Vicente Fox, former president of Mexico, is urging the country’s current administration to negotiate with drug cartels to put an end to rampant levels of violence, inserting himself into a deeply divided and unsettled regional debate about engaging with organized crime.
In an interview with Carlos Marín, host of the television show El asalto a la razón (The Assault on Reason), Fox expounded on what he perceives to be the failure of the current administration to quell drug-related violence and the need “to negotiate and reach agreement with” cartels.
“I am going to tell you something that I will get a lot of criticism for,” said Fox. “But I would sit down to negotiate, to look for solutions with these cartels and these [criminal] types to see how we could reach an agreement so that they can stop killing one another and stop killing our youth.”
The former president specifically referenced the Mexican government’s negotiations with Subcomandante Marcos, the infamous leader of an indigenous rights rebel movement in southern Mexico in the early 1990s, as well as the US government’s longstanding tradition of using sentence reductions and plea bargains to work with criminals turned informants as precedent for his position.
Fox also suggested that current President Enrique Peña Nieto’s decisions to deploy militarized security forces in an attempt to rein in violence has been counterproductive. His comments come as Mexico is seeing worsening security conditions nationwide.
Fox held office from 2000 to 2006 and was succeeded by Felipe Calderón (2006-2012), who was the first president to deploy Mexico’s military in the so-called “war on drugs.”
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Fox made similar comments in 2011 calling for a more collaborative approach to engaging organized crime in an effort to reduce violence. He was widely criticized for the comments, with many commentators at the time suggesting a long history of détentes between politicians and powerful organized crime actors in Mexico is what allowed cartels to accumulate such power in the first place.
However, the idea of developing a more diplomatic engagement strategy is gaining purchase in certain circles, with business leaders in violence-affected Acapulco advocating for a “pacification proposal” as recently as April 2016.
Regionally, the question is unsettled. Currently, El Salvador is embroiled in a debate about the legitimacy of a 2012 government-facilitated gang truce, that has since unraveled. In Colombia, the possibility of initiating a demobilization process for powerful organized crime operations descended from paramilitary organizations is a controversial issue.
Logistically, Fox’s proposed negotiations would be difficult to orchestrate and any resulting agreements would be nearly impossible to enforce given the increasingly atomized nature of organized crime in Mexico. The vertically integrated cartels of the past have been largely replaced by a more horizontal power structure of loosely affiliated cells and chapters.
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