Nearly 30,000 people, the latest figure being used, have died in Mexico's drug war in the nearly four years since President Felipe Calderon dispatched the military to disrupt the country's drug-trafficking organizations.
Calderon's administration has consistently claimed that the high casualty rate is a sign of success. The Mexican president might have a former guerrilla commander to thanks for that approach.
As The Times' Mexico City bureau chief Tracy Wilkinson reports, the most influential mind behind Calderon's drug-war strategy is a man named Joaquin Villalobos, an ex-rebel leader from El Salvador who has rebranded himself as an Oxford-educated security consultant. In recent speeches, op-eds and interviews, Calderon's rhetoric on the drug war is almost indistinguishable from that of Villalobos, Wilkinson writes. They both claim that rising numbers of dead are a sign that Mexico's cartels are eliminating one another, and that Mexican society must be prepared to absorb more violence in the overall effort against drugs.
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The reach of Villalobos' influence in recent security policy in Mexico is apparent in the image above, published in January in the daily La Jornada (link in Spanish). Villalobos, right, is handing over a weapon to Carlos Salinas de Gortari, the controversial president of Mexico between 1988 and 1994. The gun was given personally to Villalobos as a gift by none other than Fidel Castro, the paper says, and the photo was taken inside Los Pinos, Mexico's presidential residence.
Villalobos has worked as a consultant off and on for years in Mexico, as well as for Colombia's right-wing former president Alvaro Uribe. From his guerrilla days with the FMLN and EPR movements in El Salvador, Villalobos remains implicated to this day in the execution of poet Roque Dalton.
Today, Villalobos is a seen as a "guru" among Calderon's advisors in Mexico. The ex-guerrilla, who may be mulling a future run for the presidency of El Salvador, laid out his security advice for Mexico's drug war in an essay published in the magazine Nexos on Jan. 1. Here's the link in Spanish for "Twelve Myths of the Narco War." His "myths" are:
1. "We should not have confronted organized crime."
2. "Mexico is Colombian-izing and is in danger of becoming a failed state."
3. "The intense debate over insecurity is a sign of its worsening."
4. "Deaths and violence is a sign that we are losing the war."
5. "Three years is a long time, the plan has failed."
6. "Attacks by narcos prove they are powerful."
7. "Let's first do away with corruption and poverty."
8. "There are powerful politicians and businessmen behind narco-trafficking."
9. "The only way out is to negotiate with the narco-traffickers."
10. "The strategy should guide itself to the legalization of drugs."
11. "The military's participation is negative and should be drawn back."
12. "The fastest and most effective end to crime is the pursuit of justice by its own account."
Here's an automated translation of the piece into English, alternating between sentences. La Jornada offers a rebuttal of the piece here, in Spanish, and here, in automated translation to English.
-- Daniel Hernandez in Mexico City
Photo: Former Mexican President Carlos Salinas de Gortari, left, receives a weapon as a gift from former Salvadoran guerrilla leader Joaquin Villalobos, in Los Pinos in Mexico on April 7, 1993. Credit: La Jornada