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Posts from April 2015

One Giant Graveyard

Understanding Murder and the War on Drugs in Mexico, 2006–2013

“I wish you had no narco-trafficking, but it’s not really your fault. Basically, we did too good of a job of taking the transportation out of the air and water, and so we ran it over land. I apologize for that.” - Bill Clinton
On September 26, 2014, 43 students in the state of Guerrero, Mexico disappeared, leaving no clues behind. They became the latest victims in a state in which criminals and politicians work together to kill common enemies. Even though Mexicans have become accustomed to indiscriminate killings, the evidence that this latest event was ordered by the local government generated outrage and massive protests.

The terrible events in September 2014 took place within an important historical context. In December 2006, President Felipe Calderón, with the encouragement of the United States, declared a war on drug cartels. Calderón had neither a clear strategy nor sufficient military intelligence and power to win this war. His actions led to retaliation by the cartels that resulted in a surge of homicides, kidnappings, and extortions in several states of the country. 

From 2007 to 2011, violence in Mexico exploded, with the number of homicides rising from 8 to 24 per 100,000. And while the steep increase in violence was initially concentrated in certain states in Mexico, by 2013 it was widespread, likely reflecting the drug cartels’ expanded operations. 

The image presented here illustrates the dramatic spread of homicides in Mexico between 2006 and 2013.  The graphic was created using data from Mexico's National Institute of Statistics and Geography (INEGI). 

As the video makes clear, states near the border with the U.S. experienced substantially more violence than states located in southern region of the country (with the exception of Guerrero). Likewise, those states with the largest number of cartels operating experienced the greatest homicide rates. During the 2006–2013 period, for example, Chihuahua had an average annual murder rate of 94 per 100,000, higher than the most violent country in the world (Honduras, with 90 homicides per 100,000 in 2012) and around 80% higher than the next most violent state, Guerrero. By comparison, Yucatan had a homicide rate of only 2.3 per 100,000, significantly lower than even Chile, the safest country in Latin America.

It is important to underline that this spread of violence in Mexico did not correspond with the state of local economies: the poorest states were not those with highest levels of violence; likewise, the wealthiest states were not the safest.  Rather, homicides over this period were overwhelmingly driven by the presence of cartels and the proximity to the United States and its enormous drug market. 

Less than three months after the disappearance of the 43 students in Guerrero, former President Bill Clinton, speaking in Mexico City, apologized to the people of Mexico for the role that U.S. demand and U.S. policy played in Mexican violence and drug trafficking. 

“I wish you had no narco-trafficking,” he said. “But it’s not really your fault. Basically, we did too good of a job of taking the transportation out of the air and water, and so we ran it over land. I apologize for that.” 

The analysis conducted in researching this article supports the conclusion implied by the former President in this quote: the War on Drugs appears to have been a failure and to have contributed to the violence plaguing Mexico over the last decade.

Demand for illicit drugs in the United States creates lucrative markets for Mexican drug-trafficking organizations. Mexican cartels earn around US$2 billion each year from exporting marijuana alone to the U.S. along the southwest border.

Despite the seemingly meager results in drug consumption and smuggling, the Mexican government consistently increased the budget allocated to public security and the army between 2006 and 2012. By 2012, the government spent almost US$10 billion on homeland security, compared to about US$5 billion in 2006. And while the government launched consistent attacks upon the cartels, it had a poor strategy for freezing their assets, leading to an ongoing process of new confrontations and exacerbating the violence in the country.  

At the same time as this spending was increasing, homicides were skyrocketing, particularly in those states along the U.S. border and with heavy presence of drug cartels, as shown below.  


Taken together, the strategy followed by the Mexican government toward defeating the drug cartels, along with persistent and growing demand for drugs in the United States and Mexico, appears to have contributed to the steep increase in the number of homicides between 2007 and 2011, with no corresponding reductions in consumption or in smuggling. This conclusion is supported by state- and municipal-level analysis looking at violence in Chihuahua and Guerrero over the same time period.  And while it is impossible to isolate the exact impact of the drug war on homicides and other violence in Mexico, this analysis contributes to a growing evidence base suggesting that the War on Drugs has been unsuccessful and has contributed to the astonishing rates of violence and murders in Mexico. 

Ignacio Camacho is a Master of Public Policy candidate for 2015 at the Goldman School of Public Policy at University of California, Berkeley. This featured research was originally posted on PolicyMatters Journal.

In Times of Crisis, Local and Regional Food Procurement Can Save Time, Money, and Livelihoods

The most recent Farm Bill, officially known as the Agricultural Act of 2014, was probably most widely associated with an $8.6 billion cut to SNAP, a 2.8 million acreage cut in land marked for conservation, and a long congressional stalemate. However, looking more closely, the Farm Bill also had a major win signed into law in its expansion of funding devoted to local and regional food procurement. Started as a pilot program in 2008, the USDA Local and Regional Procurement Pilot Program (LRP) provided post-crisis food aid in developing countries by purchasing and distributing food from local areas.

At only $80 million dollars, the LRP is a pittance in comparison to the $946 billion allotted in the bill. Nonetheless, local and regional food procurement as a disaster response has been remarkably successful thus far. A 2012 USDA report showed that the LRP program helps get food to victims of disaster-strewn countries an average of 74 days earlier and 36% cheaper than through in-kind food aid donations. 

And as our country prepares for the inevitability of more natural disasters year after year—disasters like Hurricane Sandy, for example—we could take a lesson from the international community. It’s time to for us to use a similar model of focusing on local and regional food procurement—through SNAP, new transportation policies, and community food projects, among other initiatives—to respond to disasters, so that people who fall victim to disasters like the 114,000 victims of Hurricane Sandy can have access to food quickly, cheaply, healthfully and efficiently. Here, I use Hurricane Sandy as an example to show four policy changes that should be made in disaster response.  

Extend and expand the Disaster Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (DSNAP).  DSNAP provides all eligible victims of disasters with a short-term allotment of food stamps at the maximum possible allotment for their household under the typical SNAP program. According to the Food Research and Action Center, every dollar of emergency money spent on food stamps sparks $1.73 in local economic activity, enriching a local economy struggling with the disaster.  As seen in Figure 1, this $1.73 per dollar impact is larger than any comparable program in local stimulus per dollar. After Hurricane Sandy, we saw that thousands of families became food insecure due to the storm, and extending DSNAP is a cost-effective and efficient way to help communities recover over the long term while feeding families today. 

Increase Food Stamp outreach initiatives. While DSNAP will help get families back on their feet, many families will still need longer-term support. Therefore, outreach initiatives must be put in place to educate and enroll families in regular SNAP benefits. A major disaster brings already vulnerable families to the brink, making it critical to provide outreach to allow informed family response. Furthermore, increased SNAP participation has been shown to mitigate emergency food provider (EFP) food shortages, a major issue facing EFPs in post-disaster areas.

Increase transportation access for individuals and families from disaster-affected areas to nearby food retailers. Food and water are points of greatest concern following a disaster. Following Hurricane Sandy, the areas of NYC most affected were already areas in greatest need of supermarket access, In planning for the next storm, it is even more important to increase transportation to nearby food retailers

Enable emergency food providers (EFPs) to purchase food locally for distribution. Improving EFPs’ access to locally grown food boosts the local economy, supports local farmers, and increases access to fresh food for low-income communities. This emphasis on the local economy as a whole is a key. Facing significant damage from a natural disaster, an emphasis on local food responds on both the supply and demand sides, boosting local farming while taking advantage of quick and low transportation costs to efficiently meet demand. In order to meet increasing demand at EFPs, looking to our local food producers provides a comprehensive economic response. 

Without a doubt, the people directly impacted by disasters like Hurricane Sandy are the most important among those affected by improved and increased access to food. However, many other stakeholders will benefit from improved post-disaster food policies as well. Local farmers will be able to secure a return for the crops that will be purchased for EFPs, while EFPs will be able to meet their increasing demands for food. With improved transportation, local food retailers will be able to increase their foot traffic, and increased SNAP participation will be a boon for NYC’s local economy. This is of particular importance for businesses that have been dealt an unlucky blow in the wake of a disaster.

The champions of policies focused on local food procurement as a response to disaster relief have worked and experienced success on both a national and international level. A non-profit organization called Just Food, through its direct purchasing and Fresh Food For All program, has demonstrated that increasing the ability for EFPs to purchase food locally and promote SNAP participation has helped individuals and families access fresh food while providing additional markets for farmers.  Through LRP, Oxfam America has seen that “LPR can save time and money, allowing crucial aid to reach more people in need of food assistance. It also invests in communities so they can feed themselves, instead of becoming dependent on food aid in the future.” There is a tremendous opportunity for Oxfam and Just Food to share best practices and methodologies for local food procurement as a way to improve food access. While operating on two very different levels, the premise of both programs is the same: instead of relying on in-kind food donations and increased dependency through food aid, invest in rebuilding communities for the long term by increasing access to and purchasing of fresh, local food.  

By allowing individuals and families to obtain SNAP, get to food retailers, and access fresh, local food through EFPs, we can ensure that those affected by future disasters will have a solid foundation to rely on as they work to feed their families and rebuild their lives. The policies outlined here are not major shifts, and they can be done using our existing systems. All they require is the funding and support necessary to make sure that all those affected by large natural disasters know about and are able to participate in these programs. They also require the political will to take proactive steps toward preparing for the next disaster. For Sandy victims in New York City, perhaps the policy window is closed. However, considering that there will inevitably be a “next time”, the US must act and adopt these lessons so that when the next disaster strikes, we will be ready to respond. 

Sasha Feldstein is a first-year MPP student at the Goldman School of Public Policy. This featured research was originally posted on PolicyMatters Journal.