The Once and Future Drug War
Since Mexico’s President Felipe Calderon began a war on drug gangs in 2006, nearly fifty thousand people have been killed in drug related violence. Writing for The Washington Monthly, Elizabeth Dickinson examines the state of the drug war in Colombia, a war whose alleged success pointed the way for Mexico:
In Medellín, I met a middle-aged woman named Doli Posada who described this new landscape. “There are so many people who are afraid to leave their neighborhoods these days,” she told me, referring to the barrios that creep up from the mountainous city’s high line. In the community where she lives, her neighbors are being asked, once again, to pay armed groups taxes to provide “security.” After a few brief years of calm, today they feel anything but safe. According to many accounts, violence in the barrios took off when Medellín’s once dominant crime boss, a former paramilitary known as “Don Berna” (his real name was Diego Fernando Murillo Bejarano)—was extradited to the U.S. in 2008. After Uribe’s military had beaten back FARC, Don Berna had been able to solidify his control over the city and pacify it. Now that he’s gone, new, smaller gangs have sprung up to fight over who gets to fill the vacuum. “By seriously crippling the competing guerrillas, the government had given a monopoly to Don Berna,” wrote Francis Fukuyama and Seth Colby in a recent article in Foreign Policy magazine. “It was peace achieved through market dominance, not demilitarization.”
And the problems are not just in Medellín. An hour’s flight from Bogota, on the Pacific coast, the town of Buenaventura is reeling. During the height of summer, gangs held frequent gun battles to control several of the barrios that have access to the ocean in this seaside port town—the knotted creeks of the coastline are perfect for getting cocaine out of the country fast. In the licit markets too, prices here are much higher than in even the posh areas of Bogota, and the armed gangs control every market, from cocaine all the way to eggs, milk, and ripe plantains.