Points and counterpoints on organized crime
There is considerable material circulating on the Internet regarding organized crime. I was especially drawn recently to two specific items. On the one hand, an alleged interview, whose authenticity has been questioned, of a nebulous Brazilian crime boss known as Marcola and on the other, a conference and interview with Edgardo Buscaglia, an international expert and consultant for the UN. It is worth reviewing this material with an open mind and a very critical eye.
It would be difficult to find more contrasting profiles. In the first case we have a Brazilian crime lord, a ruthless criminal who has no problem with killing to achieve his ends, and who expresses himself crudely and with an evil side, and in the second, we have an academic, a consultant to governments, who is eloquent and politically correct in his opinions.
These materials reflect contrasting views that, nevertheless, come together on one fundamental point, namely that "organized crime is, in one way or another, a product of poverty."
Marcola justifies his terrible deeds in the name of the prevailing economic and social situation, concretely, "rural migration, the gap in income levels, favelas, etc.” He tries to convince us that he is not a vicious criminal, just a product of an unjust system. Buscaglia, in turn, cites the lack of effective anti-poverty programs in Mexico as a major cause of crime.
Before explaining my reasons, I would like to make it clear that at Grupo Salinas we strongly believe in the need to alleviate poverty and provide the tools for development to the Bottom of the Pyramid (BOP). We believe in the value of generosity and are very active with social action. But above all, we firmly believe that a prosperous future for Latin America requires a growing middle class.
That said, I reject the line of thinking that almost automatically associates poverty with crime. Indeed, I know many people at the Bottom of the Pyramid who would not even for a second think of joining the ranks of organized crime, no matter how desperate their economic situation might become. In contrast, there are some very rich people who prefer to engage in crime as a way of life. This is not about being rich or poor; it is a matter of principles.
After decades of working with the Bottom of the Pyramid, I refuse to criminalize poverty. I think this is a simplistic, childish argument and one that proposes no solutions.
No one is a criminal because they live in material poverty. It seems to me that we are talking about another kind of misery here: poverty of spirit and lack of values. We should understand that the value of respect for human life must prevail over any material context. Indeed, we can never justify the killing or kidnapping of a human being due to the existence of poverty.
In terms of possible solutions to the problem of crime, Marcola simply tells us that "the very idea of ??a solution is in itself a mistake." But what else is he going to say? It is in the interest of the criminals to rob us of our hope.
Marcola threats do not differ from those of any other terrorist group, which proclaim "we will kill everyone, guilty or not, tremble with fear!"
Meanwhile, the international expert makes a list of the obvious points and reminds us that to fight the problem of crime requires four pillars outlined by the Palermo Convention: (1) repression of criminal activities, (2) social welfare measures; (3) prevention of political corruption and (4) the dismantling of criminals’ assets and properties.
Buscaglia believes that in Mexico, except for the first pillar, all the others are absent. Although to be fair we must acknowledge that both the government and the private sector have implemented different social programs that, even though they might not be sufficient, nevertheless exist and some have even been copied by other countries.
According to Buscaglia: (1) criminal groups are competing to take over the Mexican state, (2) there are 22 different illegal activities in which criminal groups are involved, ranging from smuggling drugs, arms, people, and body organs to electoral fraud and piracy, (3) the federal government has focused on repressing the criminals without touching their assets and properties.
It does not take an expert to recognize the first two points. On the third, Buscaglia rules out, with arguments that I consider to be simplistic, the possibility of a market and public health solution to the problem of drugs-something that President Calderon himself already suggested to the United Nations.
It is very easy to preach from the pulpit, but in our situation we should consider all the options, with the exception of reaching agreements with the criminals.
Today prominent figures have raised the idea that certain types of drugs should be legalized to prevent monopoly-type profits from being accrued and to undermine the finances of the criminal groups. Instead, we should think in terms of public health. Examples of this line of thought can be found in some former Latin American presidents, financiers such as George Soros, and my friend, the prominent business consultant Ichak Adizes, among many others. Even public opinion in some countries is opening up to other options.
Furthermore, I find it very interesting that Buscaglia completely minimizes the problem of arms trafficking and origin of the weapons that are behind the violence in Mexico. Indeed, I wonder whose interests are served by his arguments. It’s obvious to me that arms trafficking is a key part of the equation.
Today we see many failed states. To avoid this fate, either we establish the Rule of Law, or we experience the Law of the Jungle. When honesty is seen as optional and crime as normal, there will be no need for a "Marcola" to generate a climate of insecurity and violence.
With an open mind and without hypocrisy, we should listen to and carefully consider all the arguments and then make sound decisions, always respecting the Rule of Law. Nevertheless, I feel that we cannot rely much on the opinions of mobsters and well known international consultants to diagnose and resolve the serious problem of organized crime in our country.
Although we should fight poverty, the problem of organized crime responds to much more direct causes such as corruption, impunity, and the absence of the rule of law, as well as a lack of transparency and accountability.
In addition, we must consider solutions to the many related problems such as arms trafficking, money laundering, monopoly-like profits, and public health issues. These issues are not insurmountable; indeed there is an urgent need to resolve them and we can only do so with creativity, intelligence and action.
We must never lose hope as the criminals and some politicians try to persuade us to do. Mexicos future is at stake, and the only thing that is unthinkable is to leave our country in the hands of organized crime.