What can Mexico learn from Colombia’s counter-insurgency successes?
Authorities have found as many as eight bodies dumped inside a well near the town of San Pedro de las Colonias as Mexico’s drug cartels continue their activities unabated by the recent arrest of a number of high-profile cartel leader such as Ignacio "Nacho" Coronel of the Sinaloa Cartel and Edgar "La Barbie" Valdez of the Beltran Leyva group. Dumping victims’ bodies in clandestine graves is a common practice for Mexico’s powerful drug cartels and provides current evidence that they seemingly have no immediate plans to scale down their insurgency.
Despite these recent counter-insurgency successes of the Mexican government, the cartels seem undeterred and not to have been weakened by the arrests. This supports the argument that Mexico needs to do more than simply arrest key cartel leaders, all of whom are soon succeeded by other members. Cartels in Mexico and throughout Latin America have now become far more powerful than any one of its individual leaders.
Many have long argued for a multi-pronged approach to dealing with the security crisis in Mexico; these have involved attempts to combat narcotic supply, reduce US demand for the product and also to address illicit arms sales by US gangs to the Mexican cartels. These strategies must of course continue, perhaps combined with the legalisation of certain narcotics.
However in addition, Mexico could learn certain lessons from Colombia’s successes in combating the threats it has faced from narco-guerrillas. Similarities between the issues facing Colombia 20 years ago and those facing Mexico today include a society infiltrated by a number of medium-sized, highly violent, narco-insurgent groups. Like Mexico, Colombia’s cartels also at one time imposed a significant threat to the control, power and influence of the state and also like Colombia, Mexico’s crisis has become more profound due to the extent that the cartels have successfully penetrated various walks of political and military life, making its policing extremely difficult. In the face of these problems, Uribe’s administration devised a policy to include a persistent and transparent purge against political and judicial corruption, a speeding up of the judicial process for arrested suspected insurgents and their allies, and a series of economic and social policies aimed at encouraging demobilisation from insurgent groups and reintegration with society.
As part of the latter of these policies, government-funded schools for reformed insurgents, with a financial incentive to attend, have a proven a successful way of reducing insurgent numbers by encouraging and supporting their demobilisation whilst also providing a clear alternative to drug trafficking and, as so often in Colombia’s case, political insurgency. In Colombia, the response to these measures has been a significant reduction in narco-insurgent power, membership numbers and sphere of influence and we feel there’s a strong argument to suggest that Mexico could experience certain benefits itself by adopting similar policies.