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Could A Colombia-Style Peace Process Work In Mexico?

New President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador is calling for a paradigm shift in Mexico's war on hyper-violent drug cartels. Colombia's peace deal with the FARC may serve as a model.

Drugs in Mexico
Drugs in Mexico
Luis Rubio

-Analysis-

MEXICO CITY There is an immense temptation in Mexico to follow Colombia's path toward peace. The process there has not yet concluded. Nor does it enjoy universal backing. And yet, the Colombian experience is exemplary for its depth and solidity, both conceptually and in terms of the actual steps being taken. It is seeking not only to resolve the continent's most longstanding violent conflict, but to incorporate violent elements back into ordinary, day-to-day life.

I imagine this is what inspired the new governing team in Meixico to also consider a process of negotiation, pacification and transitional justice — the very same terms used for Colombia's negotiation process with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colmbia (FARC) guerrillas — although, in our case, this would mean cutting deals with organized crime.

The problem is that Colombia's circumstances are quite different to those of Mexico. In Colombia, there were two essential factors that made the peace process possible. First, over the course of three decades a succession of governments built up institutional capacities that fortified government, especially in its ability to act. They created a professional police corps and an independent judiciary that boosted the state's ability to negotiate and to deal with the results of any talks. Without the presence of a real state, the negotiations, led by the government of President Juan Manuel Santos (2010-2018), could not have happened.

These rights will protect the peace process in the long term

Second, the source of violence in Colombia was not drug trafficking, although that was a major component, but a guerrilla army that, over the course of 50 years, had settled into and controlled large swathes of the country from which it operated, carried out abductions, and killed. A guerrilla force is not the same as a criminal organization, despite the overlap in Colombia's case. The central issue in the Colombian talks was the existence of an alternative political project, and so the talks were not with criminals but a political entity — even though the FARC depended on drugs trafficking for revenue.

In contrast, our institutions in Mexico are weak, and there are no professional policemen to assure security or even administer the kind of Colombian-style peace process that is now being so pompously proposed. We do not have the judicial institutions, either in the form of a state prosecution service or a judicial branch, enabling us to speak of justice here in any sense of the word.

No less important is the fact that the Colombian government's initiative was highly ambitious, focused on citizens and especially victims, and aimed at creating a democratic political project firmly anchored in civil rights. These rights will protect the peace process in the long term and eliminate the resentments and hatred the conflict fomented over decades. In Mexico, the real challenge is more basic: to build the institutions Colombia could already count on, and to strengthen the democratic system as a whole.

Mexico, government, drug cartel, corruption, politics

The president-elect of Mexico, Andrés Manuel López Obrador, speaks to protestors at the Monument to the Revolution: —Photo: Eneas De Troya

Equally important is the fact that in Mexico, the putative negotiators on the other side are not politicians with a nation-building project (unlike the next government), but plain criminals. They are not guerrillas and their plans are not political. There may be a bit of this in the "self-defense" militias of Guerrero or the Zapatistas of Chiapas, but these are not the people behind the systematic threats and extortion against businesses in cities like Guanajuato or parts of Mexico City, or the murders of women in Ciudad Juárez. There is a lot to learn from the Colombian process but this learning clearly is absent among those in our country touting a pacification process or transitional justice for criminals.

Changing the focus is not just valid but necessary.

Pacification is a praiseworthy, necessary objective, but no substitute for a government's ability to do essential duties, namely govern and transmit certainty and trust to its citizens. After two six-year presidencies that have failed in their objectives to crush crime, changing the focus is not just valid but necessary, but only on the basis of a correct diagnosis of the nature of the problem.

The first step toward a solution must be to define the causes of violent crime in Mexico. Ultimately, while the solution might include negotiations and amnesties, its essence cannot revolve around the other side organized crime but our side, the government. At the end of the day, it is the weakness of the state that has allowed the expansion and proliferation of crime.

There are many possible, security-building models taking either districts or states of the federal republic as the primary or fundamental pillars of national security. But the diagnosis must come first, to ensure proper allocation of resources and create an effective and accountable security system. Yet the project one hears about in public debates shows one of our deep-seated tendencies: to break the eggs first, then look for a frying pan. There must be a better way.

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