Letters: Mexico’s State of Affairs

Arturo Surakhan, Mexico's ambassador to the United States, thinks Sam Quinones's dire assessment of Mexico is dangerously misleading.

Although the violence let loose by drug traffickers cannot be denied, the suggestion that Mexico is part of an "axis of upheaval," as Niall Ferguson claims, or is "wracked by a criminal-capitalist insurgency," as Sam Quinones ("State of War" March/April 2009) argues, is clearly off the mark.

If one considers Ferguson’s criteria for inclusion in an "axis of upheaval" — political and social turmoil coupled with economic calamity — it is difficult to see how Mexico could possibly be included. We have solid political institutions, no ethnic fissures, a vigorous civil society, and the 12th-largest economy in the world. The so-called "economic calamities" we face are the same ones menacing all countries as a result of the global financial crisis. Mexico is better positioned today than most to confront this crisis, and any talk of empires, in decline or otherwise, has little bearing on my country.

There has indeed been a substantial increase in violence connected to drug syndicates, the focus of Quinones’s article. Although I do not minimize the seriousness of the threat posed by drug-trafficking organizations and the violence they have unleashed in response to President Felipe Calderón’s decision to roll them back, the notion that this violence can be described as a "raging insurgency" is more than simple hyperbole; it is a simplistic mischaracterization.

In short, it is important to beware of one-size-fits-all labels like the ones Ferguson employs here, as well as analyses that both overstate and oversimplify the current situation such as the one Quinones presents.

–Arturo Sarukhan
Ambassador to the United States
Embassy of Mexico
Washington, D.C.

Sam Quinones replies:

I agree with Ambassador Sarukhan that there is no need for hysteria or hyperbole with regard to the recent drug violence in Mexico, a country that I love and lived in for many years. Things are bad enough and don’t need exaggeration.

I chose my words with great care. I felt I saw signs of insurgency in what the cartels are attempting. I’m referring to their brazen challenge to authority best evidenced by their use of narcomantas ("drug banners") to broadcast messages to their rivals and the public, their attacks on reporters and television studios, warning messages left on bodies, the murder of many police officers, attempts to buy or assassinate mayors, orders to police chiefs to resign or face the death of their officers, and so on.

However, I chose the phrase "criminal-capitalist" to modify the insurgency idea because I don’t believe the cartels have a political goal. They are, above all, businessmen. Their one interest, it seems to me, is not toppling the state but being left alone to make their profits through smuggling illegal drugs into the United States.

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