GARRICK UTLEY: Take your seats. And we're going to continue with this, I think, very stimulating and timely event or conference -- series of events this afternoon here at the council. You've heard from the ambassadors giving their overviews from the American and the Mexican perspectives just a moment ago. We've had our break now. And now, we're into two very important panels.
This is on the future of bilateral security cooperation. I'm Garrick Utley, and it's my pleasure to moderate or preside and listen and learn about how our experts on the panel are seeing where we are going in our bilateral security cooperation. We heard a lot about the violence, drug-related, in Mexico, the spillover effects into American life. That certainly is going to be a focal point -- a focal -- our first focal point, but there are also other considerations to come in.
Let me remind you again to turn off all devices that send out signals, except for pacemakers, perhaps -- (laughter) -- and -- yes, please, no pacemakers -- and that this is on the record this afternoon at the council.
Just very brief introductions, because you have the bios of our participants with you. On the far side is Alfredo Corchado with the Dallas Morning News. He's currently a visiting scholar at the David Rockefeller Center for Latin American Studies, Harvard University. As a former journalist, I always like to welcome another journalist on the panel because you're there on the ground as well as looking at the broader analytical or policy picture.
Frances, or Fran, Townsend is known to many of us. She appears on CNN and other outlets talking about security affairs. She's a senior vice president at MacAndrews & Forbes Holdings and really advises international organizations and companies on terrorism and security issues. And she worked for the president in homeland security and counterterrorism in a number of positions earlier in the decade.
And Jorge Chabat is professor, Department of International Studies, Center for Research and Teaching in Economics -- CIDE -- in Mexico City.
Before they speak -- and they'll give some -- an introductory comments and then we'll have our discussion and then we'll allow plenty of time for what used to be called the question-and-answer period, but today, in the digital age, we have to call the interactive period of our session. So we will be interactive.
But let me just take one minute, personal story. Let's go way back, spring/summer of 1973. This then-journalist was leaving New York to go to London to take up a new position as the chief NBC correspondent in Europe. And I went down to see Dr. Henry Kissinger, who was then national security adviser, about his tips of what were the big stories, where I should -- what I should I keep my eye focused on.
We spoke for about 20 minutes there in the White House in his office. And he talked about the height of the Cold War, the Middle East, the arms negotiations, et cetera. And I was about to leave, and I said, Dr. Kissinger, this question just occurred to me. What issue do you -- that is not on your agenda or your radar screen today that you would hate to wake up one morning and discover it there? And he looked me in the eye without a second's hesitation and said, Mexico.
He was aware of it, and he said, let it be. Well, on that note, from decades ago, let's go to what we do face today because Mexico is very much on the agenda.
And Alfredo, let's start with you. Before we get into the very important policy and analytical aspects of this chart, paint a human picture of what really is happening there along the border, mainly on the Mexican side, where we know about the tens of thousands of people who have been dead -- killed over the last few years since this war really started, but also -- but on the American side, just to get this conversation going.
ALFREDO CHORCHADO: First thing, I want to thank the Council on Foreign Relations for the invitation, and I'm really here as everything except a scholar, so don't think of me as a scholar. I'm really -- at heart, I'm a journalist, and I'm also a border resident, having grown up in El Paso and having grown up as a kid in Ciudad Juarez.
What -- I guess the -- maybe the best way to describe this is that as a foreign correspondent covering Mexico today, covering the border today is really no different than covering other war-torn nations. I recently was accompanied by a photojournalist who's covered Bosnia, covered Kabul and covered Iraq, and she said, you know, this is worse because in some ways, you don't know who the good guys, you don't know who the bad guys; things look normal, things look like everything seems to function, and then suddenly, bam, chaos erupts. She said it's almost like chasing ghosts. You know, you don't know who people are.
Since December of 2006 -- I'm sure you've all heard the figures -- 30,000 people have been killed across Mexico. In Ciudad Juarez along the Sierra, it's something like 2,700; as of yesterday, 80 people in just the first nine days of November, so it kind of gives you a sense of the chaos that's right across El Paso, one of the safest cities, as the ambassador said earlier.
Yes, it -- it's -- you know, everything we hear is that more than 90 percent of them are people who are somehow associated with drug violence or drug traffickers, but at least 1,300 of them have been children. Thousands of them have been orphaned. According to, I think it was El Governacion (sp) recently, more than 400 communities across Mexico now have no local police force.
As far as the spillover, I think -- you know, as an El Pasoan, it's more of a myth. I mean, we haven't seen the spillover of violence from Juarez into El Paso. What we have seen is the spillover of people coming across. And there are no real reliable numbers. If you talk to the Mexican Consulate, the numbers probably are, they say, less than 10,000. If you talk to the El Paso police chief, they say that it's over 30,000. What I do know personally is that El Paso now has a nightlife. And you see it with the number of restaurants that are opening up, number of businesses. I think -- one stat that I saw was that more than 10,000 businesses have shut down in Ciudad Juarez.
What I -- you know, what is also true about El Paso is that it's also a breeding ground for a lot of the gangs. I mean, gangs from El Paso will go into Juarez, commit their crimes and then go across. One story that really hasn't -- I haven't really seen it in another place (other than ?) El Paso -- for example, the U.S. employee who was killed last March, one of the gang members who was responsible for that killing lived just a few blocks from where they lived on the El Paso side. I mean, it kind of tells you how intertwined we are.
And I guess the most worrisome part is that we're not really seeing consequences. I mean, more than 90 -- there's an impunity rate in Mexico of more than 95 percent. So as a reporter, you go there and you cover these massacres, you cover bodies hanging and you talk to the victims, relatives of the victims, and they say "No hay justicia"; I mean, "there is no justice."
So when the ambassador was saying earlier today, five, 10 years before institutions come into play, I don't know that Mexicans have that kind of patience, five, 10 years, without seeing any consequences.
UTLEY: Thank you very much.
Fran, move on to you because obviously you've -- we've had a vivid picture right here of the security situation there. From an American point of view, what -- how do you describe our interests? Obviously, we don't want -- we want a stable, peaceful Mexico. We don't want this spilling over into the United States, the border communities or beyond.
You've been deeply involved in this. You've also said we have to consider unconventional steps. So sum up what you mean by that and the picture you see.
FRANCES TOWNSEND: Sure. I mean, some of this -- you have to understand, Garrick, the context in which -- I've had the privilege of working the bilateral security -- this -- between Mexico and the United States, gosh, going back to the first Bush administration, through the Clinton administration. I mean, think about the context in which this security relationship has grown. It has seen times of terrible crisis -- the Kiki Camarena kidnapping. And so you understand over time, up to the violence of this day, there has built up an environment of distrust. It's not something that policymakers on either side of the border care to talk about. Of course, policymakers when they're giving public statements want to talk about the positive aspects to the relationship, but you know, it's -- as they say, you can't deal with it until you accept that you have a problem, right?
And so, when I talk, when -- Garrick and I were talking, when I think about unconventional measures, what does that mean? Well, it doesn't mean -- I was in the Bush administration, worked passionately hard on comprehensive immigration reform, left government, worked with the council on their task force on comprehensive immigration reform. I can tell you for sure, a relationship of trust is not built on a fence. You know, we build a 10-foot fence, they build a 12-foot ladder. It's a waste of money, it's not horribly effective, and if you want to talk about between political leadership creating an environment of distrust, we understood very well that the fence was not the right answer. And so we privately were trying to explain the political dynamic in the United States and we would overcome it, but you can appreciate over the course of time, this is not how you build a relationship of trust.
And so there were a number of steps, going back to my time in the Clinton administration, small measures over time that you hope build the momentum to create trust. Things like the binational commission, where the head of states would meet and bring their cabinets with them, and what you hoped for is that leadership trickles down into the bureaucracies. I worked very hard, for example, with the attorney general's office in Mexico on the creation of vetted units, where we would feel comfortable creating -- sharing sensitive operational information that we and our Mexican allies on their side of the border could then act on.
Some of those things have great successes, but inevitably, there will be failures. And unfortunately, what happens is there will be those inside each bureaucracy that will point -- be pointing to the failures not as exceptions but as indications of a greater -- why we should not trust our allies.
So, unconventional measures, what do I mean? I also do not mean states on the U.S. side of the border taking legal initiatives into their own hands. But if the federal government wants to control this, then they need to own it. They need to lead, and it means they need to take action. They can't just claim that immigration is a federal responsibility and then fail to lead and abrogate that responsibility. In fairness, I would point more to the Congress than to the executive branch in terms of the abrogation of responsibility.
But -- so where does that leave you? It leaves you with the private sector, and public-private partnerships. U.S. government has done a tremendous amount of talking about public-private partnership, and frankly, I think we've not been -- the U.S. government has not been terribly effective at it. You know, when you look at the bilateral relationship between the U.S. and China or the U.S. and India, and you think public-private partnership, you can name business leaders who have led the way in terms of building that bridge. Bill Gates has done a tremendous job in places like China and India. Hank Greenberg was a tremendous force in terms of the bilateral relationship with China, and his advice is still sought.
When you talk about Mexico, I immediately think of Carlos Slim, who has been an extraordinary leader in this way. But how many American CEOs are willing to wade into this to help build that public-private bridge with Mexico? I think some of that's got to do with it's a terribly polarizing and partisan issue; that's a problem. But you need -- you need examples. Larry Lucchino -- I'll give you one -- Larry Lucchino, who is now the owner of the Boston Red Sox, when he owned the San Diego Padres would take that team south of the border to play games in Mexico. And when he would invite the Mexican team up to play in San Diego, they would arrange for transportation and facilitate transportation across the U.S.-Mexican border.
That's one small untold story. But imagine private industry showing real leadership like that in a more sort of expansive way, to provide a safe zone in which politicians and policymakers can work with the private sector to build those bridges outside of a political process.
UTLEY: Well, thank you for that perspective, public-private. We don't often hear that when we're talking about the security questions between the U.S. and Mexico. And I want to come back and pick up on this trust issue, because it's a very important one, but we can also work in maybe a sharper definition or examples of steps that can be taken.
Jorge, in your writings on this issue, which is the stability, the drug war, these issues here, you described it as an inevitable war. Now, for a long time the drug business has been there; for a long time there were sort of pro forma police or security operations. But I think the term was, a "policy of tolerance" was allowed. I mean, I grew up in Chicago, and long before I was born there was a guy named Al Capone, and Chicago is known for the underground and for the underworld. And he was sort of allowed to operate. And nobody -- people got killed, but nobody in normal society got killed.
So is this an inevitable war now that President Calderon has launched over the last few years? And if so, is it one that he can win? What do you see as the situation?
JORGE CHABAT: Yeah, well, yeah, you're -- I think it's -- I think it's inevitable, basically because it has been postponed for many years. During decades, the previous governments have worked on the basis that they can control drug trafficking -- "control" in quotation marks. And there was some kind of tolerance.
And the result of this policy was that business -- illegal business of organized crime -- grew up, and they had more and more power, until they was -- it was impossible to manage. They had begun to have territory control in some parts of Mexico, and they began to challenge the state (in their way ?) and attack the society -- (inaudible) -- torturing or kidnappings.
So basically, Calderon didn't have an option. The problem is that he didn't have an option, and he did not have the tools to fight this war. That's a terrible -- the terrible situation right now, because we don't have the situations we need to to fight this war, you know. We don't have the police forces that we need to fight this war; we don't have the judicial system that works.
It's not a problem of strategy. Many critics of the current government have said, "You have to change strategy." It's not a problem of strategy. You don't -- you don't have tools. You can -- you can -- just tell me what's the (tragedy/strategy ?) -- you have tools, it doesn't matter what strategy you choose. So that's the real situation.
I like to -- I always like to quote Machiavelli in the -- in one part, book three of The Prince, in one part he says, that -- well, that if you postpone the -- some problems, they grow and grow until they're -- it's impossible to solve it. And he has a sentence that says a war cannot be (appointed ?). It can only be postponed for the benefit of the enemy. So this war has -- it has been postponed for so many years. And now, well, we are in the terrible situation. We have to fight this war. We have no tools, we have no state. It's not because of Calderon. We don't have institutions to fight this war.
This war can be won in the long term. I mean, if all the reforms that are taking place in Mexico are successful, at some point we will have institutions that work -- like in the U.S. you have drug trafficking, you have problems, but you -- but these guys don't destabilize the state. They're not a national-security threat. But this is not going to happen in a short time, unfortunately.
So I -- I'm very sad to tell you that there is no solution in the short time -- in the short term, there is no solution. If things are done correctly, maybe in some years we will see the problem as controlled. In the -- in the short term, forget it. We will see more of -- more of the same. And I would like to give you, you know, a magic bullet and "I have the answer." No. There is no answer until we have strong institutions. And it won't happen soon, unfortunately.
UTLEY: All right. (Scattered laughter.)
Want to talk about Afghanistan? (Laughter.) I mean, if there -- but what you're saying, this is -- this is -- you've really cut through for this session right to the heart. You say on the one hand the president did not -- Calderon did not have a choice: There was no option. And then you say, correctly, you say he doesn't have the ammunition, he doesn't have the means to wage the war and win the war in the foreseeable future. Thank you for bringing this up in such stark language. Let's go back down --
CHABAT: (Inaudible) --
UTLEY: -- to Fran. Okay. You heard what she -- her neighbor said.
UTLEY: What do you say?
TOWNSEND: Well, I -- given -- and I think Jorge's exactly right -- given what he has said, this would be the absolute worst time to cut U.S. funding and aid to our Mexican allies, right?
TOWNSEND: The Merida Initiative is key.
And so if we want to see it completely dissolve, the thing to do is to cut the money -- right? -- and to stop the cooperation. And in a time of economic stress, there will be those who will advocate in Congress to do just that. And I think we have to be very wary. There may be in some quarters an immediate kind of "feel good" about having done it. There will be, to Jorge's point, a long-term price to pay, and so we mustn't do it. The hope to building institutions is to continue the relationship, but not by us doing it, by us supporting our allies' efforts inside Mexico to build those institutions.
UTLEY: But how much -- how important is -- whatever, money or weapons or the accoutrements of war in this struggle play in the balance there, as opposed to Mexico's ability in its institutions, as Jorge was saying, to perform the way they should perform? I mean, we gave aid to South Vietnam, we give it to Afghanistan, we've given it to factions in Iraq, and of course Mexico is a much more stable governmental system and a democracy. Yet there are similarities here.
TOWNSEND: Well, I mean, you give money and material, but the most important aspect is probably the smallest in terms of what it costs, and that is the relationship -- you put experts in to support, to answer questions, to help build the actual institutions. Whether that's USAID on the agricultural side, or it's folks from the Justice Department, lawyers, agents, on the law enforcement side, that's as important, putting folks there, working side by side with our allies against really hard problems that will in the long run help to build the institutions Jorge refers to.
It's not just the money. That's the thing. It's easy to count, and so that's what we talk about. But the human capital that we exchange is equally important.
And that also means, by the way, bringing folks from Mexican institutions up here to work inside ours, to bring them into our home, our institutions, and let them see, for better and worse, how they work, what their weaknesses and what their strengths are, so they can take that experience and apply it back home.
UTLEY: So you get better communication, you get better collaboration, you get better understanding going back, and perhaps you raise that trust factor.
TOWNSEND: That's right.
UTLEY: You still have the situation that Jorge described, and you still have -- which comes back to the question of Mexican presidents serve for six years, no re-election. That's ultimate term limit. That's it and somebody else will come in.
Let's go back to Alfredo. I mean, you look at this and you talk to Mexicans. Is this a sustainable situation? Is this a war that can be waged in the long run?
CORCHADO: I don't know that they have a choice. I mean, if you look at Ciudad Juarez, it's a city that at one point was known as the laboratory for democracy. I mean, when you talk about the modern democratic movement, it began in Ciudad Juarez, in Chihuahua, back in the early '80s. You look at Juarez today, it's a city -- it's the epicenter of violence.
And you have "Todos Somos Juarez"; you know, "We are all Juarez." It's a federal program that's really where much of the U.S. effort is focused on right now, the U.S.-Mexico effort. You go to Juarez time and time again, and you talk to residents, you talk to people, and you don't really see any real improvement.
You have a Mexican election in two years. So, basically I think President Calderon has one year to try to show some improvement, to try to show -- and change public opinion around. It's not happening.
I mean, and it's not happening now. I mean, so I think time is of the essence if you're going to cut through or convince people that a cooperation -- a deeper cooperation with the United States will lead to a better future.
And then just one last point. I mean, also people in Mexico City, sometimes the cooperation is very -- with a lot of skepticism. If you look at what happened in the '90s, when the U.S. started training special forces in -- you know, they would fly them in from Mexico to North Carolina. Some of them went back and created what we know today as the Zetas, the most vicious, brutal group in Mexico, paramilitary group in Mexico, that's now fighting much of -- the Tamaulipas, Texas border.
So, you know, there's skepticism, although I will say that if you talk to people in the northern region, the sense of nationalism is changing very much from if you talk to someone in Mexico City. You talk to someone in Tamaulipas or Nuevo Leon or Ciudad Juarez, they say something like, bring on the Americans. You talk to someone in Mexico City, it's like (hold on ?); you know, 1848.
UTLEY: Well, Jorge -- let's come back to -- this is an interesting point, because we're -- I think even if we're not experts on Mexico, we're aware of this northern Mexico culture, regionalism plus the whole sense of communities and cultures and commerce between the southwestern states and -- of the United States and Mexico.
Do you see -- how do you see this changing -- this culture, this civilization, if you want to call it, in northern Mexico, which includes Monterrey, major cities like that, and the United States. In their view, vis-a-vis the North Americans, as opposed to looking to Mexico City. How is this Northern Mexico attitude evolving?
CHABAT: Well, in general, I would say that the attitude of Mexicans has changed. Well, we didn't have accurate instruments to measure that, but according to -- (inaudible) -- make a poll every two years measuring that. Well, Mexicans are not so much analytical as we used to think maybe they were; perhaps, we really didn't know.
But you're right. In the North, they are more -- or they see with better eyes the United States in general compared to the South. But in general, I would say that Mexicans are not so much anti-U.S. as we thought.
And -- but what's interesting is that the acceptance of Merida Initiative is sort of a very interesting sign that things have changed in Mexico. I mean, this kind of (project ?) would have been unthinkable 10 years ago. I mean, the United States giving us $1.4 billion? Forget it. I mean, would you think until 2007 given by the U.S. to Mexico was like $35 million. Now, they have moved to around 400 (million dollars), $500 million a year. So it's a big change, it's more 10 times.
So -- and finally, the -- you know the political elite because that's probably most nationalistic, a little bit more vociferous part of Mexico -- finally they have accepted that and they have been able to make reforms. I mean, it's interesting when you see all the political parties, they don't agree on many things. But in the issue of security, they have agreed to make a lot of reforms, big reforms, because probably they are aware that the situation is complicated, to say the least.
UTLEY: Fran, coming back to you looking at the American perspective, Alfredo talked about the 10 (thousand) or 30,000 Mexicans have moved across the border from Ciudad Juarez. And now there's a nightlife.
Now, the -- maybe that's not a permanent move, but we know what's happened in war situations. People emigrate, and guess what? You know, they may start new lives, new cultures, new communities develop there.
Quite aside from what the Arizona state legislature may do on immigration policy, what do you see as the implications for security, or just change on the American side of the border, in Texas, Arizona, New Mexico, southern California. And does that change which is coming and will continue to come -- is that itself a security issue, or is it just something that's happening historically?
TOWNSEND: Well, you know, it's interesting. I -- my greatest understanding of the issue, frankly, came from having worked for a man who had been the governor of Texas --
UTLEY: Mm hmm.
TOWNSEND: -- who I think's approach to this issue was quite different than what people expected. George Bush, having been the governor, having lived in Texas, having many times socially crossed that border, understood the vibrance and the importance of that, and viewed it from that perspective, as opposed to the security perspective.
He understood the security perspective, but believed that it shouldn't be the only driver in how we determined policy, that that would be a real problem, and, frankly, was his impetus to seek and work very, very hard for comprehensive immigration reform. But let's not forget, not only did that effort fail, it almost cost John McCain the nomination of his party when he ran for president.
And so it's a real issue -- look, your heart goes out to communities in -- on the American side of the Southwest border who worry about the gangs and the violence spilling over, but we must also understand that the people -- most of the people who cross that border illegally come for economic reasons, come for security reasons. Most lead productive lives and most don't violate the laws of the United States.
Most work, many pay taxes. And so what -- this is -- you bring me back to -- this is why we need comprehensive immigration reform, right? People who cross legally ought to be at the -- as we used to call it, the head of the line. They have done it correctly and they ought to benefit from having done it correctly.
Those who came for other reasons and crossed illegally must be shown that there is a path to get right with the United States if they wish to stay. By the way, not all will wish to stay --
TOWNSEND: -- to your point about change. Many have left families back in Mexico, and wish to return to them and wish to have the freedom to cross that border.
And so the notion was not amnesty, at least from the perspective of the Bush administration. It was understanding the magnitude of the problem. It is not possible -- for those who wish us to pack everybody back -- pack everybody up who came illegally and send them back, that's not -- it's just not doable. It is not possible. And if your government tells you otherwise, they're lying.
So we've got to figure out what's the path. We've got to identify those who are a real security threat, and deal with them, apply the law, and deal with them harshly, as they deserve. Those who cross illegally who have otherwise observed the laws of the United States, you have an obligation to show them what is the path they must travel to get legal here in the United States, if they wish to remain.
UTLEY: I think there's no question about the immigration situation and reform that's needed. We'll see what's going to happen in this Congress. But it is there, and it isn't going away.
But your comment raises this other aspect of the question, which involves security. We were talking about the violence, and the instability there, and what it could lead to. But of course there's the larger -- and you're going to have that next in the next panel -- the economic impact, which is also part of, you know, security.
Jorge, if you were -- what is the issue then in Mexico today? If Calderon could run for a second term -- let's say he was -- that's just a couple of years away -- would he run on his war against the drug cartels? Would he run on the economy? What is it that's really on people's minds from their security point of view? In other words, what's the real issue in security from the Mexican perspective?
CHABAT: Well, I mean, security's like -- you know, the total of everything. I mean, if you don't solve that problem, you cannot solve the other problems. I mean, it is not that it's more important than other issues. It is more urgent than the other issues, because if you don't have a minimal basis for -- of security, you won't have economic prosperity. You won't have investment. You won't have jobs. You won't have anything.
UTLEY: Well, do you think his successor, whoever he or perhaps she might be, who starts off with a fresh slate, will also say, "I have no option; this has to continue?" Or is there an alternative step, which is to say, "All right, let's sue for peace; let's go to a semi-tolerance policy?"
CHABAT: Well, that's a tough question, but probably for some politicians that idea is hanging around. I mean, maybe it's not a bad idea to get an agreement with these guys. I don't know how you have an agreement with criminals, though.
But, in real terms, that's not possible because, I mean, these guys are not only dedicated to drug trafficking. There is torturing people. They are kidnapping -- I mean, they are a real threat to common people. And -- (inaudible) -- mentioned half an hour ago. Polls still reveal a broad support to these persons. Well, that's amazing, because despite these levels of violence, I mean, the polls you see show a big amount of support not only for the study but for the use of military in this war.
So I don't think the successors of Calderon will have a choice -- even when -- if he or she will be more comfortable doing nothing, and reach an agreement with these guys. But it's like -- (inaudible) -- I mean, you have a choice.
UTLEY: We're going to go to discussion in just a second.
But, Alfredo, coming back to you, we are aware that there's a very emotional emotive term that has been used occasionally in this situation, which is "failed state." I think it was -- one government used that, which was rejected, and probably rightly so. But to what extent when you have communities or cities or states within the republic, in Mexico, that are not able to perform these functions in that sense are failed? Does this apply to the northern part of Mexico, to any of these regions? In Monterrey, I guess industry still functions, things get made, you know, people go to work. So how do you describe these states within the larger Mexican states? Are they functioning?
CORCHADO: I mean, people go to work, people go to school. I mean, it's -- you can't say it's a failed state. But I think, as a journalist, you can describe as "regions of silence," where there's so much control over institutions, whether it's the mayor's office, whether it's the police, whether it's the press, that it is hard -- or in some cases, it's impossible to report.
And you're seeing that effect not just on the Mexican side where people choose to self-censor themselves, but you're also beginning to see that on the U.S. side. I mean, you will see papers now in the Texas valley that will withhold their bylines because of the fear. I mean, there is real fear.
You can't -- again, you know, is it a failed state? I wouldn't call it a failed state. But the fear, the silence is there.
UTLEY: And so it's coming over in that one level. But that's a very telling example, if reporters or their editors dare not publish the byline of the reporter through fear.
CORCHADO: I mean, in fact, this has happened throughout Mexico, but we're now beginning to see that on the U.S. side. And it's also, again, a reflection of how intertwined both sides are when it comes to organized crime. I mean, you have gang kids on the U.S. side who know where you live, who know where your parents live, who know where your relatives live. If they can't get you on the Mexican side, they will at least threaten you or make your life difficult on the U.S. side.
UTLEY: Fran, just a quick question and then we'll get the first questions from the audience.
The argument we've heard for a long time is that, yes, all of this happens, but it's only happening because the market for the drugs is in the United States. Is this still an argument that's being made, either in Mexico or elsewhere, that it's our responsibility and not their responsibility?
TOWNSEND: Yeah. I mean, this is an argument as old as the ages.
TOWNSEND: The demand is on this side, and oh, by the way, we're also responsible because of the gun trafficking going in. There is -- we can point on both sides to the problems, right? It's not terribly productive. Yes, that is an issue. Do I think that that's the driver that is the cause of the problems in the bilateral -- no.
TOWNSEND: It is a piece. There are many pieces. And when those things -- typically those things come out when folks -- senior folks on each side have decided to bludgeon one another with them, but it doesn't ever lead to a terribly productive conversation. It's a piece.
UTLEY: Just as a historic note, those who remember one J. Edgar Hoover, who ran the FBI for decade and decades, and they went after all the bad guys and the gangsters. And he was once asked, why isn't the FBI pursuing drug traffickers? Less of a problem than today, but still, even in those days, a problem. He said, no, I don't want the FBI to get involved in going after the drug trade because it's so powerful with its money that it will inevitably corrupt the FBI. It corrupts whatever it touches. And he laid off for a long time. But that's a historic footnote.
TOWNSEND: Garrick, let me just add to what you just said. We often hear about the problems of corruption on the Mexican side of the border. Let me add, having been a prosecutor for many years, there are examples, by the way, on the American side of the border where agents, federal agents have been corrupted by the drug money as well. And so this is -- this is not a problem to one ally and not both. It is a problem for both.
CORCHADO: It's also state agents, and in just a case I've looked at recently, where the -- (inaudible) -- cartel was buying, or paying the Texas National Guard to load up bags of cocaine and transfer them to -- or protect them from Brownsville to Houston. It kind of -- it gives you a sense -- I mean, that's just -- it doesn't magically appear in Colombia and then in the streets of New York City.
UTLEY: All right, question time. Hands up, please. There's some microphones that will come to you quickly. State your name and offer a short question, and then -- let's start right back there, there's a hand or a pen sticking up.
QUESTIONER: Hi, David Nochman (sp). I'm a lawyer in New York City.
My -- we heard about the lack of tools, and some have suggested that the government of Mexico will occasionally announce a capture or the murder or killing of a top gang leader with lots of fanfare, but that there's no institutionalized prosecutorial ability. Can you address that? What -- is that a fair summary, and what steps in light of the corruption issue can practically be taken to develop a mechanism to regularly prosecute members of the cartels and of the trade?
UTLEY: Jorge, why don't you take that on?
CHABAT: Well, that's part of the problem, you know, is -- but the problem is not just there. I mean, it's the whole -- the whole chain of security has problems. You have problems at the police level. I mean, there have been some improvements at the federal level, but not at the local level. At the local level there's still a big problem. You have problems with judge -- all the -- you know, the prosecution and the judicial system too, I mean. And you have problems at the -- at the prison system. You have problems (overall ?).
So yeah, and one case that shows out is the case of the people arrested in Michoacan, like 30-something (majors ?) or municipal authorities. Basically all of them, with the exception of one representative, have been declared not guilty basically because the evidence was not enough for the judge, even when I know that was solid evidence.
But -- so it's a problem of the -- you know, the prosecutional system, but also if their -- at other levels. I mean, this is quite complex.
UTLEY: But if I could just drill in -- and Fran can weigh in too on this -- let's just drill it down. Okay, we know the problem with police, corruption, prison systems -- people escape -- but you're talking about -- the question is about a judicial process. Somebody is arrested, you think you got the goods; there's a prosecutor, there's a court, there's a judge, and there should be a verdict. Is this -- just taking the courts, the judges, the judicial system, is this because they're state -- it's a state-level court or the federal courts? Why judges? Are there -- does the problem include judges?
CHABAT: (I think judgeships ?) -- and we don't know exactly if the -- you know, these guys certainly worried that because the evidence is not enough, because generally the attorney didn't made the -- his job or because the judges are corrupt. Probably because -- both reasons. I mean, we know don't exactly.
That's why there is a reform, a judicial reform, in process. There -- this is going to be in effect in six years, but it will take six years more just to start, I mean, moving the system to all trials.
So that's -- I mean, the -- yeah, the problem is there. It has been diagnosed, but it will take a long time.
TOWNSEND: You know, every time we see a problem around the world, we act as though it's the first time and we've got to address it fresh. We had the exact same problem when Colombia was facing the exact same problem. There'd be a big arrest, and there would be a failed prosecution behind it.
And so it took us years to work through the sense of nationalism and pride and get to a point where we could take those really big kingpins and by agreement extradite them, because inevitably there was also a companion U.S. case that could be tried as well, and have them tried in the United States and face justice while this Colombia was building their system. They needed the time and the space that Jorge described to be able to do that. It doesn't happen overnight.
And so you kind of need the short-term plan to get to the longer-term solution. And in the instance of Colombia, we worked together to provide them that bridge. We were their short-term plan for the major drug traffickers.
CHORCHADO: Can I just add something? I was in Bogota recently, and it was interesting. We were -- I was with this guy who was driving me around. And we get stopped, and he gets a ticket, and the officer was very polite, the kid's very polite. As we're leaving, I asked him, I said: Why didn't you bribe him? You know, I mean, I was just curious. I mean, that's kind of what you do in Mexico.
And he said that's what -- I mean, he looked, and he firstly was very sharp. And he said: We don't do that. Maybe my -- maybe my father did, but we don't do that here anymore.
And it made me realize that it's a whole new generation. I mean, it took a generation, but when I look at the numbers in Colombia -- and back in the '90s I think the impunity rate was something like 95, 98 percent, it's now down to, I think, 60 percent. I mean, it's -- you see some improvement.
The worrisome thing about Mexico is that it's 95, and I think it was 90 -- no, 95 back in the '90s. So it hasn't really changed that much.
UTLEY: It's interesting that we always used to talk about the conviction rate. Now the term is the "impunity rate."
UTLEY: Things get turned on their head.
Another question. Back over here, then we'll come up front. Right back there, the gentleman with --
QUESTIONER: Good afternoon. Michael Werbowski, World Press Review. I was in Mexico as a reporter for the first time when the Fox presidency came to power. And it seems that the narco-insurgency or whatever you wish to call it worsened under the PAN government that's been in power for 10 years now, and it will be 12 years. And I wondered what you think are the chances of a PAN presidency or a third reelection of a PAN president in 2012 are. Or do you see a PRI presidency on the horizon?
And what would the PRI president perhaps do in changing the strategy to thwart the drug cartels? Might he continue militarizing the problem or perhaps engage in some poverty-alleviation programs? Or what --
UTLEY: Thank you.
Jorge, prognostication, PAN and PRI. But again, if PRI came back, which had that tolerance policy, there are two parts to this tied together.
CHABAT: Well, that's -- yeah, that's difficult to know. But I just -- well, this information probably could be useful. If you remember in 2006, the three candidates to the -- three main candidates to the presidency, not only Calderon but Roberto Madrazo from PRI and Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador from PRD, the three of them said that if they became president, they would give more (faculties ?) to the army to fight drug trafficking, including Lopez Obrador, and that's because they don't see probably any other option.
(Yeah ?). But my point is that probably -- I mean, even -- again, even when some -- (inaudible) -- politicians would like to go back to the times of tolerance, because again it was easier to manage that because you -- you won't have all the problems Calderon has now, I don't think it's possible, basically because the -- these guys have so much power that if -- it's really complicated to (negotiate ?) with them, but really the temptation will be there. That's for sure. And some members of that party will think, well, why (we don't ?) try to go back to old -- good old times (when we ?) were pals with these guys? I don't think it's possible, but, well, who knows, you know? I mean, but I don't think it's possible.
UTLEY: Question down here? Over here.
QUESTIONER: Thank you. Well, I wanted to see how you can explain something you were talking about, Alfredo, and that is that cities like El Paso seem to be vibrant and now have a night life. And how come that can happen and there's not a spill-over effect on the lack -- I mean on violence? Because the Department of Justice released a ranking of the safest cities in the U.S., and Ambassador Pascual was talking about how most of those cities were border cities -- San Diego, Phoenix -- I mean, many cities (in ?) the border or near the border. And so how can one thing spill over and not the other?
CORCHADO: I mean, it may sound too simplistic, but I think it's basically institutions work. People are afraid to commit crimes in El Paso because they know if they get caught, the conviction rate is very, very high. El Paso has a population of 750,000 people, more or less. I think last year they had less than 18 murders, compared to Ciudad Juarez, which had 2,700. So on one side, it's almost an economy that's based on illegality, murders, extortions, kidnappings.
I mean, what always impresses me is to see people I used to know from the El Paso side make a business in this underbelly by just crossing the border, you crisscross the border.
And the other thing that's interesting is, if you look at every major upheaval in Mexico, 1910 revolution and on and on, it's always kind of the U.S. side that benefits. I mean, El Paso and (I mean ?) Laredo, McAllen, they haven't really seen that -- the housing crisis, if you will. I mean, it's been -- it's been a pretty good economy.
UTLEY: Okay. A question right down here. Go back.
QUESTIONER: I was -- Stephen Blank -- a bit concerned about how quickly you blew past the last question you asked. Let me rephrase it a little more brutally, I guess.
Given the levels of demand for drugs in the United States, is it really possible to think that the battle in Mexico can be won? This industry is a demand-driven industry. Very few people run around pushing drugs up people's nose, I think. Given that demand, are we really realistic in thinking that this war can be won?
UTLEY: Let's go back to Fran on this, because it's an old question, as you said, and yet it comes up again and again. We know the marijuana status, but even others have talked about harder drugs. The legal -- it's the legalization issue.
TOWNSEND: Yeah, the issue -- my sort of dismissive answer to Garrick, and initial entree into the subject, really is because if you take the demand -- the U.S. demand out of the equation, there's growing demand -- the biggest spike in terms of growing demand is in Europe. So demand's not going to go away.
That doesn't -- that doesn't abrogate us of responsibility to address the U.S. demand issue. I think -- that's why I said it is a piece of this -- a very complicated piece of this problem. And I don't -- sure, I -- you know, I don't run from that. All I would say to you is, though, demand is going to continue. It is a -- you are quite right, it is a demand-driven business. But there is no question, you're seeing growing demand in Asia and Europe, and so demand is going to continue. They are going to look for their shipment and transshipment points. It's not going to -- the burden may lessen on the U.S. side if we took demand out of the equation. It's never going to go to zero. But I don't -- I don't think necessarily that legalization is the right answer. I mean, it -- Garrick, you raised that.
UTLEY: Well, the question is that, yes, the demand is here, and if there's more demand, the markets shift somewhere else, but --
TOWNSEND: It's shifting anyway.
UTLEY: It's shifting anyway. There might be less than -- less violence along the border, because other channels are being -- are being found. But the real question is: What do you put the country through because of what's happening here and the instability in Mexico, vis-a-vis what would be the potential costs of legalization of drugs on the society and the community? And you won't know that until you try it. And I think there's very valid reasons why you're damned afraid, you know, to try it.
CHABAT: No, let me just add a comment to that. The problem is not only the demand in the U.S. or Europe. The problem is the demand in Mexico, too -- I mean, even when in absolute choice is not so big. Part of the battles you see in Mexico, a very important part, is because, you know, drug traffickers start killing each other, not for the routes to the U.S. market, because for the domestic market. And they killed one guy for peanuts. I mean, those -- it doesn't matter, the size of the market; they killed him anyway, you know? That's part of the -- of the problem.
And yeah, by the way, the issue of legalization has been raised in Mexico -- not only in U.S., but in Mexico, too. And President Calderon accepted to discuss that. He said that he was not in agreement with that, but at least he said, "Let's discuss that." And I am sure that we will see the discussion.
UTLEY: Can you or Alfredo describe a bit about how the drug usage in Mexico as a whole -- the country, not just the northern part -- has been increasing over how many years? Do you know?
CHABAT: Well, yeah, these are the -- there -- you know, the polls are made every five years. And in 2008, the consumption of all drugs has increased 50 percent. The consumption in cocaine has increased 100 percent. You know, if -- I mean, if you compare the levels of consumption in Mexico to the U.S., very few -- much lower than in the U.S. But the powers of the -- the level of consumption -- but the pace of which this consumption has been increasing.
And again, they are killing each other for the street. I mean, because there are -- (inaudible) -- (small stores ?) that sell drugs, and they kill you if you invade, you know, the territory of other guys. That's part of the problem, and that problem started in the 1990s. And that's something that -- this has been mentioned very often.
UTLEY: The question's right here, and then back at the end.
QUESTIONER: I'm Alexandra Starr with the Center on Law and Security at NYU Law School. My question is for Alfredo.
You mentioned the presidential election in two years and the pressure that's going to put on President Calderon. Could you talk a little bit more about that, what you think that will actually mean in terms of what we'll see on the ground?
CORCHADO: I think you're already seeing it: the slogan, you know, (el policia se sabe gobernada ?) -- I mean, the police doesn't know how to govern. And that will intensify, I think, in the next few months. Although I mean, one of the likely candidates, Pena Nieto, was in Washington over the summer. And kind of it was his coming-out party, if you will. And he was very adamant about saying: I will continue Calderon's strategy, you know. I mean, he knew who the audience was, so he had -- I think he had to say that.
But I think you talk to people like even Ebrart (sp) and others, you know, there's a sense that you can't really put the genie back in the bottle, especially with the shadow of the United States looming over you. It's going to be very difficult. And you also kind of wonder whether "El Chapo" Guzman or the other cartels want to go back to the past. I mean, they now control, in many ways, the profits. Do they want to go back and share the profits?
But when I talk to people in the Tamaulipas area, they -- in a way, they enjoy this, not so much the attention they're getting but the bigger profits. And the fact that it's -- it goes beyond drugs. I mean, it's really organized crime. I often kind of joke that Calderon ought to hire these guys to be tax collectors, because they're very, very effective.
UTLEY: Question. There's one at the back. Back row, back there.
QUESTIONER: Hi. David Brooks of La Jornada. One of the questions is -- in the debate is that where has this strategy worked in the world? Where has the prohibitionist strategy worked? Everybody keeps saying it's been about 40 years now in the United States. Demand has not gone down. The control of drugs has not been successful, and the costs have been enormous, say the critics. In fact some of the critics of -- and especially in this debate in California -- said that, you know, the reason Al Capone, for instance, finally disappeared, and his like, was because of the end of prohibitionist policies.
And so the question is -- the only place I know that this has worked was during the Taliban time, where opium production did go down. But I don't see anywhere else in the world where this strategy has worked. So why is there such great faith in this strategy?
UTLEY: The strategy of -- ?
QUESTIONER: Of the drug (war ?). This current (drug war ?) strategy -- (off mike).
UTLEY: Well, Jorge, in a way, from the Mexican side, answered that, that you're waging a necessary war without the tools to prevail, at least in the foreseeable future.
May I just follow up on that comment? Because if that's your analysis of it, is that an analysis that is widely shared in Mexico? And if it is widely shared in Mexico, not just with the government but broadly in the population, is there still that determination to prosecute the war?
CHABAT: Hm. Well -- no, well, I think that basically what -- well, the decision to continue this war is, well, first because the law establishes that. I an, it's complicated. If you are in a democracy, well, okay, where we're going to enforce some laws and some other laws cannot be enforced. That's a problem. I mean, that's something you can -- you cannot avoid.
Now -- and secondly, I mean, I agree that prohibition has been a very bad decision. I mean, I've been saying this for years. I mean, if you ask me, I think that the end of prohibition is the least bad option. It's totally bad, but it's -- I think it's the least of your options.
The problem is it's not political -- politically viable right now, for many reasons, because if (basically ?) the U.S. does not -- does not accept to change this regime, it is not going to happen.
So meanwhile, the governments had -- have to do something. I mean, some perhaps say, well, yeah, we should (reorganize ?) -- okay. But meanwhile, how do you -- how do you do -- (you know these guys ?) are in the street killing people. You've got to do something. And you don't have many tools. And I mean, it's like -- you know, this old sentence: Don't shoot the pianist; he's doing what he can. I mean, he can't -- he has no choice.
And yeah, I think this is -- (these strategies ?) is bad. Using the army is bad. But you have no choice. I mean, the other option is what? To negotiate with drug traffickers. That doesn't work.
There are other measures that you enforce, like, you know, preventive measures. Yeah, that's fine. Combatting (one or the other ?), that's fine. But that won't solve the problem, because -- especially at these levels, for if you want to enforce prohibition -- I mean, you know, social development -- yeah, it can work -- before the criminals are on the streets. Now that they're on the streets, forget it. Well, they're going to put the school -- well, drug traffickers are going take over the school, you know. So that's the situation.
Unfortunately, we're at the (parasitic ?) level, not the (predatory ?) level, but the (parasitic ?) may be moving to the symbiotic level. And that's very difficult, to do something when you have these levels of problems. Yeah, I mean, I don't know.
UTLEY: Time for one last question. Over here.
QUESTIONER: Thank you. Christopher Graves with Ogilvy Public Relations.
Is it possible, in holding up Colombia as an example, that maybe that's the wrong country, wrong example? If you look at Liberia, and you look at where the women got set up with the men ruining the country, that the women studied civil disobedience, threw the men out and put a woman in as president, is it possible that women are a solution in Mexico? (Laughter, scattered applause.)
UTLEY: Alfredo. (Chuckles.)
CORCHADO: I obviously agree with you. (Laughter.)
TOWNSEND: That's good.
CORCHADO: But I think -- yeah, I mean, I think you're absolutely right. I still don't understand why we keep using Colombia as a model of success. I mean, if you go to Colombia, and you really look at Colombia, you see what's happening, it -- the production's still at the same level, and basically what Colombia did was they found new markets. They told the Mexicans, here's the stuff, you deal with it, pay us our cut, but we're going to Europe. And we're going to -- we're going to South America. So I -- I mean, I don't see it as a model.
And it's interesting that as -- I'm looking at civil society, but -- in Mexico. A lot of the leaders today in civil society in Mexico are women. And you see that especially in a place like Ciudad Juarez, where you've had all these women murdered, and you see them rising up and standing up. The massacre I covered this February -- I think it was 15 teens were killed -- the mothers are the ones that are kind of coming back to the same neighborhood and trying to retake the neighborhood. And you know, initially, many of them wanted to leave, and -- if not Juarez, at least the neighborhood. They've come back, they've established a library, and they're there.
So as you look for Mexico's democratic soul, you know, I always try to look at -- with the women, because that's when you kind of get a sense of hope.
TOWNSEND: Yeah, I'd take it one step further. Liberia is the -- is the prime example, but the region in the world I've spent the most amount of time in is Southeast Asia and the Middle East. And so -- women are the answer in Afghanistan, by the way. They're the answer in the Palestinian territories. They're the answer in the Middle East, where they don't have -- I mean, there are incredibly strong women who understand business and economy and politics and governance and haven't been -- yet found the full measure of their voice there because the laws don't permit it. But I think you're absolutely right.
UTLEY: I'd like to wrap up right now with some final thoughts from our panelists. And in a moment, after a short break, you'll be going on to the economic questions, which are also part of the security question too, cross-border.
But I wanted to sort of enlarge what we've been talking about under the heading of bilateral security cooperation. And this is something that actually started in my mind a question, and maybe get an answer here, maybe not. After that brief conversation with Henry Kissinger some decades ago about Mexico being -- thank goodness, it wasn't on his agenda -- and I got to thinking that probably or arguably the most important treaty that the United States never negotiated, a president never signed, and the U.S. Senate never ratified was the never-negotiated, never-signed, never-ratified treaty between the United States and Mexico over its overarching relationship. That for two countries who fought a serious war in the mid-19th century, and where the aftertaste of that still exists and resonates in many parts of Mexico, coming from two different cultural backgrounds, European -- one basically Protestant northern, the other Catholic south -- if there ever were two countries bound to be at each other's throats for ever and ever along a long border, it would be Mexico and the United States.
And a hundred years ago, which we're celebrating, the revolution, something has happened. Some kind of a system, a modus vivendi, has been worked out precisely because it has not been formalized.
And I always wondered, where did that start? Did that start in the 1920s? Were there people in the Roosevelt administration, or in the '40s and in the '50s, that created this network of mutual interests? Part of it, I know, were the Mexican decision under the PRI, we're going to put the army in the barracks. This is not El Salvador or Guatemala. Part of it is the church is there, but it's not going to be a dominant force. Partly, yes, where there's a mutual interest of migration back and forth across the border.
But we've created this relationship which is truly remarkable in what could have been one of the most hostile relationships in history, and we've avoided it.
Jorge, you're the historian; you've studied American -- U.S.-Mexican relations. What's the secret to this? Were there some wise people on both sides that figured this out to lead to an enduring, bilateral security cooperation?
CHABAT: Well, I think both cultures began to understand that the relationship between them was like a marriage, like a Catholic marriage. You cannot divorce. (Laughter.) So. And --
UTLEY: With no prenuptual agreement.
CHABAT: No. No, absolutely no.
TOWNSEND: Can't move.
CHABAT: No, no. Just -- I mean, you're married to the other, and you have no choice. You have to be married forever.
So that happened probably in the 1920s. Well, one example is the nationalization of oil. Do you remember that? Who was the -- I mean, the -- what was the role of the U.S. government? (The arrangement ?) supported the nationalization of oil against the oil companies because (Roosevelt ?) was very aware, well, I cannot be fighting with these -- with my neighbor when the Second World War is coming. That's -- and that's where (the turning point ?) is, basically. And that happened probably in the 1920s, but the 1920s -- it was not accepted openly. It was -- it was there, and is still there, has been there for so many decades.
UTLEY: And Fran, you've worked in the administration at senior levels. This -- I mean, this probably doesn't even come up --
UTLEY: -- but there's a different kind of a relationship here.
TOWNSEND: No, that's right. You know, I smiled when you mentioned this because it didn't ever come up. For all the issues that we dealt with and every bilateral crisis, it didn't come up. But there's a -- there's a phrase I love, called, "It's a delicious ambiguity." And I love the adjective "delicious" because what it suggests is, it allows the creativity of people in good faith on both sides to fashion it in a way that is good for both sides. It also, I suppose, permits for mischief if that is one's bent. But it -- I think it's been used, this ambiguity has been used to serve the relationship, actually.
CORCHADO: I keep thinking of Alan writing the whole concept of distant neighbors, and I feel like we've moved from being neighbors to distant cousins. We're not at the kissing-cousin level yet, but I think that's where -- that's where we're headed.
I mean, I just want to go back to the whole point of consequences, that -- I think to the extent that Mexicans can begin to see results, you know, that you can't kill 72 people in -- migrants; you can't kill 10,000 men in Juarez in massacre after massacre and not have one case solved. I think when you look at the future relationship between the United States and Mexico, Mexicans want to see that there is something positive that comes out of that. And if you can -- you know, even if it takes taking the attorney general's office from Mexico City and putting them in Ciudad Juarez until one case is solved, you know, things, I think, will begin to happen.
UTLEY: Well, we are in a marriage, no divorce possible in this case. It's a secular one. And Alfredo's got us to cousins.
I want to thank the panelists very much. And thank you, and thank the council for organizing. (Applause.)