As soon as mankind settled into an agrarian lifestyle, governments arose amongst peoples as a cooperative means of efficiently providing for their protection and security. Cooperation in other areas–infrastructure, social welfare, etc.,–all depended and depend on the efficacy of the cooperative effort at protection and security. For a government to be legitimate, it must exercise a monopoly within the society on the imposition of will by force. In places like Iraq in 2007 before the surge (and perhaps even now) and Afghanistan everywhere but Kabul, the inability of official governments to protect their sanctioned monopoly on force means that some other group is the de facto government, or there is simply no government–a state of anarchy.
Mexico’s government is rapidly reaching illegitimacy along its northern border with the United States. Drug gangs battling for smuggling routes into and out of the US have become de facto governments, imposing their will upon the people and the local authorities through the threat of violence. As often as not, local representatives of the Mexican government are found to be gang-affiliated. Even today, Mexico’s Public Security Ministry fired 3,200 police officers for “incompetence” after the mayor of Hildago, in northeast Mexico, was gunned down yesterday while in his pick-up truck with his ten year-old daughter.
The daughter was physically okay; emotionally, I would imagine, not so much. To see your dad being gunned down in his own truck in his own town by his own people might have you believing that nowhere is safe–a well-founded belief in this case, it would seem.
“Incompetent” means the inability to accomplish a task. If the task is protecting the country from gang violence, much of the country’s police force is certainly guilty of incompetence. If the task is using an official imprimatur of legitimacy to protect the turf of drug gangs, the fired police officers were probably eminently competent.
The death toll over the borderland gang wars over the last several years is estimated as high as 25,000–much higher than the total American casualties suffered in Afghanistan and Iraq combined. Because the Mexican government seems willing to let the gang battles wage and their legitimacy with the local population wane, the question that must be asked is “Why”? Assuming the central government in Mexico has the resources to impose its will on the gangs–even if it must fight an all-out war to do so–then why is it allowing the carnage to continue to escalate?
If one believes that the universe and all things in it behave rationally, i.e., that for every effect there is a cause, and that all living organisms (including aggregations of organisms, like societies and governments) behave rationally (as viewed from the perspective of the organism) to maximize their own welfare, then it must be that if the Mexican government has the power to stop the gang wars but hasn’t, it has concluded there is some advantage to allowing them to rage.
The American government certainly acts rationally to further its interests in keeping drugs illegal in the US, thereby indirectly fomenting violence along the Mexican side of its border. The trick to understanding how the behavior of the American government is rational is realizing that the stated reason and the real reason for its drug war are not the same. The American government has found in the drug war a means of enriching local police forces (by allowing extra-constitutional seizures of drug booty to stay with the local police forces), thereby ensuring their allegiance, while at the same time ridding the streets of undesirables whose ethnic and social backgrounds make them dangerous outcasts in mainstream society. If the personal impact of drugs on their users were its main concern, as initially stated with the Reagan Administration’s “Just Say No” program, the American government would have never given up on Prohibition.
It’s not clear why Mexico refuses to do battle with the drug gangs and reassert its legitimacy in the areas where drug gangs are now the de facto governments. Information from the gang-controlled areas is sparse, as the gangs have effectively silenced, through intimidation and violence, journalists that wish to report on the mayhem.
So, for the time being, the Mexican side of the border really is, just like the movie proclaimed, “no country for old men”. Or, for that matter, for little girls whose daddies get cross-wise with a drug gang. Perhaps when the violence on the Mexican side finally encroaches and impacts everyday life on the American side in a more immediate way, then the American government will rethink the folly of its drug war, going on almost thirty years now. Until then, the war rages, as the Mexican government slouches towards illegitimacy.