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tv   BBC Newsnight  WHUT  January 22, 2011 7:00pm-7:30pm EST

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>> welcome to "ideas in action," a television series about ideas and their consequences. i'm jim glassman. this week, is the drug war pushing mexico into chaos? lurid headlines in mexico have become a daily occurrence. mass killings and assassinations are on the rise as mexico's drug cartels battle each other, the police, and even the army. now, the u.s. military has begun training mexican troops to fight the cartels. should america get more involved in the growing unrest just over its southern border? joining me to discuss this topic are andrew selee, director of the mexico institute at the woodrow wilson center and adjunct professor of government at johns hopkins university; arturo alvarado mendoza, a fellow at the national endowment for democracy and professor of
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sociology at el colegio de mexico; and armand peschard of the center for strategic and international studies and ceo of a consulting firm for companies doing business in mexico. the topic this week--are drug cartels taking over mexico? this is "ideas in action." >> funding for "ideas in action" is provided by "investor's business daily." every stock market cycle is led by america's never-ending stream of innovative new companies and inventions. "investor's business daily" helps investors find these new leaders as they emerge. more information is available at >> every day, nearly a billion dollars' worth of goods and one
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million travelers legally cross the border between mexico and the united states. the 2 countries' economies, cultures, and populations are intertwined, and increasingly, so are its militaries. mexico is reeling from a violent drug war that has claimed at least 30,000 lives since 2006. that's when mexican president felipe calderon called in the mexican army to take on the drug cartel. now, u.s. military advisors have started training their mexican counterparts. what more can and should the 2 countries do to combat the drug violence in mexico? andrew, in january 2009, the u.s. joint forces command said-- i'm going to read this--warned that "mexico is at risk of becoming a failed state because of its ongoing, vicious drug war." now, was that hyperbole? >> i think it was hyperbole. i mean, we're looking at a country that has several parts under
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severe stress. violence is concentrated in the northern border near the united states, the main drug transshipment routes into the united states; some port areas around acapulco and elsewhere; and a few transshipment corridors. but most of the country's fairly peaceful. it is, you know, nowhere close to being a failed state, but there are parts of the country where the drug traffickers are going at each other with incredible violence, that are under great stress. and we shouldn't minimize that, but overall you could travel through most of mexico and not feel like there's a war going on, not feel like there's even the presence of this kind of violence that we see in the news. >> do you feel, arturo, that mexico's a failed state? >> no, i don't think so, either, but what i think is happening is that we're seeing--i mean, the implementation of a huge new federal policy trying to cope with a problem that has been producing, also, more violence that we could have expected on this issue. >> so, armand, so the policy itself is promoting more violence. is it the idea is this is temporary, then they're going
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to get it under control? >> well, you know, mexico's a relatively young democracy. they're in the process of strengthening the judiciary. in doing so, not only are they trying to strengthen the judiciary, the prosecutorial process, but the law enforcement institutions as well, and in doing so, they're going after organized crime. organized crime is very strong, it's a very lucrative business, and it's only natural that these interest groups would push back. >> is the mexican judiciary getting less corrupt? i mean, the view that we have here is, "whoa, these guys are really corrupt and a lot of them are in the pockets of the drug cartels." is that changing? >> it's--it's changing. it's an ongoing process. you know, the fbi has been involved in the administration of polygraphs, a vetting process. the u.s. government is helping the mexican government through its
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own technical assistance and trying to increase the integrity of these institutions. but, you know, it's not an easy process to undertake in mexico. >> let's step back for a second. how important is the relationship between the united states and mexico, economically, let's say? >> oh, it's huge. i mean, mexico--i don't think most americans realize how important it is. i mean, mexico is the second export market for the united states. i mean, this is, after canada, the second country that gets our exports. if we want to talk about reactivating the u.s. economy, how do we really double our exports, you know, in 5 years? mexico and canada are probably the 2 most crucial pieces. india, china, other markets don't take nearly as many exports. it is also, obviously, you know, border communities are enormously interdependent. if you look at all the border states--texas, california, new mexico, arizona--these are states who depend for their economic livelihood on production processes on both sides of the border and commerce between both sides. and, you know, if you look at our demographics, almost one in ten americans is of
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mexican descent today. we're deeply tied to mexico, both in terms of economics, but also in terms of our heritage. >> that's an amazing statistic. i mean, does that--that includes illegals? >> that includes illegals, but illegals are a really small piece of that, actually. we're talking about a--about 10% of americans have heritage in mexico; of that, about 2% or 3% of people here without documents. but the vast majority are people who were born in this country or who came to this country legally. >> so, arturo, so the united states has a major stake in what happens in mexico. not only is it close, but it's--we're economically dependent, we're culturally intertwined as well. >> in a way, and this interdependence is growing, and i would like to stress to that. for the mexican side, united states is the most strategic economic partner and also the most important commercial and political partner in the region. so this is a crucial relation,
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both for the governments and also for the business community and for the mexican society. >> and, you know, when you look at the economic statistics, mexico's actually doing pretty well. i mean, it has recovered from the recession-- >> not as much as-- >> and the stock market's going up. >> the stock market of mexico, it's in the way of getting recovered. a few weeks ago, there was a bond that was announced by mexico and it was almost immediately at the stock market in the united states, which is a sign that is--i mean, that the investment community in the world trusts that mexico has potential to grow and is an important economy in the world, which is a good indicator. but on the other hand, we're still on the back part of the recovery of the united states. the problem of narco traffic and organized crime, as he mentioned, is not just the simple issue about this war against drugs, but it's an issue about all the interweaved organizations and economic interactions that this organized
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crime has created in mexico for decades. >> armand, is this something new, this crime? or is it just accelerated or is it something we just haven't paid any attention to? >> no, i mean, organized crime has been in mexico for many years. part of what's happened is that when mexico was governed by a single party, one of the ways in which they dealt with organized crime was by arriving at pacts of coexistence. that's much more difficult to do in a democracy. mexico has become very plural. you no longer have a single party holding, you know, the presidency, the majority in congress, the majority of governorships and municipalities. now mexico's much more plural, and it's very difficult for one party to try to negotiate with organized crime, which was what was done in the past. >> so how is calderon doing, and what do the mexicans think of him? >> well, i tend to think that at
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the end of the day, he's doing well. this is not an easy battle. there are always going to be critics, there are always going to be setbacks, but comparatively speaking, i think that this is a government that has done more than any other previous government in terms of trying to push through the reform. it's not just the executive branch; the mexican congress, as well, has been supportive in this transformation. >> do you agree with that, andrew? do you think calderon's done a good job? >> i think he's done the right thing. i think he's done the only thing he had to, any president in his position would have had to to really step up. the other thing, you know, as drug cartels shifted their strategies from the caribbean to mexico, this was going to happen to whoever was sitting in that office right there, and so i think he's stepped up, he's been committed to this. that said, where they've moved slowly is on the judicial reforms, the police reforms, the kind of things that make it hard for organized crime to operate. i always say that you have, you know, the biggest
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consumer nation for drugs in the world, the united states, sitting next to a country with weak rule of law, mexico, that's just gone through a democratic transition. i mean, that's a recipe for disaster. mexico's done very well in going after some of the cartel leaders. they've had some real success in the last year. they've caught some of the biggest fish in the pond, but they haven't done as well yet in stepping up the pressure on reforming the police and the judicial system and prosecutors. you've still only got about 2% to 5% of major crimes that ever lead to a conviction and putting someone behind bars. if you're a hired killer, your chances of ever ending up behind bars is very low, which means there's huge incentives to continue doing what you're doing. if you're a drug trafficker, huge incentives to continue doing what you're doing. and on the other side of the border, in the united states, there's a lot more we could be doing to help calderon out as well, particularly following the money trail and the trail of weapons that are going southward and getting into the hands of the-- >> because the mexicans are complaining that they get all their weapons from the united states. they're saying, you know, "if you had tougher gun
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laws, we'd be better off." either of you think that's true? >> i mean, it might be better off. i'd like just to add one thing that is important to point out in this contemporary federal policy about organized crime, the war against organized crime--that there is strong impunity even now. i mean, the government has not really improved its policies and the development of their policies to improve and to reduce impunity. that's the first thing. the second thing that is important to note about this policy that has been implemented at the federal level is that, to begin with, there was no--i mean, forecast on how long this was going to take--still we don't know what is going on--and third, there is a systematic problem with violations of human rights of citizens. and citizens are still, i mean, on the dark-- on the dark room of all this thing. we are completely unprotected when you go to these wars because the wars are going on in the streets in mexico, in the border cities, in monterrey, and in other places-- >> you know-- >> this is a matter, an issue that was not forecast by the
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calderon government, and they have not done enough in order to really protect the citizens from these things. so this policy has to shift and to improve the security of the population, as well as for-- >> and does that affect the poor disproportionately? >> i think it affects most of the poor and the middle class in major cities in the country. one issue that you can see clearly, for instance, is in ciudad juarez, another border city. most of the people is migrating to the united states in order to protect themselves, protect their families. >> right, but they're protecting themselves against organized crime. they're not protecting themselves from government abuses. >> well, up to the point, no. but the problem with army and military police abuse goes all the way from middle to lower classes, and this is not stopping yet. there has been strong discussions at the level of congress about reforming the military, the military justice system, and also trying to bring up the military into civilian justice. we have not been able to really put this into, i mean, a legal, new settlement.
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>> and do you think--let me ask armand this question. is that a good idea? in other words, mexico is a federal system, like the united states, and there are problems with local police. would it be better if the federal government had played a bigger role, either through the federal police or through the military? >> well, that's, i think, what they're trying to do, is professionalize and try to weed out, for example, some of these lower-level police officers that have been on the payroll. they've been providing outsourcing security services for organized crime and the challenge for the federal government is how do you address that? and one of the ways in which they figure to do that is by trying to create a federal police that would be deployed at the state level to basically administer law enforcement operations at state and municipal levels. >> this also brings up the issue, which you raised earlier,
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of the role of the united states. so, during the bush administration, there was the merida initiative. is that still--what is that, and is it still robust, and is that a way to help mexicans in this-- in the law enforcement effort? >> well, i think we've had a real positive development. the merida initiative, which was announced by president bush and president calderon, was the idea of the u.s. supporting mexico with a package of aid, some hardware for the police and military, but also training for the judicial system, for the police, and for prosecutors, as well as some software inspectors, things you can even find--you know, weapons and drugs that are crossing the border. it's worked fairly well. it's moved slowly, but where it's worked most effectively is i think it's gotten the u.s. and mexico to go beyond blaming each other for the problem. in the past, people in mexico often said, "the u.s. is to blame," you know, "you guys are using the drugs up there. if you'd stop using drugs, we wouldn't have this problem." in the u.s., we look across the border and say it's a problem of corruption in mexico, you know, "if the authorities weren't corrupt, we wouldn't have this problem." we've moved beyond that and we're talking about shared responsibility. now, what that
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means depends on the day, but finally, we're talking about the fact that, wait a minute, this is not going to get better until we deal with the consumption side in the u.s., until we build rule of law in mexico. let's see what we can do together, and there seem to be some genuine efforts. where i think it's been most effective--the aid is flowing slowly, slower than it probably should, but it's flowing. but more importantly, i think there's a lot of information-sharing. particularly as these drug dealers move across the border, they've started to share intelligence about their movements, about where they hide out, where their money is located, so we're starting to see some captures of leaders and captures of money that we didn't see in the past. we're starting to see some capturing of weapons, though not as much, and so i think we've seen a cooperation that's increasing in a positive way. could it go a lot deeper? yes. i mean, i think we're at the beginnings of this. for mexico, there's a lot of distrust of the u.s. and, you know, sort of the traditional "the big country to the north," and i think in the u.s., there's sort of a distrust. you know, where is corruption? in mexico. if you share information, how is it going to be used? but then, where they have the successes, the more they move forward.
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>> arturo, this issue of demand for drugs in the united states-- i agree. the blame game doesn't help anybody, but the fact is-- >> it does not help in the end. >> right, but the fact is that this is a critical element in this entire puzzle. >> yeah. >> is there something that the united states could do on either legalizing drugs, for example, or being tougher on drugs to help the situation in mexico? >> well, i mean, you can take it not only for the united states, but also for the mexican case because drug consumption in mexico--illegal drug consumption--is growing. i mean, a very steady, fast pace, which is another problem that we are facing, and there is no policy for that. legalizing illegal drugs. now, it's a very complex process because you will not only legalize the consumption, but there is the whole, i mean, production chain that you really have to look backwards. >> all right, so you're saying that if you legalize consumption, but production,
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unless you change that into higher-- >> entire chain. >> supply chain. >> now, the other policy that i think that both countries are not implemented to the full length and ability that we have is prevention policies, which is the major point in here. and so you not only have to fight the organized crime, which you would have to do anyway, but you also have to develop policies that will prevent younger persons and adults, too, of getting involved and consuming illegal drugs, because this is not only a policy about illegal drugs. it's also about human trafficking, which is very--it's very important and it's the second most important [indistinct] business-- >> yeah, what about-- >> in this thing, and from that, smuggling and other issues that are important. >> there is a tremendous amount of human trafficking, the exploitation, especially, of women. i know it takes place a lot in texas. is there anything--what's the relationship there? >> well, i mean, you know, i look at organized crime
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as multinational corporations that have multiple divisions, business lines. drug trafficking is one, human trafficking is another, contraband is another, arms smuggling is another. and so, at the end of the day, you know, if you want to take--to tackle organized crime and the drug smuggling, or organized crime involved in human trafficking, you still have to go after these organizations. >> you know, a lot of americans believe that there is a problem with secure borders. so if the border between the united states and mexico, which is 1,950 miles, were somehow made secure, would that have an effect on any of these problems? >> you know, i personally don't think--i think it's more of a political solution. you know, i think it plays well with the public. unfortunately, i don't think it's very effective. you have to strengthen the intelligence-gathering capability on both sides of the border to give the law
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enforcement the information to be able to carry out transnational operations, sting operations that not only dismantle some of these illicit activities, but that gets you the intelligence necessary to secure prosecutions. and the u.s. and the mexican government have started to, as andrew mentioned, share intelligence and there's been operations on both sides of the border. but, in my opinion, it's not enough. they are moving in the right direction, and that's where i think the focus has to be. >> there's a real diminishing return, i think, for spending money at the border. the more boots on the ground at the border, probably the less efficient. i mean, the more boots on the ground--if you want to, you know, really go after drug traffickers, you have to hit them in monterrey, nueva leon, then you have to hit them in atlanta, georgia, and not just at the border, and we haven't done that. we actually keep spending on the border and we don't spend in atlanta and monterrey. >> let me also make a point. we also have to be mindful that, at the end of the day, just sending forces to the border is
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also going to increase their exposure to organized crime. and we are kidding ourselves if we think that it's only mexican forces that are vulnerable to corruption. these organizations handle, you know, millions, if not billions, through their various business lines, and they're paying off officials on both sides of the border. >> and a million people cross the border every day. >> yeah. >> and a billion dollars' worth of goods, so it's got--it's a lot. it's very hard to control that. the u.s. military is getting involved in mexico, as you mentioned. is that something that mexicans are concerned about? >> i think very much so, although the u.s. military has been very reserved in how they do this. i mean, there isn't really a u.s. military presence in mexico at all, and i don't think mexicans would ever accept that. i mean, there is a sense, given the history between our 2 countries, there is a strong sense of sovereignty in mexico; i mean, willingness to work
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closely with the u.s., but not to go that far. but there is military training going on, i mean, mexicans coming up to the united states, meeting with people who have experience. there is some experience being shared from afghanistan and elsewhere. and, actually, i think one of the most exciting things in this relationship-- because we're such close countries, i mean, you're seeing judges, attorneys general, i mean, a whole state attorneys general, prosecutors, who are going down to mexico, training their counterparts, bringing their colleagues up for training to see how the u.s. judicial system functions. and i think that's actually some of the most exciting exchanges going on. >> is there a concern among mexicans, though, about military mission creep? >> yeah, there is strong concern, i mean, in the public opinion, in society, as well as in the military. most of the military, i mean, groups inside the groups are--i mean, will never accept the physical presence of u.s. army troops or even training operations in mexico. >> insofar as the successes in bringing down some of these capos, these cartel figures,
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it's not just been the mexican federal police. the mexican army and the mexican navy have had some successes, and they are in this fight, and what the u.s. is trying to do is trying to help them to mature, as well, institutionally. >> i want to ask all 3 of you how you see the future, beginning with andrew. you all 3 said you don't think that mexico's on the verge of being a failed state, but do you think that the battle against the narco terrorist, let's call them, is improving? are things getting better? will things get better over the next year or two, or does mexico risk falling into chaos? >> i don't think mexico risks falling into chaos at all. i mean, but i think the price of the government getting better in their strategy is that things will get worse on the ground for a while. the more that they can get some of the bad guys and put them behind bars, the more you create fights among the different cartels. i mean,
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what we've seen, that most of the violence is really drug traffickers going after drug traffickers. and they're more than drug traffickers. as armand said, they're involved in all sorts of businesses, but these organized-crime groups going after each other, that's the real bulk of the violence. this is going to increase; the more they get some of the top leaders, the more there's going to be leadership fights within these groups, the more they're going to split off, so this is going to be bad for a very long time. i think the challenge in the long term for the violence to go down is when you start to see people actually arrested, prosecuted, and put away in jail in credible trials. and i think mexico is still a long way off from that. i think they're working on it hard, but it's going to take, you know, 5 or 10 or 15 years before we can say the police are completely credible, people feel comfortable going to the police, they know their prosecutor's always doing the right things, and the court system is fair. when that happens, you'll start to see drug traffickers be very careful about their actions, like we do in this country. >> and by the way, we do have extradition from mexico... >> yes. >> of some of the worst drug traffickers... >> which has been very effective, very effective. >> and that's what they're
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really scared of. >> and actually, for the top drug traffickers, they really are getting them and sending them to the u.s., and they're starting to fear that. >> armand, briefly, how do you see the future? >> i'm positive, because at the end of the day, mexico is in this process of transformation, trying to strengthen the judiciary. i think it's important for us to realize that it's in our best interest here in the united states to make sure that mexico's successful in that transformation. we talked earlier about the economic interdependence. our future here in the united states is tied to the future of both canada and mexico. i kind of look at it as a neighborhood, and we really need to look at helping mexico to continue through this transformation. >> and i should add that right now, the mexican economy is actually growing faster than the u.s. economy. arturo, how do you see the future? >> yeah, i'm also positive about the--i mean, the future. i see several transformations that are important on the ground that are going to start having some effects, not in 50 years.
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i would say that in between 3 and 5 years, we will start looking at effects. the longer the federal government involves itself in this military and police war, there's still going to be violence. but i think, in a year or 2, we're going to see major crackdowns on the organized crime. i mean, they are disrupting the routes, they are disrupting the way they have been working in cities, and even though they have to reveal the cities, reveal the institutions, the basic institutions to police, the municipalities, the local governments, i mean, they are doing a major job in this thing and we're going to see some changes, i think, by the end of this administration of calderon. >> thank you, arturo... >> thank you very much. >> thank you, andrew... >> pleasure to be with you. >> and thank you, armand. >> thank you. >> and before we go, i want to remind viewers that you can catch "ideas in action" whenever and wherever you choose. to watch complete shows, just go to our web site,, or download a podcast from the itunes store.
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and that's it. for this week's "ideas in action," i'm jim glassman. thanks for watching. >> for more information, visit us at funding for "ideas in action" is provided by "investor's business daily." every stock market cycle is led by america's never-ending stream of innovative new companies and inventions. "investor's business daily" helps investors find these new leaders as they emerge. more information is available at this program is a production of grace creek media and the george w. bush institute, which are solely responsible for its content.
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