Is Mexico mired in the same problems that befell Colombia in the 1980s and 1990s?
That was the provocative question asked at a Harvard University conference on Tuesday.
Brown University doctoral student Angelica Duran Martinez discussed the topic at length in the opening panel. She studied five cities -- Medellin and Cali in Colombia; Tijuana, Ciudad Juarez and Culiacan in Mexico -- and compared the Colombia of 1984-93 with Mexico today. Her comparison showed some similarities ... and it indicated that Mexico has a long way to go toward solving its problems.
The two strongest comparisons she made between the two countries were the level of violence committed by the cartels ("similar tactics," she said, citing beheadings; notes left on bodies; bodies hanging on bridges; bombs; and narcomantos, blankets with threatening messages), and the response by the state (she said that Colombia tried to "move the military into Medellin," presaging Mexico's use of the armed forces today).
However, where the comparison seemed to falter was in the scope of the players involved. As she noted, "the situation in Colombia was complex, with Medellin and Cali (cartels), guerrillas, paramilitaries and emerald traffickers." I found it curious that she did not bolster her overall comparison by mentioning that Mexico is also dealing a complex cast of opponents: in addition to the cartels, it faces the Zapatista movement in Chiapas.
Still, I felt her presentation raised some good points -- including a sense of foreboding about the future.
"Before Colombia found a way to dismantle the cartels, it had a 10-year struggle," she said. She also noted that Colombia remains the world's main source of cocaine.