more effective security measures. This shared responsibility between federal and local authorities and community members provides people with safe places to gather and forge stronger social ties. We have also implemented the Safe School Program, where over 35,000 elementary and middle schools provide some 9 million young kids with a violence-free and addiction-free environment.
Mexico sits between the largest consumer of drugs to the north, and the largest producers of many of these drugs to the south. That gives us a special challenge. But all countries in the region need to coordinate their drug and crime interdiction programs if we are ever going to break the power of transnational criminal networks. The spread of these networks threatens not just Mexico but all of us in the region. Final success in the war against drugs can only be achieved when we tackle together the conditions that allow these networks to operate with impunity.