Saturday, March 28, 2009

A Comment on Ennyman's "Juarez: City of Blood"

Ennyman wrote an interesting post on US-Mexico border violence, a vivid portrayal of how the border has always worked. Here's a passage and a question:
In short, do you really believe that drug dealers with millions of dollars on the line don’t have sufficient resources to open those borders as wide as they please? On the other hand, do you really think that gun legislation in Texas or a re-configured Brady bill is going to make the violence disappear like Houdini's elephant? What do you think?
I'd like to comment on the question of gun sales to Mexico. This question can easily become technical, and I believe it's important to avoid the trap of wishful thinking here. I touch on the point briefly in my research on border crime, and there's also an extensive economic literature on the particular subject of guns and crime, with lots of issues yet to be settled. I'll just point out three problems with the idea that forbidding gun trade with Mexico (in this case, blocking exports that are legal in the US but illegal in Mexico) is important to solve the crime problem in Mexican border cities:
  1. As exemplified by Ennyman's post itself, blocking exports of guns to Mexico, besides creating an additional cost to the American taxpayer, probably won't do any real good, since it's so easy to smuggle guns into Mexico anyway. I wonder if this should really be a priority.
  2. Those same guns are available to Texans, and yet Texas is, in general, one of the safest places to live in the US, despite the fact that the number of police officers per capita in Texas is lower than in most Northern states. Just as an example, El Paso, right across the border from Cd. Juarez, is one of the safest large cities in America.
  3. Gun ownership is almost totally outlawed in Mexico (mostly for political, not criminal reasons), and that has never stopped Mexico from being a violent country, on the contrary, it only increased the asymmetry of power between "ranchers and cowboys" and "government thugs and bandits" - to oversimplify a much more complex discussion.
My opinion is that we should not be wasting time and resources with ineffective shortcuts. The real problem in Mexico is of encrusted bad political ideologies and institutions, a problem that is common to almost all Latin-American countries (Chile and Costa Rica were able to reach higher levels of institutional development, at least when compared to the rest, however they are exceptions, and even there they have yet much to do).

My take on it is that we should work incessantly and selectively to improve collaboration efforts with all Mexican citizens that recognize the problem and want to improve their institutions. The difficulty here is the strong resistance to institutional change that is put up by many in Mexico (and even by some in the US that benefit from the status quo in Mexico), and, unfortunately, there's no easy solution to this part of the problem. Anyway, I don't think that there's any real alternative to institutional change.


ENNYMAN said...

Good insights... and supporting stats. Sadly, the very corruption in many countries is not an aberration. When I lived in Mexico, there was a strong awareness that president Lopez Portilla was milking the oil money that had been discovered in the Gulf in the previous decade. And whomever he appointed would continue the same. The message from the top down was: get what you can while and when you can.

Not sure if or where this plays in, but 40,000 Spanish communists fled to Mexico after the failed revolution in Spain, circa 1939.

For what it's worth.

PS: I am embarrassed at having misspelled Houdini in my original post! Oh well... keeps us humble.

Pedro H. Albuquerque said...

Oh, I didn't see that too... Fixed that up, no point at leaving it like that.