Lessons from Colombia for Mexico? Caveat Emptor

Vanda Felbab-Brown, The Brookings Institution, 2/27/2012

In her latest article published in ReVista in February 2012, Vanda Felbab-Brown debunks three “lessons” from Colombia’s struggle against organized crime that are being applied to Mexico:

The first distorted lesson is the policy of breaking up the two large Colombian drug trafficking organizations (DTOs) into smaller groups by itself generated security improvements in Colombia. Instead, Dr. Felbab-Brown argues, the relatively limited level of violence in Colombia was driven by the bipolar structure of the early 1990s Colombian criminal market. Moreover, the break-up policy came with the highly negative side-effect of enabling the paramiltiaries to take over drug trafficking and escalate the civil war. Mexico’s criminal market, on the other hand had a multipolar structure, and hence the break-up policy was bound to generate great levels of instability and violence.

The second incorrect lesson is that Colombia’s break-up strategy was predominantly built around high-value-targeting. Rather, Dr. Felbab-Brown maintains, criminal actors such as the Cali cartel and Los Pepes, eliminated most of the Medellin cartel’s middle layer

The third distorted lesson is that progressive socio-economic policies in Medellin after 2002 were sufficient to reduce violence in the city. Rather, Dr. Felbab-Brown argues, the policies were underpinned by the firm control of Medellin’s criminal market by the drug lord Don Berna. Once his narcopeace in the city collapsed in the late 2000s, in the absence of effective law enforcement, the socio-economic policies alone were not able to prevent a great escalation of criminal violence once again:

The lesson that Mexico should have drawn from the Colombian case is that merely breaking up the cartels is insufficient; the state needs to increase its presence in a multifaceted fashion and strengthen not only its authority, but also its legitimacy…”

To read Vanda Felbab-Brown’s full article click here.

Mexico and the United States Are Already Family—So Let’s Make the Special Relationship More Official

Zocalo, 11/18/11

In her latest article published on Zocalo’s “Buddies Across the Border, Does the United States Have a ‘Special Relationship’ With Mexico”, Vanda Felbab-Brown shares her views on the United States and Mexico’s long and friendly, yet wary relationship.

“Mexico is a vital trading partner for the United States: for around twenty U.S. states, Mexico is the number-one trading partner. The U.S.-Mexican border, although now deeply affected by violent crime on the Mexican side, has always been not just a line of separation but also a membrane of connection.

Violent crime and domestic politics in either country can disrupt established relationships and increase or minimize movement across the border, but they are unlikely to sever the deep family bonds that span the border deep into each country’s territory. The more U.S. citizens of Mexican origin have a voice in the U.S. political system, the more the bonds and connections will become institutionalized as well.”

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