Elizabeth Dickinson has a worthwhile article in the Washington Monthly on Alvaro Uribe's security policies in Colombia and how they are not translating well to Mexico. The basic reason is that Uribe did not win the war against narcotrafficking. He dealt a devastating blow to the FARC and broke up the paramilitaries, but drugs continue to reap huge profits.
Across many of Colombia’s cities and towns, the violence looks less like the end and more like a new beginning of conflict. “Lots of people think that Uribe ended the paramilitaries, that narcotics trafficking went down,” says Salcedo. “But when you look, it’s really only been a reconfiguration [of the armed conflict].”
To be sure, this reconfiguration has been kind to many Colombians in many parts of the country, especially elites, who no longer fear that FARC is about to topple the state. But residents in parts of Medellín and Buenaventura, among other places, now say that the calm of the mid-2000s was little more than a cruel illusion. “There is permanent dispute for control” of the narcotics trafficking routes, says Victor Hugo Vidal, an activist for the Process of Black Communities working and living in Buenaventura. “When that fight for dominance is ongoing, the violence increases. And when someone becomes dominant, the violence goes down.”
And from a regional perspective, nothing has changed much at all. The intensity of the violence just varies from country to country over time from the balloon effect.
In its time and place, democratic security was an inspired strategy, albeit far from a perfect one. Until the demand for drugs dries up, Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras— even far flung narco-conflicts like those in Guinea-Bissau and Afghanistan—will have to find their own medicine.
Yet if there is a lesson to be learned, perhaps it is as much for the United States as it is for these theaters of the drug war: the violence won’t stop until the narcotics trade does. Short of that, all that Washington—or anyone—can hope for is damage control. Off the main streets of Bogota and Mexico City, the damage is real. And not even Uribe knows the cure.