Mexico at Crossroads, Says Top US Diplomat
U.S. Ambassador to Mexico Carlos Pascual discussed strategies for ending the impunity of drug cartels and stemming the flow of guns and drugs across the border. His visit to campus was organized by the UCLA Center for Mexican Studies, the Latin American Institute, and the International Institute.
Plagued by drug-related violence, Mexico is poised at the crossroads on three issues that will influence its future, U.S. Ambassador to Mexico Carlos Pascual told an invited audience of more than 40 faculty members, staff, students and visitors with interests in Mexico meeting Oct. 19, in Murphy Hall.
"One of those is: Is it a G-20 country or does it still have this legacy of poverty?” Pascual asked. “The second is: Can it deliver security to its people?” The third pressing question for Mexico is whether economics will drive security “or whether security is going to define the economic realities of the country."
The current crisis of drug-related violence, Pascual said, apparently has roots in Colombia's drug war and a sharp rise in extraditions of Colombian traffickers in 2002. Mexican drug lords thus found themselves in a position to assume leadership of the trade. It’s been only in the past two years that high- and mid-level figures in the drug trade in Mexico have faced serious challenges from the government, Pascual said.
For the drug lords in Mexico, said the ambassador, "It's kind of like going from running the trucking systems for Walmart to suddenly handling the trucking, the wholesale trade and the retail trade for Walmart."
Addressing the problem over the long term will require judicial reform and more effective policing in Mexico, a country where less than 2 percent of the crimes committed result in a prison sentence, he said. On the U.S. side, Pascual said he would like to see a greater willingness to discuss a variety of policy approaches on drugs and to rigorously study the effects on price, production and demand in the drug trade.
"We understand that we have to have major efforts in prevention, and those prevention efforts have to be community-based … and we have to increase the budget for treatment," said Pascual of illicit drug consumption in the United States.
Pascual said the time has come to implement new technologies, including electronic seals on inspected truck and train cargos, to facilitate legitimate trade with Mexico.
Aside from drugs, another major issue is the large flow of weapons from the United States into Mexico, a problem complicated by U.S. domestic politics and, in this case, the small appetite in Congress for new gun control measures. One note of progress: The United States recently agreed to open up a U.S. Justice Department tracking system, known as E-Trace, for use by Mexican authorities in pursuing gun runners, he said.
"Increasingly, we've seen evidence that arms are broken apart, and different pieces are shipped across in different vehicles and eventually put back together in Mexico," said Pascual. "So interdiction is not going to be the solution; you have to do it, but it's not going to be the solution."
Asked about the immigration debate and prospects for a reform of U.S. policy, Pascual said that President Obama has continued to raise the issue publicly not because progress is now likely, but because reform won’t advance if the issue is ignored.
There needs to be a grassroots movement to create political constituencies for immigration reform in order to persuade representatives in Congress, he said.
The ambassador lamented that State Department warnings about travel to parts of the country have discouraged tourism and even student exchanges to Mexico.
"Yes, there is violence — there is insecurity — but there are parts of Mexico that are indeed very safe. … It's as safe as any part of Latin America," he said.