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Session Two of a Council on Foreign Relations Symposium on Organized Crime in the Western Hemisphere: An Overlooked Threat?

Speakers: Ramon Garza Barrios, Mayor, Nuevo Laredo, Tamaulipas, Mexico, and Rodrigo Pardo, Director, Revista Cambio; Former Foreign Minister, Republic of Colombia
Presider: Andrew D. Selee, Director, Mexico Institute, Woodrow Wilson International Center For Scholars
November 18, 2009
Council on Foreign Relations

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ANDREW D. SELEE: Welcome back to the second session. Good to have everyone here. Though I hate to interrupt all the good conversations going on, I think we want to go ahead and make sure we hear from our excellent panelists here.

I want to thank Shannon O'Neil for the invitation to be here on behalf of the Woodrow Wilson Center's Latin American program, and for putting together such a good panel today, such a good conference today.

As we've heard in the last panel, we all live with organized crime. And this is not a phenomenon that is only of Colombia or Mexico or Central America. Right outside these doors in the communities we live in in New York and Washington, D.C., for those that live in those cities, and elsewhere in this country, organized crime is extremely active. It's extremely active all over the world. It has different manifestations in different places, however.

In some places, it seems to pass at the margins of the state and the margins of public life for most people. In other places, it becomes all-consuming, it penetrates the state, it penetrates public life and it penetrates people's daily lives in very direct ways.

We heard in the previous panel a lot about both Colombia and Northern Mexico. Very pleased that we have two excellent spokespeople and analysts of what is going on in Colombia and northern Mexico, who can actually tell us a little bit about what the situation is, what's going on.

Colombia has certainly gone through a situation where it faced a number of threats from organized crime, both political, both from guerrilla movements and out to the (fringes ?), the paramilitary groups, but also drug trafficking organizations.

Northern Mexico is facing a situation where drug trafficking organizations are very active. And Nuevo Laredo particularly has been a place where cartels have fought each other. And increasingly, one cartel seems to have taken over and been able to at least settle the dispute that they had with other groups.

You have the bios for the two. Rodrigo Pardo is the director, the editor-in-chief of an excellent journal, Cambio, but he has also held leadership positions, senior editing positions -- Semana, El Espectador, El Tiempo -- major newspapers and magazines in Colombia as well as being foreign minister and ambassador of Colombia.

Ramon Garza is the mayor of Nuevo Laredo, a city that has been referenced here. He is both a businessman and a politician in Tamaulipas, has studied at Tech De Monterey.

And there are two excellent journalists, by the way, from El Manana of Nuevo Laredo in the audience, as well, so we hope to hear from them in the question-and-answer session. Ramon and Roberto Cantu (ph) can also talk about Nuevo Laredo.

Let me just start off with asking you, generally, since this was the subject of the last panel, tell us a little bit, where is Colombia today? And then we'll go to Nuevo Laredo.

(Inaudible) -- Rodrigo, what is the situation? Are things better off than they were 10 years ago?

RODRIGO PARDO: I believe things are better off, definitely. But I was thinking when I listened to the panelists this morning that it is important to go a little deeper into the relations between the guerrillas and the drug traffickers, because it is true that in the last year they have been united. And to combat one of them is basically to do it against the other one.

But the origin of the two phenomenons are totally different. The guerrillas are older. The guerrillas were created in the '60s in the Cold War. And they tried to follow the Cuban revolution, so on and so forth.

The drug traffic is more recent. And the drug cartels, they have also acted without the guerrillas. And I don't want to be too academic or too confusing here, but what I do want to say is that the success of Colombia has more to do with combating the guerrillas than with combating the drug traffic.

The drug traffic was associated to the guerrillas, then in the '90s was associated with the paramilitary groups. And it was because of the money coming from illicit drugs that the paramilitary became such a powerful group and such a huge problem for Colombia. More than 15,000 people in arms, financed by this money.

So what explains the 64 percent popularity of President Uribe has more to do with how the FARC are not any longer operating as they used to be and not necessarily with the reduction of drugs in the country.

What is going to happen after the guerrillas are no longer as active, as powerful and with the huge military capacity they used to have is not clear. But it is clear that if we do not have the bigger cartels of the 1990s, and we do not have the guerrillas and the paramilitary, at least in the dimensions they had also in the '80s and '90s, we still are part of this international chain of illicit drugs.

And the global statistics that had to do with the value of drug exports and the production of basically cocaine have not gone down as you would have expected after all what we've done. So there is Plan Colombia, the cooperation between Colombia and the United States.

And the Seguridad Democratica program of President Uribe has been, all of them, a lot more successful in reducing the capacity of action of the guerrilla movement, and especially the FARC, than of reducing the dimensions of drug traffic.

SELEE: Ramon, tell us a little bit about Nuevo Laredo. I mean, this is the largest land-border crossing in the world. And as Mexico's become an epicenter of drug trafficking in the way that Colombia was earlier, clearly, it's an area that's very attractive to drug trafficking organizations and other forms of organized crime. What does it look like today?

MAYOR RAMON GARZA BARRIOS: Thank you very much, Andrew. Thank you very much to all of you for being here. Thanks to the Council on Foreign Relations for inviting me to speak with you here.

I'm very pleased to be here. And I want to explain a little bit where and what is Nuevo Laredo. Nuevo Laredo has a population of maybe half a million, around half a million people.

We are in the northeast of Mexico in the state of Tamaulipas. Thirty-six percent of the international trade with Mexico, the United States, Canada and the world crosses through Nuevo Laredo. Fifty percent of the railroad cars traffic within the United States and Mexico crosses through Laredo. It's 10,000 trucks in out of Mexico each day and 2,000 railroad cars each day crossing through Nuevo Laredo.

And Nuevo Laredo -- well, first of all, let me tell you about the bad years, the bad years of Nuevo Laredo, 2005-2007. We had a war between the cartels in Nuevo Laredo. We had the people, the people were afraid. They didn't want to leave their homes. I remember, I used to serve as a speaker of the House of the House of Representatives in Tamaulipas. And returning to my hometown on weekends and getting in the early hours of the morning sometimes, and it was incredible, it wasn't recognizable in Nuevo Laredo, because nobody was out.

It's like Nuevo Laredo, that was then a different city with a nightlife, but it wasn't recognizable. It's like taking Times Square without any people. That's what was happening.

And when I took over government in 2008, I said first thing I had to face was the trust of the people in the government. What do I have to do? That's one of the things that I thought about it.

So I started a government. First of all, I had to clean the people, the police, the police corps. And we got rid of -- weed out about 35 percent of the police force because they didn't pass the test, the anti-doping test, or we didn't have confidence in their job. And one-third of the force was kicked out, and we have to get new forces to control the police.

In 2005, el Presidente Calderon sent 600 officers to Nuevo Laredo who are now in the federal offices. I think the determination of President Calderon on this part is a great value for Mexico. He's trying very hard to get rid of these cartels, with zero tolerance on these drug traffickers.

And I think we're doing it. But it's not only the arms, how we're going to fight it, it's not only with the arms. The society needs to fight, too, and we have to create a great society. Let's say, let's put some numbers. Between 2006 and 2009, the kidnappings were up, the homicides were up. But in 2009, the homicide reduction is more than 85 percent. The kidnapping reduction is more than 87 percent. And the business theft is down 30 percent. The car theft is 38 percent.

And we've been working a lot with society. We needed to get the trust of the society in our city to, let's say, regain the trust. But we cannot do that alone. It doesn't happen just by saying it. That's why we created a new model of citizen government to involve the citizens in the decisions of the budget and how and where to invest and get involved and transparency and accountability in the government.

I think Nuevo Laredo -- this is only the first step Nuevo Laredo is going to have. But we need a lot more things to do in Nuevo Laredo. That's part of the message.

SELEE: If we could pick up on that theme. I mean, one of the things that organized crime does is it silences society. And it seems in Colombia there's been something of a reawakening of society. I don't know if you can comment on that.

And also the press, particularly. I mean, there was a moment in Colombia where the press was really under attack. And there seems to be a coming together of the press also to defend itself, to defend the right of expression and the larger society to respond.

BARRIOS: In Colombia and Mexico, too.

PARDO: Well, I think, Andrew, the change has got to do with the strategies of the cartels. That is, the Medellin cartel was the most violent of all the drug trafficker organizations in Colombia because it was very confrontational, and they attempted through force, to silence, as you say, the society and the press.

They killed the director, editor-in-chief, of the second-largest newspaper of Colombia, El Spectador. They bombed also El Spectador and another newspaper in -- (inaudible). That was back in the '80s.

After the Medellin cartel, the Cali cartel was a bit more sophisticated. And they, instead of confronting the press and confronting the political powers, they tried to infiltrate them. And they did, to some extent.

But after the Cali cartel was also defeated and dismantled, what we have now is smaller organizations of a more regional nature. And they are still powerful, and they still intimidate the press, but not at the same level as it used to be in the '80s.

I think right now, there is a big difference on how we in the major cities do journalism as compared to the small radio stations and small newspapers in the regions where the conflict is closer. So in Colombia, we are not anymore the country with the highest number of journalists killed in the world, as it was in the '80s. And we don't have laws that restrain the journalists from doing their job. On the opposite, we have a constitution which is very powerful for us to defend from the political and economic powers.

We have the 20th Article which is almost as powerful as the American First Amendment. But there are new restrictions to full liberty of expression and of the press. For example, at the regional level, it has become a very frequent practice, the self-censorship by the journalists themselves, as a mechanism to protect from threats. So they don't say many things, they don't write many things, not because somebody is telling them not to do it, but as a mechanism, as I say, to defense.

We don't have --

SELEE: Is that for the national media as well, or is it primarily regional media?

PARDO: It's mostly regional, regionally.

BARRIOS: Yes, it's a little bit of what happened in Nuevo Laredo. You all remember --

SELEE: You had Manana.

BARRIOS: -- Manana, we had a bomb three years ago at the newspaper. It's the oldest newspaper and respectable newspaper. And now, everyone was afraid and it was really pressure for not writing anything about organized crime. Now, I think as what Rodrigo just said, is they have a lot of protection on what they write, but now you can write a little about the organized crime, and it's in the newspaper.

SELEE: How much does organized crime, drug-trafficking cartels in the case of Mexico, but also other organizations, like -- (inaudible) -- how much do organized crime organizations penetrate the state in Mexico? To what extent, when you deal with, for example, federal authorities or state-level authorities, do you worry about, you know, you may be working on cleaning up the city government, you have to worry about to what extent are there interlocutors with other organizations in those bodies?

BARRIOS: I think one of the succeeds of Nuevo Laredo is that the work that we have together, that I'm responsible for all the security in our city, it doesn't matter if it's a federal law or a state law or what's going on, either on what side of the border. I think one of the main keys is the coordination, collaboration, that we have integration that we have between federal army, the federal police, the state police, the local police on both sides of the border.

I work a lot with ICE. I work a lot with the FBI, with the general consulate in Nuevo Laredo, which is now there used to be a consul from the United States in Nuevo Laredo, and now there's a general consulate in Nuevo Laredo thanks to Tony that is here, when he was ambassador. Thank you, Ambassador, for that.

And we work with them a lot on security matters. And I remember, in the border of Nuevo Laredo was created this best force that help each other in communications, exchange of information and all that. We trust each other, and we have a lot of succeed and solve difficult problems that we had in the past. I think that this trust that needs to be and just starting integration on both sides of the border, because Laredo and Nuevo Laredo are a region. And we need to work together, because organized crime does not respect borders.

They work on both sides of the borders, from Colombia to the United States and all over the world. They organize, and they don't respect borders or anything. So we need to work a lot closer in order to get our succeeds stories, in order to resolve this problem that is not only with guns, we need to have it like a health problem and as a social problem, too.

SELEE: Well, we'll come back to the collaboration issue. I think it's a key point. No longer do we look at this as stopping at the border -- stopping at the water's edge, as we talked about earlier.

But Rodrigo, can you tell us a little bit about also the penetration of organized crime in Colombia?

PARDO: Sure. It's a very interesting question, because we have gone through two major political scandals in Colombia, one in the 1990s and then the para-politics scandal that was mentioned also this morning.

The first one had to do with the Cali cartel trying to finance political campaigns for Congress and even for the presidency, and then to get some influence, especially in Congress and in the political decision-making process.

The second one is more recent. It has been during the Uribe years, and in the last four or five years, and it has to do with the influence of paramilitary groups that helped candidates to be elected because they had mutual control in some areas of the country, or at least they had a very strong influence.

There were some places in the country where their influence was so strong that it was difficult to campaign; and therefore, the candidates had to make pacts and deals with the paramilitary groups. And when they united in an umbrella organization called the -- (inaudible) -- the self-defense groups of Colombia adopted a very sophisticated strategy to gain influence in Congress.

One of their leaders, Carlos Castano, who is apparently dead, he, before he died, in an interview mentioned that it was the aim to achieve 30 percent of Congress under their influence. And it's still too early to tell if he did. But it is clear that they did get a very important influence in Congress.

Now, I should say, though, that in both cases, the influence of the Cali cartel and now the para-politics scandal, the Colombian institutions worked and worked well. That is, in both cases, the judicial system brought into justice most of the people infiltrated by the Cali cartel or the paramilitary.

Out of the present Congress in Colombia, for example, there is more than 30 people in jail. And the number goes higher. If you can see there, the number of congresspeople, senators and representatives, that are being judged or investigated because of their alleged links with the paramilitary groups.

That is what I would say at the national level. It again becomes more complicated at the local levels, because the major members of city councils, secretaries at the municipal levels, are a lot weaker and have less support and attention from the national media and from the national government. And at that level, I think, the influence of drug trafficking is still pretty high.

SELEE: Okay. And it is really regional influence that happens. How does the -- look at Nuevo Laredo. I mean, you have -- I mean, part of the reason the violence goes down is that one group wins. The -- (inaudible) -- essentially win -- (inaudible). How do you deal with that?

BARRIOS: I think that President Calderon is making a big effort and fighting the army, because the army has a lot of trust, the people have a lot of trust in the Mexican army. Eighty-five percent of the people think it's a good institution. And I think President Calderon, by taking the army, they have the organized crime running all over the place. It's like they don't move freely, or they don't move freely as they used to move. Now they are afraid. Now they're being afraid. Now they're being kept. And president and the federal government and President Calderon, with the changes of the new laws that we have, now we coordinate, and now we have control on all persons that get into municipal, state or federal police. And we have a system where everyone is tracked and what they're doing.

And you know how money is. You cannot hide the money, so we kept on houses, cars, families and we have to send that information into the army and into Mexico once a month to check on all police officers.

And the cleaning with this that we have is the better force. The clean police, the cleaner police that we have is a better force that we have to fight the criminal cartels now. The criminal cartels, they don't feel free now into Mexico. Now they hide, now they're afraid. They are afraid. And it's one of the things, why do I feel fear? Why do I feel fear? They have to be defeated once they live in fear, because they are -- (inaudible) -- in the law, you know. (Inaudible.)

SELEE: They're not under the rule of law.

BARRIOS: They're not under the rule. They're the ones that need to in fear, not us.

SELEE: It's your sense that the Calderon strategy has worked then for Nuevo Laredo, that having the army there, particularly more than the federal police, I assume, the army --

BARRIOS: Yes, the army.

SELEE: -- has actually helped to calm down the situation.

BARRIOS: Yes, that's correct.

SELEE: Did that help resolve the fight between the two cartels? Or was that simply resolved on their own terms?

BARRIOS: I think that is the key thing that resolves what has been going on in Nuevo Laredo.

SELEE: Is having the federal presence there.

BARRIOS: Having the federal presence, the army.

SELEE: The army, okay.

BARRIOS: The army.

SELEE: How has that played out in Colombia? I mean, there's been really a two-pronged strategy which we talked about earlier, or a several-pronged strategy. I mean, one has been going after the cartels and the FARC, as you talked about, going after the financial transactions and then also working on the judicial side of this. How well has this worked?

PARDO: I think it has worked well, but the success that was referred to in the previous panel has more to do with the military. And it is true that Plan Colombia made a difference in terms of what the Colombian military could achieve against the guerrillas.

Most of the guerrilla leaders have had in Colombia orders of arrest -- how you say -- and even processes, but were never brought into justice, because they lived in the countryside and in the jungles. So it is not the judicial part of the -- (inaudible) -- that has changed and that has worked better, although there are a couple of cases. Simon Trinidad, a former FARC leader, was extradited to the United States and is in a prison here in the states.

And then the 13 major paramilitary leaders were also extradited in May 2008, and they are here before the U.S. tribunals and have very strong cases, all of them, for drug trafficking, not for the assassinations and killings and massacres they committed in Colombia, because our extradition agreements only allow extradition for people who committed crimes in the country where they are sent to. And they participated in drug traffic, which is a crime here and affect the United States, but the major crimes they committed, bigger crimes they committed, killings and so on, they were committed in Colombia.

But it is the military side of the strategy that has worked better under the Uribe years and that has put the FARC into the defensive and that has, with no question, reduced the military capacity of FARC. And we've been listening more of FARC taking over a small town or the FARC having presence in some territories, some parts of our territories.

And there have been very significant and, I would say, historical achievements in terms of going after the major leaders and cabezas of the FARC. Two or three out of the seven members of the secretariat have been killed. Well, and one of them, the historical leader, as you probably know, died because of a disease. But still, through those -- I believe every side of this strategy has worked --

SELEE: More so than the police strategy versus the cartels themselves, or the financial intelligence or strengthening the --

PARDO: Absolutely, yes. Absolutely. I think -- and Francisco Thoumi, who will speak in the next panel, is an expert and could answer this question a lot better than I can. But I think there is -- we don't have enough information about what the FARC and the drug cartels do with their money. And therefore, the emphasis of the democratic security program of President Uribe has more to do with the military side. And also, the financial part of drug trafficking and how the guerrillas live and how they collect their money and how they spend it is more an international problem. They use the international banking system. They have banking accounts, secret banking accounts.

In one case, a half a million dollars in bills, in cash, was found in a -- (inaudible) -- in Costa Rica in Central America. So I don't think there is enough and sophisticated enough information about the financial problem. And I think -- excuse me, Mayor -- and I think there is a lot more to do in terms of finding out how they deal with the money, how they hide it and where they have it and how to control that part, because the money that comes from the drug traffic is still very important. And as long as the profits remain being produced, it will be difficult to think of a Colombia without some sort of alliance of -- (inaudible) -- with the drug traffic within the alliance with the guerrillas, with the paramilitary.

There are some signs that now they are creating more local, more mafias, and that there is a rebuilding of some of the structures of the paramilitary groups, perhaps not with the idea of combating the guerrillas. But for example, in Medellin, the second-largest city in the country, where there was a very significant reduction in homicides, killings, street crimes, the statistics are starting to go up again.

And we are not going back to the levels they used to have during the Escobar years. But there is at least the hypothesis that after Don Berna, who was the paramilitary leader who dominated the area of Medellin and the surrounding territories, and who is now in jail here in the United States, that there is a war of modern mafiosi groups trying to occupy the vacuum created by -- (inaudible) -- organization. And that has produced a small increase, until now -- and hopefully won't increase more -- of homicides and violence.

SELEE: (Inaudible) -- the -- (inaudible) -- branching out into other businesses, or people that work with them.

BARRIOS: I'm very pleased that now this is seen as a shared problem. That the United States -- and we thank the U.S. government for helping Mexico in this international problem, because the Merida initiative is good for us, too. And I hope the other or the second part or the help out in the Merida plan comes to the states and sees.

The governor of Tamaulipas, Eugenio Hernandez, which is my state, he wants this Merida plan to come so that the resources goes to states and cities, too, because it's a shared problem in Mexico, too.

And I really think that we need to work hard, as Rodrigo just said. We need to work hard, taking care of, how is the money going into these organizations? How is the chemicals that produce the drugs is getting to these organizations? And how are they getting the guns, the arms to these organizations?

If we can share more information and if we can detect that more and cut the money, cut the chemicals, cut the guns that these organizations get, they won't be as powerful as they have gotten these past years.

SELEE: Well, that leads to the last question before we open it up to the audience here, to your questions. Which is, we love to give advice from the United States to Mexico and Colombia, wat advice would you give us in the United States? This is clearly, I mean, a shared responsibility, as you said and we heard that in the earlier panel as well. This is something we're tied together on with Colombia, Mexico. Central America is deeply immersed in this, many of the Caribbean countries as well.

What can the U.S. do better, differently and in partnership with Mexico and Colombia?

BARRIOS: I think there's -- I've been mentioning it, this cannot be seen as a security problem only or as a health problem. It needs to be seen as a social problem. And we need to work a lot. And education and culture, using sports, getting families closer together in order to get a stronger society that won't have to make these organizations stronger or don't have to be part of them or consume the drugs that these organizations need in order to get money.

And I think another -- because it's something I've been doing, and I think we need to get it stronger all over the place, is to work together, to trust each other more. And sometimes, even in the United States, we have some information in the one agency, but the other agency doesn't have it and doesn't have it complete. I think we need to have a source of information of this organized crime in only one place, let's say, it can be in the world, you know. Because this organization moves from Mexico, Colombia, Italy or all over Latin America, United States. They move across.

And I think that information and that collaboration needs to be in just one place in order to create a public politics that will help us reduce this or get rid of these organizations.

SELEE: Rodrigo.

PARDO: I couldn't agree more with what Ramon has said. But I would like to make a reflection. Before I became a journalist or came back to my long-term career, which is journalism, I spent some time in public office and I was in three different administrations during the worst period of the war against drugs in Colombia.

And at that time, our international policy was to try to seek multilateral cooperation. And many things were done in the late '80s and the beginning of the '90s. The United Nations was involved. Even President Bush, the father, believed more in a multinational approach. And there was this initiative, which is the origin of the trade preferences that the Andean countries involved in drugs have.

And I think afterwards, the speech and the approach changed and became more bilateral than multilateral. Many of it had to do with the importance that the struggle against terrorism adopted during the second Bush years after the September 11 attacks.

And it seems to me that now, with the increasing problem in Mexico, this rhetoric of multilateralism is coming back, and we are speaking again about the need for a better coordination of the different stages of the drug traffic. I would like to do more against consumption, more against money laundering, more against the deviation of chemical precursors. And that seems to me a right thing to do.

And I frankly like what I have heard from President Obama and Secretary Hillary Clinton, which is more similar to the rhetoric of 15 years ago than the very bilateral and militaristic and terrorist emphasis of the eight years of the second President Bush.

You see, I see a difference of perceptions in Colombia and in Mexico, although the two problems are so similar. In Colombia, we're becoming tired of the struggle against drugs. There is an idea that we've done that work. That we put so much money and effort and lives. And these statistic remain more or less the same, although there are improvements in the security side of it, as I mentioned earlier.

And it seems like, for example, what we had in the first panel is that we have to keep on doing what we've been doing. I don't know how aware you are of a commission created by or led by three former presidents of Colombia, Mexico and Brazil, who made a report on drug trafficking and made proposals that did not go as far as to propose legalization, which seems to be a very unfeasible and probably wrong idea, but that proposes decriminalization, especially a new way to deal with consumption, not with the production. They are not asking for a change in the war against drugs, but to treat in a different way the consumers.

And it seems like in the international community, there is the idea that this strategy is not working, although there is not a clear alternative on what to do. But it seems like the debate is opening up again.

And I think that it is a very good idea to use the multilateral forums, the United Nations, the Latin American forums, the OES, I don't know. And I think it is important that more academic organizations go deeper into the debate and try to find new ideas, because it seems like what we have done hasn't worked.

Now, there are two different ways to conclude after what I have said. One is, we haven't done well the multilateral approach. And this time, we can do it rightly. And as fast as we were on the production side, to be on the consumption side, and to be also similarly aggressive against money laundering and chemical (deviations ?).

The other prospective is more of the same will not help, and we have to try to find a new way, which is not clear to anybody.

BARRIOS: I just want to -- how many lives do we lose every day because of the drugs? Are we spending or are we doing our best effort? Are we spending the money that we need to be spent on this? Is this the organized crime part of the political discourse? Or do we really want to solve it and get to work? You know, I just want to leave this question here.

PARDO: Andrew, if you allow me, and I don't want to take time for more questions. But I would like to put on the table the point that I think is quite important, comparing the strategy today with the schemes and cooperation that we used to have 50 years. And there is a lack of consensus that there exists in the region right now.

In 1994 in the first Summit of the Americas, we basically agreed, the whole community of the Americas, that we believe in the same things. I mean, we spoke of democracy, and we knew what we were talking about, our integration or to combat organized crime.

But today, what President Uribe and President Chavez mean when they use the word "democracy" or "integration," it's absolutely different. And it's very, very difficult to cooperate in difficult matters, such as common security and organized crime, when the political projects are so different that the dialogue between the countries is also very deteriorated and where the best we can expect in our international relations is not to have very big conflict.

SELEE: Well, this opens up a whole set of provocative areas. And let's go with the gentleman back there, and then we'll come up front here, and then move over there.

QUESTIONER: Thanks. Steve Handelman (ph). This is to Mayor Garza. The crime rate reductions that you talked about at the beginning of your talk were nothing short of spectacular -- violent crime, kidnapping, homicides down. I wonder if you could give us a clearer idea of exactly what was done to accomplish this? I mean, how exactly did you --

BARRIOS: What was done? Excuse me?

QUESTIONER: Can you give us a clearer idea of how exactly this was accomplished? Through more prosecutions, prosecutions outside of Nuevo Laredo? You mentioned the federal police and the military involved. If you can give us a kind of idea of the kind of techniques, the strategies that were used, and then what lessons you think come from that that would make that sort of crime reduction sustainable in northern Mexico and elsewhere.

BARRIOS: I think that the military that President Calderon has sent to Nuevo Laredo is the main key to the reduction of the organized crime activity. Because with the new strategies and all that, that helps the state police and the local police to work together and to work on those other types of crime. Before this, everyone was committing a crime, let's say, and say they were part of the organized crime, and everyone was scared.

Now, as the military got in, the military through the effort of President Calderon and this side, not everyone says that is part of the organized crime and not everyone wants to be part or wants to save part of the organized crime. And that's how the police, courts have more confidence, more authority to get on those other types of crime in the city.

SELEE: You had your hand up here.

QUESTIONER: (Name inaudible) -- from Southern Pulse. I had a question, because you both spoke about the need for multilateral cooperation to really get at the source, whether chemical compounds, arms or money. But if the money is kept like in the Caribbean or Europe, chemical compounds come from Asia and the guns come from the U.S., like, what is the sort of like multilateral cooperation that you have in mind if it's going to really be a global thing and not like hemispheric or bilateral situation?

PARDO: Absolutely. And that's why I mentioned the United Nations. The United Nations used to have more attention on it and a specific organization within the United Nations system, dedicated to combating drugs and organized crime. And they follow the Vienna Convention on drugs in the 1980s.

But you see, it seems to me that the legal mechanisms exist, but somehow in the last 10 years, the emphasis, which is explainable and I'm not saying that it was wrong or something like that, but the emphasis on terrorism made drugs the less-important issue for politics. And I think in the last elections in the United States and in other countries as well, even in Colombia, drugs was not an issue anymore.

So that is not important. And frankly, the political will to be aggressive against drugs has a lot to do with what the constituents are asking for. President -- (inaudible) -- changed the policy against drugs after the polls, domestic polls, showed in the midterm election that he lost to the Republicans, the drugs issue was becoming very important. I was a minister at the time, and that's why I remember so well the case.

And in the last presidential election in the United States, and even the previous one, and also in the current elections in Europe or some other places, this is no longer an important issue. And therefore, the mechanisms exist, but they are not being used with the emphasis and the attention they should be.

But you're absolutely right. I mean, we need a global cooperation. And I think the United Nations, which is a global organization with members and treaties and all sort of tools, should be the leading institution on the topic.

SELEE: For you, this is very immediate. Is it happening? Are you seeing more cooperation happening between both sides of the border?

BARRIOS: Excuse me?

ME. SELEE: Are you seeing more cooperation happening between both sides of the border? You're right at one of the borders.

BARRIOS: Yes. And between Nuevo Laredo and Laredo, I see more cooperation and collaboration. We work very closely. We have a lot of trust in what we are doing. And I think it's one of the main things that helped us get good results, good examples of what we think. Even the ICE thinks that this model in Nuevo Laredo and Laredo that has been going on needs to be exported to other places, to other parts of the United States or ports of entry of the United States.

SELEE: Woman in the blue, then we'll come over to this side.

QUESTIONER: Lucy Komisar. I'm a journalist. You both talked about the movement of money. And of course, we know that internationally the drug trafficking system depends on the offshore bank and corporate secrecy system to hide and move their money. The G20, which is the latest international organization to deal with the issue of tax havens, was concerned only about tax and came up with very, very mild solution to this problem.

Do you find in the particular cases of Colombia and Mexico that when you do investigations and your courts deal with these issues that they are using tax havens? And do you have any proposals for how the U.S., which is very powerful in seeking a solution in this on the international bank secrecy issue, and the G20, the powerful countries, ought to deal with the tax haven system?

PARDO: Well, again, I think it would be very important that dealing with these type of issues becomes again a priority. The G20 is not having this as a priority. They have other difficult problems. The G20 was created, more or less, as a response to the financial crisis at the same time, and a financial crisis of the dimensions this one had is a very important problem that they have to deal with. And I think there have been other priorities, unfortunately.

And therefore, there is a lot more to be done that is not being done.

SELEE: And it's worth noting that organized crime is increasingly also using cash and other things, which throws a wrinkle into all this.

Yeah.

QUESTIONER: Jorge Mariscal. Two questions, one for the mayor and one for Mr. Pardo.

For the mayor, you know, I can understand how militarizing a city can reduce crime. And it's very appealing for a population that has had a lot of violence to see the military impose some peace. But I wondered if you can comment about the dangers that this brings about. For example, in extended involvement of poorly paid soldiers is bound to --

BARRIOS: Excuse me?

QUESTIONER: An extended involvement of very poorly paid soldiers is bound to create corruption within the military. And once that happens, it can become very dangerous. In other places like Spain, for instance, in the fight with the ETA, they took a different approach. They took a smaller group of highly paid, super-well-trained groups to attack the guerrilla. And I wonder if you can comment on that.

And on Colombia, am I to infer from your opening comments that the reason why we're seeing less violence in Colombia is really because there's a new social pact, in a sense, where as long as the narco dealers do not involve in guerrilla acts and do not become too large, it's okay, we're going to let them operate.

(Cross talk.)

BARRIOS: First of all, in Mexico, first thing that President Calderon did when he took office is that he doubled the pay to the soldiers, and he did a lot of raising of all the benefits that they have. And we know we still need more money for the army to get up a stronger army. As citizens, we are afraid of the corruption and all other forces, not only in the local state or federal, even the military.

And we think now the military acts or attacks with intelligence. They're not all over the streets in Nuevo Laredo or parts of Mexico. They have intelligence now, and, let's say, they pick, they take, they attack the right spots to take the people that is with this organized crime, working with these organized crimes and (deactivate ?). And that's what they've been doing now.

And we understand, and we know this has to be not forever. It has to be temporary, because the military needs to get back once this problem gets minimized or rid of, you know.

PARDO: I think your question is excellent. I would believe, though, we are in a transition point. And it's difficult to tell where we are going to. We are in a transition point because the paramilitary structures were basically dismantled, and 13 of the major paramilitary leaders, as I mentioned, were extradited to the United States.

And it's difficult to tell what is going to happen afterwards. There is a vacuum of power that they left, and there are small organizations trying to occupy it. And there's no question about it. And there's this organization called the Águilas Negras, the Black Eagles, that is occupying, because it seems to be an attempt to maintain mafioso influence in the country.

There is also a transition vis-a-vis the guerrilla movements. Because only a year ago, the head of FARC died, and the number two was killed in Ecuador in this attack in -- (inaudible). So it's difficult to tell what is going to happen with them.

Now, given that, I think it is true that public opinion do not care about drug traffic as long as there isn't an effect of what they do in the current life of Colombians. And that seems to be the case, especially if you compare today the situation with some years ago. We don't have the killings of Pablo Escobar. We don't have the infiltration of the Cali cartel in Congress. The guerrillas are on the defensive. And the paramilitary are in some sort of changing process.

So in the short term, it is true, what you say. I mean, and drugs does not appear in the priorities of Colombians. Now that we are conducting polls because there is a new election coming up, drugs does not exist as a problem, especially when there is an economic crisis. Issues like employment and inflation, although we have a very low one, but when there is a crisis, people believe inflation is higher than it actually is.

So right now, it is true that public polls show that cartels and drug traffic are not a priority and (the reason ?) you hear the candidates making proposals and speaking about this.

SELEE: In the interest of time, let's take a round of questions, and we'll come back to our speakers.

You've been very patient.

QUESTIONER: Alexandra Starr with Slate magazine. This is a question for Mr. Pardo. You were talking about multilateral relations in the region. I was wondering if you could comment on the recent decision in the United States to base bases in Colombia and how that was perceived and maybe how it was handled regionally, how that is affecting the broader dynamic.

SELEE: Let's take a question right behind you as well.

QUESTIONER: Nancy Truitt, the Tinker Foundation. I was very interested, Mr. Garza, in your discussion of the governance of Nuevo Laredo. It's an issue around Latin America as there's decentralization taking place from the major cities out to the municipalities with money flowing down, and that means that there needs to be training or other ways of developing those municipalities.

I wondered if, in your municipality, there has been training or other means of educating people to take their role in the community, whether it's an elected role or a volunteer role.

SELEE: And right here.

QUESTIONER: Brian O'Neil (sp). Perhaps a very different question, but I'll direct to you, Rodrigo. You mentioned service in three Colombian administrations. I certainly can remember Presidents Gaviria and Samper. And I don't think the third one was Uribe.

PARDO: No, it was Barco before then.

QUESTIONER: Right. The question is really free trade and free trade agreements and how they are relevant to the topics that we've been discussing this morning. We don't have one with Colombia, because the U.S. Congress hasn't ratified it. We have a secretary of State and a president that, as candidates for the nomination of their party, campaigned against free trade. And -- (inaudible) -- and the AFL-CIO basically stymied the Bush administration from achieving a free trade agreement ratification with Colombia, based upon reasons very much along the lines of Rita Hauser's challenge to Will Wexler about the progress under Uribe, whether it's the life expectancy of union leaders or police or judges or even mayors and the lack of progress thereof.

And I just want to have the benefit of your view as to whether that was helpful, whether that was accurate or whether the ratification of a treaty would be helpful as regards to these topics.

SELEE: Why don't you both answer these questions, and then we'll come back and take one more round.

PARDO: Okay, I think on the basis agreement, the military cooperation agreement, agreement between Colombia and the United States, I think it was done at a very wrong time. But more than that, I think it was very poorly communicated, and it created a diplomatic and political problems that it should have not created.

There was a lack of information that allowed any much of the agreement to consolidate as basically some sort of occupation of the U.S. in Colombia and probably with intentions against Chavez in Venezuela. It created a very difficult situation for Colombia. I've been very critical of President Uribe's foreign policy. But I think that dealing with this particular agreement was the worst of all the mistakes that the current administration in Colombia has made.

And I see Colombia, I'm comfortable in all the major regional scenarios. Colombia goes to UNASUR. And President Uribe or the foreign minister or the minister of defense seen as in a trail, and they had to respond for many things. And the come to the United States, and the Democrats don't seem comfortable with the union problems and human rights problems. They go to the United Nations, and it seems like the U.N. doesn't want to become involved in Colombia, because they did not have a good experience during the times of negotiation with the guerrillas.

So Colombia has become isolated. And I think, in part, although Uribe's foreign policy made mistakes from the very beginning, but a lot of it has also to do, or at least it has consolidated, because of the poor dealing of these agreements, of these military agreements with the United States.

And there, I would like to say that the responsibility should be shared. I mean, it is an agreement which is important for the United States. And I don't see the U.S. diplomacy explaining to the Brazilians or explaining to the Venezuelans themselves what this agreement is for and what they are going to do in the bases and to what extent they are going to increase the level of presence of soldiers or equipment or planes or whatever. That's something nobody knows, but the members of the South American and Latin American community are acting on the worst-possible scenario of the use of the bases by the U.S.

So I think there have been terrible mistakes that are too costly for Colombia and that should be shared with the United States.

On the free trade agreement, I think it is important for Colombia. It is important, because that is going to replace the preferences, the trade preferences, on a longer basis and on a more stable basis, which is important for investors and for business people.

But also, I frankly believe it is very unfair that the country was closest to the U.S. foreign policy during the Bush administration, which was not a very popular policy in the Americas, as the only that has problems to ratify the free trade agreement.

I will also say that, from the economic point of view, it doesn't make any sense for the United States to have free trade with Mexico, Central America and Peru and not to have with Colombia, which is a 45-million-people country, very close to the United States in terms of political, diplomatic and economic relations.

And it is also unfair for Colombia to have to compete with products that are brought into the United States under free trade agreements -- that is the case of Central America -- and not having the same regime. Because in the short time, we have the preferences, but it's difficult to tell whether they are going to remain for the longer term.

And one final point. I think that the linkage between the labor union problems and the free trade agreement is also a wrong one, because it is delaying the approval of free trade agreement, and it is reducing the very bad problem of human rights to only a few cases of violations against union leaders. I'm not saying that the violations against labor union leaders are not important, that they had to be dealt with, but human rights in Colombia are a lot worse than that.

I mean, we had this scandal of -- (inaudible) -- civilian young people who were killed by members of the military forces, to be shown afterwards as guerrilla members being killed in combat. I mean, that is great, that is worse.

I think Colombia and the United States should have a broader and more important mechanism to cooperate on human rights, but it should be separate from the free trade agreement in order to be more ambitious on human rights and in order to allow the free trade agreement to continue the process in Congress.

BARRIOS: I think that one objective of my government, ever since I took government, is to work against the corruption. And I think that the strategic that I've been using is empowering the citizenship through several organizations participating with government in different matters.

Now in Nuevo Laredo, they can get competitiveness of the city, it's in the hands of several organizations. The planning of the city is in the hands of the organization, created by national (ascent ?) of leadership and public studies between Texas A&M International University and the State University Star in Nuevo Laredo, in order to get stronger relations and to help citizens or similar organizations to participate in government.

I think that's a next step, and it's in security matters, too. That's why I want to create a strategic institute of strategic studies in the border and use the similar organizations and to use the experience of people that has been successful in this matter to work and create public politics that are successful and that are going to be successful in helping all to find out all the different matters that happens in security in the border.

The border is really important for both countries, the United States and Mexico. And it's important to the world. And we need to work together in this matter, to this institute, similar organizations in this matter.

SELEE: Thank you.

I want to thank both of our speakers. I know there are many more questions, but we want to respect the time here. And we have one more panel to go. So thank you very much to our speakers, and we'll reconvene in 15 minutes. Thank you.

(Applause.)

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