Panel Talks Drug Cartels

Panelists discussing drug violence along the U.S.-Mexico border said that the corruption of government officials on both sides of the border is a major problem facing the fight against cartels, during a forum at the Institute of Politics yesterday.

“[Cartels] corrupt to create permissive environments in which they can operate and get away with anything from murder to mass murder,” said Michael Braun, the former chief of operations at the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency. “They corrupt, they intimidate and they resort to extreme violence when the other two don’t work.”

However, Braun did not attribute the corruption only to officials on the Mexican side of the border as he said that over eighty border patrol officers have been arrested in the U.S. on corruption charges.

Braun said that cartels control networks that are significantly larger than mafia operations in the U.S. because Mexican cartels function through global networks and do not limit their activities to only one region.

Braun called the current violence in Mexico a “turf war” between rival cartels. To put the violence in perspective, Angela Kocherga, a journalist based in Mexico, noted that more people were killed in Juarez, Mexico than were killed in Afghanistan last year. Kocherga described Juarez as “ground zero” in the drug war that is currently raging.

Kocherga explained that control of the drug trade in specific areas fuels violence between cartels as they vie for dominance of the lucrative transportation corridors into the US.

Although Alejandro Poiré Romero, the technical secretary of the National Security Council of Mexico, said that the vast majority of the violence is inflicted against those involved with the cartels, rather than bystanders, Kocherga said that those only very tangentially involved are still affected.

“You also see entire families being wiped out because someone on the periphery might be involved,” she said.

To combat the violence, Pioré said that the current administration in Mexico is taking an aggressive approach to coordinating federal and local efforts. He also said that to fix the “rupturing of social fabric” in Mexico, the government is beginning a series of broad social programs to address issues such as poverty, health care, and education, so that Mexicans feel that there are options available to them besides being involved with the cartels.

Luciana E. Milano ‘14, a member of the IOP Forum Committee, said that she thought the event was an important one to bring to campus in order to make people aware of the oft-forgotten situation close to our border.

“At Harvard, you hear people talk about Libya and Japan, but to me what’s happening in Mexico is just as pressing a concern,” she said.

Students disagreed about whether the strategies put forth by the panelists would be successful. While some said that the approach of integrating local and federal reform would be effective, Milano said that she was concerned that the discourse put forth will not match up with the reality of the situation.

“Both sides recognize the problem and they address in a theoretical way, but they don’t necessarily see the pragmatic side,” Milano said.

—Staff writer Monica M. Dodge can be reached at mdodge@college.harvard.edu.

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