Friday, July 11, 2008

How To Stop The Violence

Some of you may not care about the massive amount of murders taking place south of the border. For reasons that some of you know or may have guessed, I do.

A couple of months ago, Felipe Calderón, the President of Mexico, ordered Mexican Army troops to be stationed in various areas around the country where the drug lords (narcos) were causing the most problem. When this first happened I said that using the military for internal police actions was a very bad idea. Why is it a bad idea? Because the military is trained for war, not police work. They are trained to shoot first and ask questions later. The police are supposed to have investigative skills whereby they distinguish (supposedly) the good guys from the bad guys and go after those they think are the bad ones. The military is not burdened with those distinctions; they are a blunt force instrument.

The way the Army is deployed in Culicán (and other cities I assume), they mostly serve to inhibit the flow of people through the city by means of random traffic stops and general harassment. The problem is, these guy are not trained in profiling. Most of the work is done by low ranking, relatively uneducated young men who are following a nebulous set of orders to try and identify the bad guys at the check points. Even if they manage to identify someone who MIGHT be bad, they tend to be poor and are likely to accept bribes. They are largely ineffective, however there have been conflagrations between the military and the narcos and in some cases, the Army has been very effective but it's not the norm. They've killed quite a few of the narcos and their hired assassins. The problem is, the presence of the military has escalated the problem. Why? Because the narcos refuse to intimidated by what is largely a tactic meant to do just that. The narcos are agile and decentralized. The military is, by it's very nature, cumbersome and centralized. The narcos are not in uniform, they're not wearing ID badges, they're not hiding in bunkers and military installations. They are the neighbors, friends and relatives of the people most affected by the violence.

Why should you care? First of all, I would expect that Mexicans will be abandoning their cities faster than ever and heading north to the relative safe environs of the United States. I'm not sure how to measure the effects of the violence on our illegal immigration problem but I doubt that effect is zero. Another way it effects you and I is that the violence makes it more difficult and thereby more expensive to do business there. We get a lot of our tomatoes (recently exonerated of salmonella poisoning) and other produce from the state of Sinaola. Our food prices will be affected even more than they have been already. Basic economic principles build risk in to pricing, I'll leave it to the professionals to do the mathematical models.

The other reason that we should care is that our own domestic policies are causing problems for them. We have policies that both encourage and allow massive numbers of illegals to cross our border with little in the way of consequences because it's easier for them to come here instead of stay home and face the problems in their own country and make the necessary changes.

So, what is the solution to the problem? The first step should be obvious from what I've already said. Pull the military out of the Mexican cities. That should be done immediately. Sure, the narcos will FEEL like they gained a victory but the homicides will fall dramatically because they won't need to continue their show of force. Think about this: The narcos are essentially employees in the chain of command. The bosses don't show their faces and are essentially untouchable. In some cases, the police have no clue who the top dogs are. For the most part, Sinaloa is a clearing house for drugs coming from the cocaine fields in Columbia and other countries. That means the narcos in Sinaloa are really just employees of someone else and their show of force is their way of protecting their jobs and their territories. I suspect they are more afraid of their employers than they are the police and military.

The next step then is, to make the narcos (and those that are part of their support system) MORE afraid of the government than they are of their employers. This could be done fairly quickly by establish a truly anonymous tip system. A double blind email, phone and text message system could be established fairly easily and, by comparison to other methods, inexpensively. Citizens informing on other citizens for mere suspicion generally goes against my libertarian leanings, but let's solve one problem at a time. Get the narcos afraid of being anonymously turned in. I know for a fact that as it is, many people are afraid to call the police on these people because it might be traced back to them. Many of the police are also on the payroll of the narcos; I'll get to that solution shortly. The downside to an anonymous tip system is that many innocents could and would get caught up in the system because vindictive people would report their enemies who had nothing to do with the drug trade or the violence. I'll leave it to the people of Mexico to assess that risk. A sort of triage system for tips could be established where the most serious and/or clear tips are investigated first. Professional investigators would assess the tips and decide what to act on.

What do you do about those within the police (and military) who are part of the problem? Lie detector tests! Hire a private firm from another country to administer lie detector tests to EVERY law enforcement agent in the country once every two months. This process is also subject to corruption and pay offs but a strong auditing system would help immensely. Some people are able to lie and pass the test and there are false positives too but it would be effective in rooting out the most corrupt very quickly. In fact, you'd see many personnel quit in droves before they allowed the test to be administered. Those people should be investigated immediately. I imagine they'd be beating a path straight to their other employer. Anyone who didn't pass the test should be summarily fired and quietly investigated.

The last immediate measure that should be passed is that the right to bear arms should be given to Mexican citizens. Make the narcos afraid of being fired upon by average citizens. Establish firearms training schools. Let the people have the right to protect themselves. The police are obviously not doing much on that front.

The first long term solution comes from the United States. Legalize drugs. I will not get in to all the reasons for doing this, most of which has to do with our own liberty, but it would essentially break the back of the drug cartels who would no longer have a viable business model. Their profits would drop and their power would diminish to nearly nothing. While it's true that they could still ship to other countries where it's still illegal, the US is their biggest and closest market. I realize it would not be easy to end our asinine War on Drugs but it's not impossible either.

A long term solution for Mexico would be the formation of a new political party dedicated to ending the corruption so rampant in the current system. It would take a brave group of people to do that because there is no doubt that some of them would be threatened, beat and killed by those supporting the status quo. I think they would quickly have the support of the people though and that would afford them some measure of protection. As to what other political positions they would adopt, it's hard to say; a centrist position would be best. Then they could pull the non-corrupt ones from the other parties in to their party. As with any such endeavor, this would be extremely difficult to do and they'd have setbacks and mis-starts. But it would be a place to start. Obviously the details of how to create a new political party cannot be enumerated here.

Another long term solution would be measures to bring their emigrants home. Immigration reform in the US would take care of some of that, but I imagine a combination of tax incentives for returning emigrants and those that employ them as well as educational benefits. I'm not enough of an idealist to be against some government spending with very specific time and cap limits in order to accomplish these things. If it was a matter of their government becoming less liberty oriented in the process of doing so, I wouldn't propose that, but my idea is at least neutral. Their minimum wage is next to nothing as it is or I would call for the elimination of that wage. As an aside, I'd like to see some numbers regarding the people employed outside of the taxable system because of minimum wages and regulatory burdens.

Oil, oil, oil. Currently, Pemex is the state owned gas station in Mexico. The gas prices there are subsidized and quite low (about $2/gallon). That ought to stop since they just end up paying for it in other ways along with the administrative burden of shuffling tax money around. They could increase their output and sell it to the United States. They could also form partnerships with private oil companies for more off shore drilling. This would have the effect of enriching the Mexican economy and providing more opportunities at home which would mean fewer illegal immigrants here.

I'm sure I could come up with a few other things, but what I've outlined here is the highlights; the most pressing issues. Please feel free to elaborate on your own suggestions, comments, etc. Some of it may end up reaching important people.