Recent Gun Violence, Calls For Unity, And What State Election Results Can Tell Us About National Trends
Perspective on recent gun violence and calls for unity, then, what election results in state races may tell us about national trends
Mexican President Felipe Calderon is on an official state visit to Washington to meet with President Barack Obama. The two are expected to discuss gun violence, drug trafficking, border tensions, and immigration. We’ll look at what’s at stake for both countries and the prospects for improving cooperation.
MS. DIANE REHMThanks for joining us. I'm Diane Rehm. Mexican President Felipe Calderon is on official state visit to Washington at a very sensitive time in U.S.-Mexico relations. Calderon meets with President Obama today. They're expected to talk about gun violence, drug trafficking, border tensions and immigration. Joining me to talk about prospects for improving cooperation here in the studio, Francisco Gonzalez of the Johns Hopkins University Graduate School, Vanda Felbab-Brown of the Brookings Institution and Eric Olson of the Woodrow Wilson Center's Mexico Institute.
MS. DIANE REHMAnd joining us from the Result Video studio in El Paso, Texas, Julian Cardona of Reuters press. Do join us, 800-433-8850. I look forward to hearing your phone calls, your e-mail, your message on Facebook and your tweets. Good morning to all of you.
MR. ERIC OLSONGood morning, Diane.
MR. FRANCISCO GONZALEZGood morning.
MS. VANDA FELBAB-BROWNGood morning.
REHMLet me start with...
MR. JULIAN CARDONAGood morning, Diane.
REHMI'm glad to have you with us. Let me start with you, Francisco. What does President Calderon hope to achieve with this meeting?
GONZALEZTo put it bluntly, the first thing he wants is the removal of the U.S. ambassador to Mexico, with whom he's got a big problem. I'm sure, during the program, we'll get into that. He also wants the U.S. to move beyond the rhetoric of co-responsibility, the admission that this is a bi-national problem, a problem of supply and demand, so all that has been settled. But not much has happened after that. Particularly, the Mexican president is incensed at the inability of the U.S. to do anything regarding, you know, stopping or stemming the flow of illegal weapons, of assault weapons, to Mexico.
GONZALEZMuch of the money, proceeds from the retail sale of drugs, which also ends up in the hands of the criminals, and, I think, that's a really sore point, where rhetoric of co-responsibility has not led to, you know, things on the ground, meaningful things on the ground that can be shown.
REHMVanda Felbab-Brown, it sounds as though there are multiple problems, but Francisco mentioned removal of the U.S. ambassador to Mexico. Would you agree that that is at the top of Calderon's list?
FELBAB-BROWNWell, President Calderon was quite extraordinary in the way he personalized some of the difficulties between Mexico and United States in a public interview, not specifically mentioning the current Amb. Carlos Pascual. But, nonetheless, many interpreted lots of the remarks as pertaining to the ambassador. And, of course, for an ambassador to be effective, he needs to have a close and good relationship with the president. That said, I would urge Mexican officials to step back and see to what extent the relationship can be depersonalized.
FELBAB-BROWNAmb. Pascual is one of the most brilliant and competent U.S. ambassadors, a dedicated public official. And, to a large extent, the concern that President Calderon has stemmed from the WikiLeaks for which, of course, U.S. ambassadors and U.S. officials were not responsible. There is a great deal of reporting that takes place in WikiLeaks, and one should not overemphasize that. So seeing how the meetings in Washington could tone down some of the personalized aspects that have kicked in for Mexican officials would be important.
REHMIs that possible, Eric Olson, considering those WikiLeaks, considering the president's remarks that have been made publicly?
OLSONI mean, we'll see, today, how -- it depends how their conversation goes. I personally am an optimist, in part because I don't think there's much alternative. I don't think Mexico can afford to ignore the United States and vice versa. The U.S. needs Mexico to be strong and stable. And so, at some level, they need to work this out, and I'm optimistic it'll happen.
REHMBut what about the issues not being discussed at this meeting?
OLSONWell, the issues that won't probably get a lot of attention are the economic issues, the migration and migration reform issues. Again, as Francisco said, there's been rhetoric. There's been commitment from the United States to deal with them, but there's been inaction on issues of migration reform, long-haul trucking for instance. I think they'll be raised, but won't be resolved.
REHMJulian Cardona, talk about the numbers of killings that have gone on in Mexico in just the last year.
CARDONAWell, I will focus on the number of homicides in Juarez. Juarez has been, for the three consecutive year, the most violent city on Earth. And we are reaching the 8,000 murder limit. We are at about 7,900 murders until now from 2008. We have to be clear that this happened over the past three years, that, last year, we had more than 3,000 homicides and we have a murder rate of about 239 per every 100,000 persons. It is the highest murder rate in the earth -- on earth. And we have also rampant kidnap and extortion. We have more than 5,000 homicides only in Chihuahua State. That makes our region the most violent region in all Mexico. That's a snap picture of what's happening in Mexico in homicides in Juarez.
REHMSo, now, how are you able to function? How are you able to do your work, considering that kind of level of violence? How are the people in Juarez able to live on a day-to-day basis?
CARDONAWell, journalists can be a target, but everybody can be a victim these days in the city. You can -- you're a doctor, you may be kidnapped. You run a auto parts store, you may get somebody asking you for paying an extortion fee. If you don't pay, you can be killed. It is just everybody that is in risk in this. The government has tried to describe this as a war between cartels, and, of the victims -- related most of them to the drug business. But in fact, over the past two years, the market for the crime expanded. It was -- at the beginning, it was just drugs and, since 2008, expanded to kidnap and then to extortion. And, now, everybody can be a victim.
CARDONASo we have lost almost a quarter of a million people who have fled from the city. It is 25 percent of the houses are now abandoned. They're empty. And most of the business operating in the city are paying extortion fee. The small stores -- the small barrio stores are now closing. We had 6,000 small barrio stores close over the past years. And this is much, much bigger -- this is crisis -- much, much bigger than a war between cartels.
REHMJulian Cardona, he's a reporter for Reuters in Juarez, Mexico. And, Francisco Gonzalez, I would assume that President Calderon is going to speak very clearly about these killings with President Barack Obama.
GONZALEZCertainly. I think that one thing that the audience has to bear in mind is that this is a government that's fighting a rearguard battle. This is a government that has to step down from office in less than two years' time, and the constitution does not allow reelection in Mexico. So you've got a lame duck president and his legacy -- I mean, the possibility of this strategy continuing to be in place, of this partnership between the U.S. and Mexico and targeting both militarily, civilian institution building, et cetera, together is in jeopardy. So President Calderon is really desperate 'cause it's quarter to the hour, and he wants something substantial from the U.S. to help prop up his fading numbers.
FELBAB-BROWNWell, the issue of violence is critical. And, for a long time, President Calderon, other Mexican officials, maintained a line that the violence either does not really matter or -- even as a sign of progress. And the argument was that the narcos are killing each other, that most of the killings are between the bad guys, and so somehow that makes the violence irrelevant. That (word?) or, again, that line has been dropped, and we no longer hear the arguments.
FELBAB-BROWNAnd we -- in fact, we have started hearing Mexican officials for some recent weeks to acknowledge that the violence needs to start coming down. But, paradoxically, this -- the way that the Mexican government has approached attacking the drug trafficking organization, interdicting the capos, the heads at the very top of the organization, is what's, to a great extent, driving the violence. It's not the sole reason for violence, but it's a critical driver of violence because it destabilizes the organization but not just destabilize them enough to prevent the organization from putting a new chief. But, meanwhile, it's generating a lot of true force over smuggling (word?), over territories and over corruption at works, which are also in great flux in Mexico.
REHMVanda Felbab-Brown at the Brookings Institution, she is the author of the book titled, "Shooting Up: Counterinsurgency and the War on Drugs." We'll take a short break. We'll talk further when we come back and welcome your calls and comments.
REHMPresident Felipe Calderon is meeting with President Barack Obama today. President Calderon is also meeting with House Speaker John Boehner. What are they going to discuss, Vanda Felbab-Brown?
FELBAB-BROWNWell, the key issue will be guns. President Calderon would very much like to come back to Mexico with seeing the U.S. move more forcefully on controlling guns.
REHMAnd just before the break, we were talking, also, about the levels of violence. And you made a fascinating comparison, Eric Olson, between what's happening in Mexico and what's happened in Afghanistan.
OLSONYeah, well, there is a shocking statistic, which is the numbers of murders in Ciudad Juarez, a city of about a million and a half, is actually greater than the number of murders in Afghanistan last year. We have to hasten and say that about two-thirds of the murders in Mexico are concentrated in about four states. So we shouldn't make the mistake to say Ciudad Juarez is all of Mexico, but there's an intensity of that violence that's pretty dramatic.
REHMJulian Cardona, what about the ways in which these murders are being carried out? Can you talk about that?
CARDONAWe have seen extreme violence in -- on the streets of Juarez -- decapitated men, dismembered persons. People are burned down after being shot in their cars. Houses have been burned, many houses. Any kind of violence you can imagine in your worst dreams happens in Juarez every day. We have a murder rate -- last year, we have 8.5 homicides per day, on average.
REHMThat's quite a record. Eric Olson, tell us about the killings of the federal agents recently.
OLSONWell, it was an incredibly tragic event. Those agents were in Mexico to try to assist in training in part of the U.S. assistance program to Mexico. They were meeting in a central state of San Luis Potosi to do some of the training and work together with their Mexican counterparts. And they were run off the road and gunned down, apparently, by people connected to the Zetas cartel. We don't know yet. They've been captured, paraded before the press. We don't know what the judicial process will bring out, and that's actually one of the key issues.
GONZALEZI think that one of the things that President Calderon will try to remind the U.S. government when he comes is that, for example, the gun that was used to kill Agent Jaime Zapata came from a Texas gun shop. And so it's very frustrating for Mexicans, for example, to see the recent failure of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, this attempt by the federal government to empower them to be able to report on multiple sales of assault weapons. This, obviously, was turned down by the U.S. Congress.
FELBAB-BROWNThe guns issue is a very complicated one. There is no doubt that loose U.S. laws make interdiction very difficult and that tighter laws would facilitate the tools that law enforcement agencies have for gun control. The Obama administration has increased gun control compared to previous administrations, but, nonetheless, the loose gun laws make interdiction difficult. That said, controlling anything on the border is just extraordinarily difficult, and it's as hard to control drug flows as it is to control gun flows or vice versa. Moreover, the global gun markets in small arms is fully integrated.
FELBAB-BROWNSo if -- even if the U.S., by some miracle, was able to substantially reduce the gun flows, the cartels would simply acquire weapons elsewhere, which is not to say that there is nothing in gun laws. One of the interesting findings of effects on violence after gun law changes and collection of weapons is that street crime often goes down, that the propensity of domestic violence or street disputes to escalate into violence goes down. But there is equal evidence -- or, rather, there is lack of evidence that strategic violence between drug trafficking organizations and between them and the state gets affected as a result of weapons availability.
REHMAnd how effective, Julian Cardona, is the state in trying to interdict not only the drugs, but also an attempt to protect its own people?
CARDONAIn places like Juarez, you can pretty well argue that it's a kind of fail state because security cannot be provided to citizens. The state is not owning anymore the privilege of the use of force. And you can also think of extortions as like a tax from criminal groups, and not only criminal groups because, in many cases, citizens have denounced that the federal forces are behind the extortion rings or the kidnap rings. And, talking about weapons, it is impossible for a state like Mexico, with its level of corruption, to stop the flow of illegal weapons on getting into the country.
CARDONAWe have 2,000 miles shared with the U.S. as a border. But we have, also, two oceans, and we have Central America. It is impossible to cut the flow. And, also, the Mexican government has been blaming external factors about violence and is not accepting its own faults on this issue. We have -- now, people are being killed, beheaded, decapitated, so who is bringing us the machetes? I think that we have to think about justice before the -- like, we have 97 percent of impunity.
CARDONAAnd it doesn't matter if there's an automatic weapon or a pistol or machete. What you need, as a society, is to have the chance to get the killers in front of a judge and to send them to jail, but it's not happening in the city. And the Mexican state is not able to provide security and justice to its citizens, specifically in a place in Juarez. We're talking about 97 percent of impunity.
FELBAB-BROWNWell, what Julian was saying is something very important. One cure-all for law enforcement is to apprehend and successfully enable prosecution of criminals. But a similar cure-all for law enforcement, intimately linked to the first one, is to deter violent crime, to manage how criminal organizations behave. So it's very important to look at how the very same drug trafficking -- Mexican drug trafficking organizations behave in the United States and behave in Mexico. In the U.S., they control much of the street distribution. There is a potential for warfare among these organizations, as well over very lucrative drug distribution networks.
FELBAB-BROWNYet we don't see the violence despite the fact that they have the weapons even more easily available in the U.S. than they have in Mexico. And the key, of course, is that they understand that the might of law enforcement would come down on them in a way that would make it very difficult for them to operate. And just one thing that's important in the relations to the hit on the ICE agents, I think it was quite extraordinary that the traffickers hit them after they knew that they were hitting U.S. officials, people with U.S. and diplomatic plates, who even identified themselves as such. That just shows how they don't fear the lack of law enforcement.
REHMThey act totally with impunity.
FELBAB-BROWNBut the U.S. response was advancing an interdiction operation in the U.S. that resulted in the arrest of about 450 members of Mexican drug -- members of Mexican drug cartels in the U.S., to send a very strong signal that you cannot hit a cop, that you cannot hit a law enforcement official without paying very serious price. And the reform of Mexican institutions -- law enforcement needs to get to that point where they are so feared and where they are seen as not being corrupt.
OLSONYeah, I think -- I was just going to make a sort of similar point to Vanda, that the -- you know, there's no magic solution. We're not -- you know, Mexico is not going to solve this problem of violence quickly and overnight and totally. But how the state reacts to that violence is incredibly important. We have one U.S. agent murdered in Mexico, and you have Secretary Napolitano, Attorney General Holder, President Obama, speaking out, you know, forcefully about one agent.
OLSONAnd Mexico agents and police are killed regularly, and there's no response from the government. And, sometimes, they even say, well, he was killed because he was connected to another cartel, you know. So there is a sense in which agents are not operating with a clear support of their own government. There's corruption. There's penetration of those agencies. And it's a very confusing situation.
REHMAnd, Francisco, the other huge issue on the agenda -- immigration. Are President Calderon and President Obama likely to be able to find some meeting ground on that issue?
GONZALEZI think they will both acknowledge the need for comprehensive immigration reform. President Obama has been a sustained supporter of this approach. But the political -- the electoral cycles in both countries are against any, you know, high-risk, high-polarizing issue coming to the table. So it's not going to happen in the U.S. in the run up to 2012 elections with Republicans in charge of the lower House. It's not going to happen in -- in Mexico, it might be used by, you know, parties to try to prop up the anti-American feeling, to try to prop up the nationalist feeling, saying, well, so much for co-responsibility.
GONZALEZPeople continue to be abused when all they want to do is to go out in there -- and get work out there. So a very thorny issue, which, in the U.S., is -- you know, no one's going to play ball with it. In Mexico, don't be surprised if between now and the presidential elections of 2012, particularly the opposition -- the left PRD and the center PRI -- start ramping up the rhetoric, the nationalist rhetoric. Immigration has always been one of their favorite themes.
REHMSo, considering the kinds of problems we've talked about, Vanda Felbab-Brown, what is the best possibility for any kind of cooperation during this visit?
FELBAB-BROWNWell, surprisingly, I think that the best chances for cooperation are actually not about issues that are likely to be on the -- on issues that are not likely to be on the agenda, issues such as climate change control and clean energy. President Calderon embraced the topic somewhat reluctantly. But, nonetheless, Cancun last year was one of the key positive moments for him, where he got a lot of very positive press and was able to show himself in a very positive statesman's role, unlike with respect to the drug war, which, of course, is going with great difficulties and violence.
FELBAB-BROWNAnd he was domestically challenged on a whole lot of reforms that he wanted to do but was not able to get through the Mexican Congress. And the U.S. president has been very committed to dealing with climate change also. Like on immigration, like on guns, like on integration, he faces a very difficult Congress. But it's one area where there is possibility for cooperation.
REHMAnd you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Do you want to add to that, Eric?
OLSONWell, I agree entirely with what Vanda has said. But, I guess, the other point here is that this relationship has matured in a way over the last four years. It used to be the, you know, U.S. looking down their noses at Mexico around drug issues and violence and saying, why don't you clean up your act? And Mexicans often look north and say, well, if we're going to clean up your act, you need to clean up your act, too. You need to deal with your weapons problem, your consumption problem.
OLSONI think that kind -- that framework broke down a bit, in a good way, in 2007, 2008, when President -- then President Bush and President Calderon agreed on a framework of shared responsibility. It's become frayed lately. No question about it. There are some hard feelings. But I think we have to put it in a broader perspective. Both countries know they need to get along. They need to tackle these problems, all of them jointly, or else it's going to only get worse.
REHMAll right. We have lots of callers waiting. We'll open the phones, 800-433-8850. To Daytona Beach, Fla. Good morning, Theresa.
THERESAYes. Good morning. For years, there were many reports coming out about the violent drug cartels cutting off people's heads. This has been going on a long time. It was only a matter of time before it spilled over to the United States. Reports have shown that there are hundreds of thousands of drug-related Mexican gang members spread throughout our cities. The real no-brainer is that, after 9/11, President Bush failed to immediately secure our southern borders. But, remember, Bush was great buddies with former President Vicente Fox.
THERESAAlso, about seven years or so ago, the 9/11 Commission's report stated, and I quote, "al-Qaida is very interested in our open southern borders," unquote. So since 9/11, al-Qaida and other terrorist groups have had plenty of time to cross our borders and form cells within the United States. But don't blame this on President Obama. If you can -- you can blame it on the incompetence and stupidity of Bush and the Republicans.
REHMAll right. Thanks for your call. Francisco, a comment.
GONZALEZI largely agree with the general perspective. I think the al-Qaida threat is completely overblown, and there's no reason or no evidence whatsoever of any of these things happening.
REHMNo evidence that al-Qaida members are crossing the border?
GONZALEZCertainly not. I mean, this is, first and foremost, a problem, whereby extended families who have dwellings both -- particularly in northern Mexico, states like Sinaloa, Chihuahua, Durango, Sonora, Coahuila, border states with the U.S., and who also have a presence and who probably have kids who are born in the U.S. and are U.S. citizens and have big mansions in La Jolla and in San Antonio. That is the type of, you know, sociological profile that's involved in the war on drugs. It's not about insurgency. It's not about Islamists at all.
REHMAnd, Vanda Felbab-Brown, talk about this effort to change the birthright of individuals who have crossed the border illegally and then gave birth to a child in this country. How is that affecting the thinking of individuals on the other side of the border?
FELBAB-BROWNWell, I am sure that -- first of all, the move is not constitutional. And part of the reason that Arizona State Legislature has included that is because they are hoping to bring it to the Supreme Court and possibly see broader changes to some of the key constitutional rights and foundations of the United States. It is a very unwise move because much of U.S. history and thriving, of course, comes from immigration, and this fundamentally challenges the very definition of what it means to be American.
REHMVanda Felbab-Brown, she is at the Brookings Institution. Short break, and we'll come back with more of your calls. Stay with us.
REHMAnd we're back, talking about the meeting that will take place today between President Felipe Calderon of Mexico, President Barack Obama. And then President Calderon is also going to meet with House Speaker John Boehner. The question of the WikiLeaks documents, Francisco, how have they informed this meeting between Barack Obama and Felipe Calderon?
GONZALEZWell, they certainly enraged the president of Mexico and his close circle of advisers.
GONZALEZThis government has been fighting incessantly a PR campaign to try to convince Mexicans that its war on drug crime is paying off. And what the WikiLeaks have done is to expose that this is far from being the case. You know, the evidence has spelt out about the systemic corruption, the competition and distrust among Mexican security agencies. And the Mexican president then hits back saying, well, the same thing happens with ICE, DEA and CIA, so, you know, big deal.
GONZALEZSecretary Clinton asking about how is President Calderon taking it personally, I mean, all this stress, is his decision-making style being affected? So there's, both on the personal and the institution, lots that has convinced Mexican public opinion that the PR campaign, you know, has been scratched and that, in fact, you've got a very imperfect mechanism, a very weak institutional capacity, systematic penetration by organized cartels to try to fight this war.
FELBAB-BROWNWell, and another difficulty with the WikiLeaks in Mexico and with the WikiLeaks everywhere is, of course, exposing national government officials coming to U.S. officials and complaining about the deficiencies in their own organizations. And this, indeed, compromisation (sic) of sources, that's one of the most problematic things in general. But if you actually look at the Mexican WikiLeak, I think it's extraordinarily how perceptive the diplomats, the U.S. diplomats who wrote in there. It's truly extraordinarily accurate analysis, which is very much consistent with what has been done by analysts in think tanks and universities. There was nothing radically different, yet it was the fact that it came over the signature of U.S. diplomats that enraged President Calderon.
FELBAB-BROWNBut what is also sad is that some of the U.S. diplomats, including Amb. Pascual, had been one of the greatest proponents of focusing on institutional development in Mexico, on not over-militarizing the campaign, of enabling police training and cooperation, and, also, on persuading the Mexican officials to incorporate a Fourth Pillar into beyond Merida, building resilient communities, focusing on how to use socio-economic programs to strengthen communities' resilience.
OLSONYeah, I think what the WikiLeaks confirmed to all of us is that Amb. Pascual and his team are really on top of it and understand the complexities of the issues, that you can't just -- it's not a one-size-fit-all military approach to this -- that you have to use institution building and social investments as key elements in this. Now, Diane, I wondered if I might just talk a minute. You raised the issue of the meeting with Speaker Boehner, which I think is really not more important than the presidential, but a very important meeting. And Francisco said they will talk about guns, weapons. That's right. But I think the real issue is the money issue. As we know, there's major debates in this country about budget reductions.
OLSONAnd there's concern, frankly, that the assistance with Mexico, the aid program with Mexico will come under the Budget Acts. And, in fact, some of that money was cut back by the House in their debates about this year's budget. So I think that's going to be clearly part of the discussion. Is the Republican House going to be committed to this relationship and invest in it? Or are they approaching it from a different framework?
REHMWhat do you expect?
OLSONWell, you know, it's very interesting because one could say, you know, the Republicans will all be for budget cutting. But there are some very strong voices -- Republican voices on the border who understand that this relationship is key. Congresswoman Granger is the chair of the House Foreign Ops Appropriations Subcommittee. She's former mayor of Fort Worth, Texas. You know, she's a strong proponent of a good relationship with Mexico. And I would suspect that, within budget limit, she will look to invest more.
REHMAll right. So I'm going to go back to the phones and to Traverse City, Mich. Good morning, Nate. You're on the air.
NATEGood morning. Thanks for taking my call.
NATEI'm at home, watching my two-year-old little boy right now, coloring a book and push trucks around. And it escapes me how I, my little boy -- my wife is a school teacher -- are responsible for beheading, dismemberment, shooting, burnt houses, kidnapped doctors, you name it. How are we responsible? And as far as -- the last I've heard, it's not American citizens taking American-purchased firearms across the border and committing these acts. If they've identified American-purchased firearms as part of the problem, what has the Mexican government done to take that out of the equation? Have they beefed up their southern traffic on the border? It's just very frustrating. And as a law abiding citizen, I shake my head. I don't even know what to do other than get more frustrated.
REHMOkay. I understand your frustration.
CARDONAI'll take that, Diane.
REHMGo right ahead, Julian.
CARDONAWell, President Calderon has been constantly blaming everybody for what is his responsibility, and we have been left out of this picture. One big issue that Mexico is facing is the domestic market of drugs. If you look to Juarez, Juarez is the biggest Mexican consumer of drugs -- city. We have the highest rate of cocaine, marijuana and heroine consumption. And many of the homicides, beheadings, all the kind of crimes, horrific crimes you see on the streets of Juarez -- what we see on the field, they are mostly related to the domestic market than for -- for export of drugs.
CARDONAWe haven't see the flow of drugs being cut, you know, (unintelligible) prices or in the U.S. And talking about weapons, it's the same thing. We are still -- as a country, our politicians, our pundits are blaming the U.S. on both weapons and blaming the U.S. on consumption. But, I think, Mexico has to recognize the rise of its own internal market of drugs.
CARDONAAnd I think that Mexico has to recognize that there's a lot of impunity. It is impossible to solve the problem of this dimension without first accepting your own faults. This...
REHMHaven't there also, Eric Olson, been charges that the ATF, the Bureau of...
OLSONAlcohol, Tobacco, Firearms.
REHM...Alcohol, Tobacco And Firearms, has been selling old firearms to Mexico?
OLSONThey have allowed some firearms to go through the black market into Mexico as a way to trace them, as a way to figure out how they're being trafficked. You know, this is a common law enforcement practice, but it's not their policy, clearly, to sell old weapons to Mexico at all. They're trying...
REHMYou're saying it's a law enforcement technique?
FELBAB-BROWNIt's like a sting operation.
OLSONIt's like a sting operation.
REHMI see. I see.
OLSONYou have an old gun. You mark it. You see where it ends up. You try to figure out how it got there.
REHMOkay. And to Dwight, Ill. Good morning, Charles. You're on the air.
CHARLESGood morning. Well, I'm calling about the lady that mentioned about former President Bush being responsible for part of the mess we have. It's not only him. It's Congress as well. In the past four years, I've written over 1,000 letters regarding -- to congressmen as well as to the two presidents regarding the open, unsafe border we have to the South. And, strikingly, only one congressman responded to my letters.
REHMWho was that?
CHARLESI don't remember who it was, but it wasn't the congressman from Illinois.
REHMOkay. What about that, Francisco?
GONZALEZI think that the -- this is definitely shared responsibility. It's people on both sides of the aisle, Republicans as well as Democrats. This democracy is a messy, lively -- in many ways -- healthy democracy. It's very difficult to, you know, make, enact, implement dramatic U-turns. My comment was more regarding the previous person who called. I want to say that I sympathize enormously with his perspective. I'm the father of two young boys -- a wife. I am Mexican. And I have to say that I feel much safer in the streets of this country, which is not my country -- the United States -- than in Mexico, where I go to visit family, friends. The problem with these networks of smugglers of weapons, humans, money is that -- you have to remember, Mexico allowed dual citizenship since 1996.
GONZALEZAnd, today, you've got five or 6 million Mexican Americans who carry both passports, and so you've got dual nationals who are carrying out the smuggling. I wish it was so easy to be able to have a black and white -- say, it's just the Mexicans, just the Americans. America is so much more complex. It's a melting pot, and the Mexican American community is a great example of that. So it's incorrect to say that it's Mexicans who are carrying out these activities.
OLSONYeah, I think this issue of the border is an extremely complex one, and one that policymakers struggle with on the other hand. On the one hand, various scholars have talked about securing the border -- that's a popular phrase. On the other hand, there's a real interest in the United States and in Mexico to have free and open movement of commerce. How do you secure the border without stopping commerce in a way that also affects populations on both sides of the border?
REHMHere's a comment on Facebook from Melanie, who says, "President Calderon is in bed with the cartels. Many newspapers have referenced this. He is a huge cause of this mess." Julian, do you believe…
REHM...that to be true?
CARDONAWell, I can answer you with what we have seen on the streets. And, on August 8, 450 federal police up rose against their bosses in Juarez, in a hotel in Juarez. And they describe how the federal police operate, how the federal police is allowing drugs to move in the city, how they are framing citizens, extortioning (sic) them, demanding money, how they are breaking into the houses -- everything. All was described nationwide, broadcasted on TV and radio for several hours. What they saw was nothing new for Juarez citizens, and every citizen knows the federal police does that. The only thing new was that they were saying themselves, what they do on a daily basis.
CARDONAAnd many journalists -- investigative journalists, like Anabel Hernandez, in her book, points that Genaro Garcia Luna -- one of the closest men of the president -- is maybe behind these corruption rings. And he's a very powerful man. He's very close to President Calderon. Why or how is this man fully supported by him, is something that you have to ask to Calderon.
REHMJulian Cardona, he's a reporter for Reuters in Juarez, Mexico. You're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Francisco?
GONZALEZI think it's pretty baseless to say that the president is in bed with the cartels, but, certainly, some of his close collaborators appear to be. One of the problems...
REHMBut wouldn't he know if some of his close collaborators...
GONZALEZI want to -- I want to hope that he didn't, but that's as far as I'm willing to go. The key problem is that the same group has been in charge of security in Mexico, the civilian side of security, since the late 1980s. These were people from the PRI, and the latest -- you know, third generation of these people is this man, Genaro Garcia Luna. These people have, you know, enriched themselves. Their vested interests have grown enormously, but this is because they've been in charge of the anti-narcotics effort in Mexico since the late 1980s.
GONZALEZSo a great paradox is that, even though Mexico became a democracy and the PRI was thrown out of power in 2000, and now we've had 12 years of opposition rule, PAN rule, that vein -- that side of the bureaucracy in Mexico did not change at all. The PAN inherited the same security and anti-narcotics operators from the PRI. I don't know why they didn't change them, but, certainly, these people have been in bed with the cartels for many years.
REHMI want to take one last call from Miguel in Plano, Texas. Good morning, you're on the air.
MIGUELThank you. Yes. Basically, I'm in Texas. I live this every day. I hear all this. And, you know, the WikiLeaks situation is good because it brings reality to where it needs to be out for everybody to see what it is. In Mexico, as in many other places -- and I work and live in Mexico, by the way, even though I'm not Mexican -- it's a way of life. Impunity is a way of life. We have to understand that Mexico is basically a failed state by all definitions.
REHMWould you agree with that, Eric Olson?
OLSONWell, it's very clear that impunity is very high. The human rights -- National Human Commission this week came out with a report that said there's impunity in 98 percent of the cases reported, so, yes. The justice system does not function adequately, appropriately. And, until you address those problems, I think it'll be hard to stop this.
REHMVanda, last word.
FELBAB-BROWNMexico is not a failed state. But it is clearly challenged in some of the critical domains that the state needs to provide, including public safety. That means bringing the violence down in addition to weakening the power of the cartels. It means effectively reforming law enforcement institutions that, for decades, have been corrupted and hollowed out.
REHMBut what can President Calderon do to affect exactly that?
FELBAB-BROWNI think he should use the two years that he has left to not let himself be trapped in a defensive crouch and, instead, focus on strengthening the institutional development of the justice sector, prison sector -- which is still very underemphasized in Mexico -- and continue with effective police reform.
REHMVanda Felbab-Brown of the Brookings Institution, Eric Olson, he's at the Wilson Center's Mexico Institute, Francisco Gonzalez of the Johns Hopkins Graduate School, and Julian Cardona, he's a reporter for Reuters in Juarez, Mexico, thank you all so much.
REHMAnd thanks for listening. I'm Diane Rehm.
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