United States and Mexico: Self-Deception

Twenty years ago, statements by Rex Tillerson and John Kelly blaming the origin of violence in Mexico on the high consumption of drugs in the United States may have had some journalistic or sociological value. Today, the secretary of state and the Homeland Security secretary repeat banal phrases to which only the naive can lend any value.

Drug trafficking, which decades ago was directly influenced by the mechanisms of supply and demand which the American officials referred to, is now a diversified economy that includes many forms of crime, many of which are independent from drug trafficking. So much so, that this economy has been able to successfully resist the legalization of the therapeutic and recreational use of marijuana in several U.S. states and a production close to self-sufficiency.

Focusing on a strategy of reducing violence by making U.S. drug users see the harm they do to Mexico, as John Kelly put it, seems more like a Christian pastor’s message than the statement of a strategist responsible for the internal security of a neighbor. “If Americans understood that using drugs for fun automatically ended up in the loss of lives in Mexico, Colombia or Central America and the death of journalists, police, soldiers … the money from the intoxicants would be significantly reduced and, consequently also, the profits they generate.”* The president, as represented by these officials, has fostered an entrenched anti-Mexican sentiment in vast regions of his country. Kelly’s argument is dangerous, as it can invite them to consume more drugs.

The premise of Kelly’s statement is consumer rationality: a self-deception tirelessly proven by the current of behavioral economics, by the financial crisis of 2008 in which thousands of individuals took advantage of deregulation to destroy the economy, including their own and, above all, by the frequent examples in our daily life, including the irrational outcome of the U.S. elections. The irrational (or incomprehensible) component of human behavior is, in many circumstances, the one that prevails. Kelly also showed ignorance in declaring that the United States had never attempted to reduce the demand for drugs. During the Reagan administration, the campaign “Just say no” was launched, which – as today – was also intended to include Hollywood. The film industry and consumers just said no to Reagan’s good intentions.

In terms of shared responsibility, that is a myth and not exactly brilliant. The burden and costs of contributing to the safety of one’s neighbor, the deaths, violence, arms trafficking, proliferation of crimes, none of that is shared. It is true that the United States has shared intelligence in order to carry out a strategy of decapitation of the cartels, which is a textbook example of the type of actions that cause “unwanted consequences.”

The latest case of unforeseen consequences is the bloody war for territorial control of the realm of the Sinaloa Cartel, unleashed following the deportation of El Chapo Guzman to the United States. The arrest of the “The Graduate” (El Licenciado), Dámaso López, has been singled out as one of the causes that led to the murder of journalist and writer Javier Valdez. Carlos Lauría, of the Committee for the Protection of Journalists, described in The New York Times the conversation he had with Valdez on May 5: “Javier sounded uneasy and said the climate in Culiacán was tense. He said he had decided not to speak publicly about cartel violence after the Sinaloa kingpin’s arrest.”

The convoluted regulation of the Mechanism to Protect Human Rights Defenders and Journalists, another self-deception, this one of the Mexican government, rests conceptually on the journalist’s desire to be protected. This is not a very common case, given the distrust of the government authorities responsible for security, especially the local authorities. Apparently that was the case of Javier Valdez, who did not ask for protection. But the obligation of the state is to protect these defenders of freedom of expression. Article 52 of the regulation states: “When an application is not filed, if an entity is aware of a situation of risk in which a human rights defender or a journalist is, he/she must make the case known to the Rapid Reaction Unit so that the necessary steps can be taken in order to contact the persons and, if consent is granted, the proceedings be initiated.”** This was not done and it facilitated the attack against the journalist. Today we must protect RioDoce (the publication Valdez worked for), clarify the murder of Javier Valdez, redesign the mechanism of protection without the government, provide recourses needed by the Comisión Nacional de los Derechos Humanos (National Human Rights Commission) and above all, stop the self-deception.

*Translator’s note: Secretary Kelly’s actual words were, “[I]f Americans understood that playing around with drugs on a weekend for fun ultimately ends or results in the lives lost in Mexico by law enforcement and by the military, or lives lost in Colombia or Central America – if Americans understood that recreational playing around with drugs is resulting in the deaths of reporters and media people throughout the region, but particularly, unfortunately, in Mexico right now; police officers; as I say, soldiers; prosecutors, judges – if Americans that use drugs recreationally understood that and stopped doing that, that would significantly reduce the amount of drugs and, consequently, the amount of profits that come out of the United States.”

**Translator’s note: This quote, although accurately translated, could not be verified.

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