from Latin America's Moment and Latin America Studies Program

How Mexico Can Win Drug War, Colombia’s Way

June 17, 2011

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A girl stands in front of a mural as she waits for Spain’s King Juan Carlos and Queen Sofia for the inauguration of a public library in a suburb of Medellin (Jose Gomez/Courtesy Reuters).
A girl stands in front of a mural as she waits for Spain's King Juan Carlos and Queen Sofia for the inauguration of a public library in a suburb of Medellin (Jose Gomez/Courtesy Reuters).

I wrote this op-ed for Bloomberg Views on the lessons for Mexico from Colombia’s wealth tax.

In 2002, strife-torn Colombia took a bold step that paved the way for vastly improved public safety. Now Mexico is struggling to subdue drug wars that have killed almost 40,000 people during President Felipe Calderon’s tenure. It’s time to try the Colombian remedy.

Part of Colombia’s success can be traced to Plan Colombia, the multibillion-dollar U.S. assistance package. That plan concentrated on beefing up military capacity, professionalizing the police and reforming Colombia’s judicial system. The desperately needed money and strategy helped pull Colombia back from the brink of chaos.

Just as important -- and much less heralded -- is a transformation within Colombia. The country’s privileged rallied together, not just to demand better security but also to shoulder responsibility. In 2002, newly inaugurated President Alvaro Uribe and Colombia’s elites negotiated a wealth tax. In the decade since, the tax has raised nearly a billion dollars annually for security. It also changed the nature of the fight, throwing the establishment’s weight behind the government in the battle for public safety. More than foreign security aid, this is what Mexico needs today: an investment by Mexico’s elites in the safety and well-being of all its citizens.

Click here for the full story.

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