Border Justice Forum

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ASU West’s event, “Crime, Justice, and the Border,” is a forum that will focus on the issues of crime, law enforcement, security and human rights. ASU Associate Professor of political science Julie Murphy Erfani talks about the forum and border violence.

José Cárdenas
>> Good evening and thank you for joining us. This week the Obama administration announced that more agents and equipment were heading to the border to fight Mexican drug cartels and keeping violence from spilling over into the United States. This will be one of the issues to be discussed at the sixth annual ASU west justice border forum next week. Joining me to talk about this forum is Julie Murphy Erfani, A.S.U associate professor of political science with the new college of interdisciplinary arts and science. Professor Erfani has done extensive research on border violence. Professor Erfani, thank you for joining us on "horizonte." very hot topic. Secretary of state Clinton is in Mexico. Homeland secretary Janet Napolitano is testifying in congress, and these are the issues that the violence in Mexico and the concern that's spilling over into the United States. Before we get into the details of the forum, tell us a little bit about the work you have done studying these issues.

Julie Murphy Erfani
>> well, since about 2007, I have been working on questions regarding illicit commerce of various types including trafficking in human beings, trade in counter fits and other kinds of illicit products and money laundering. And it has become the case, especially in the last half year that the violence between the drug cartels, the organized traffickers, has escalated significantly. And there's increasing evidence that their violence is spilling over on to the American side of the border.

José Cárdenas
>> In many respects this is not new, though it does seem to be getting more attention. But there is indeed an increase as I understand it. Why is that?

Julie Murphy Erfani
>> I think it's a variety of reasons. It's cracked entirely -- corruption in Mexico is not new, drug trafficking is also not new. What is new, I think, about the situation is a couple of things. The first is that drug, organized drug traffickers are now engaged in a very intense competition for drug routes. They are vying for a kind of hegemony. The cartels want to be, all of them want to be top dog. The other thing that's new is not only are they battling one another for the routes to smuggle drugs north, but the government of Calderon decided to employ the military, the national military to fight a battle against the cartels. So the cartels are at war with one another for drug trading routes. And they are at war with the government. And that has escalated the violence considerably.

José Cárdenas
>>As we have discussed before, this may actually be one of the results of the greater democratization in Mexico. Can you elaborate on that?

Julie Murphy Erfani
>> Yes. We have got a couple of experts, as I mentioned, coming up from Mexico City from the national autonomous university that are going to discuss that in detail. One in particular, Dr. José Velasco wrote a book, it's by the way in English. documenting how Mexico 's democratization process, in some respects, opened up greater rivalry between cartels, in particular, it opened up the fact that it was no longer clear who in the government a cartel was to bribe. And so there's jockeying for position among the cartels in this political transition process to gain access to political authority.

José Cárdenas
>> And this is a process that would have begun with President Fox's victory in 2000?

Julie Murphy Erfani
>> Yes, exactly. This really got under way in an accelerated way when the pre lost control of the presidency. It's continued up to the current time with the new president, new pon president.

José Cárdenas
>> It was kind of a modus Vivendi and the government and the drug cartels that changed with the new party in power, the pon?

Julie Murphy Erfani
>> Exactly. During the pre regime, which was a very long lived regime, there was kind of a truce between the cartels, for the most part, and between the cartels or the drug organizations and the government. And that truce deteriorated as the process of democratization got underway. Part of the thing that Dr. Velasco documents is the infiltration of the cartels into the political electoral campaign process. In fact, he has evidence that every political party in Mexico basically receives campaign donations from the cartels, one or another cartel. So campaign financing became part of cartels vying for political influence. But also the fact that it became difficult to discern, as I said, who the cartels should bribe within the government as the actors and the parties changed.

José Cárdenas
>> So how do you explain president Calderon's decision to basically escalate the war on drugs?

Julie Murphy Erfani
>> I'm a little bit skeptical as are the Mexican scholars who will be coming for the border symposium next week. I am skeptical a bit of the timing, Calderon's timing and also the mode of fighting this cartel war, the militarization of the cartel war at a full-scale level. The concerted deployment of the Mexico military in many different border towns, in other towns throughout Mexico, to temporarily replace the police force, forces of those towns, in order to restore order in the wake of cartel violence. I think that primarily, he had a key motivation, Calderon for making a very rapid decision to take on the cartels, using the Mexican military because he was coming into office with a sort of a contested, in the wake of a contested election where he won a very small or thin victory. And he wanted to take up a major policy -- a major policy undertaking so they could deflect some attention away from that electoral delegitimization.

José Cárdenas
>> It wasn't the justification for using the Mexican military it was one of the relatively clean, non-corrupt forces available to fight the narco -- traffickers.

Julie Murphy Erfani
>> That was the hope that the military is relatively clean and not infiltrated by the drug cartel organizations. There's counter evidence, though, that is fairly significant. There are hit squads of former military deserters, in particular this group that's become world renowned called The Zetas. They are very sophisticated, ex-military people who basically deserted the military and became, in effect, a hit squad for, an execution squad for the gulf cartel. It's alleged.

José Cárdenas
>> This is something that is more of a holdover from the fox administration, right?

Julie Murphy Erfani
>> Yes.

José Cárdenas
>> You had -- they basically weeded out what they thought were corrupt officers and had the unintended consequence of actually being a recruiting device for the drug traffickers.

Julie Murphy Erfani
>> Yes, I am afraid so. I'm overall just not very confident that the military is as clean as the government would like to portray it.

José Cárdenas
>> Now, has had rather significant consequences. Among them the fact that the -- at least appearance that the Mexican public itself is growing weary of the violence.

Julie Murphy Erfani
>> Yes, it is. It's growing weary of the lack of personal security that people feel on city and town streets. It is skeptical increasingly. Ordinary taxi drivers I've have read accounts, skeptical in Mexico City included, of Calderon's full scale use of the military against the cartel organizations. Many ordinarily people feel that that exacerbated the violence and it's not achieving any particular success. And as you mentioned, we discussed earlier, the precipitous way in which Calderon launched that initiative without much transnational cooperation with the United States. I as I mentioned see this as a very transnational problem, this organized criminal trafficking and drugs and guns. The demand for the drugs in the United States, the shipments, illegal shipments of guns to Mexico, profiteering on both sides of the border, and escalating violence against ordinary border residents and against migrants.


José Cárdenas
>> Now you have President Clinton going to Mexico with promises of support and additional aid. What do you see coming out of those efforts? Do you think it's going to have a real impact in the success of the Mexican government in this battle?

Julie Murphy Erfani
>> Well, I think that there is, I am hopeful there's increasing evidence and Clinton's visit attests to that. There will be closer, even closer collaboration, intergovernmental collaboration between the borders states in an enforcement sense and between the U.S. government and the Mexican government in terms of mediating this cartel war. I believe there will be another, in other words, greater intergovernmental cooperation but I would -- I would add that I don't think there can be a very viable long-term solution unless we explore more profoundly the disparities in wealth between the members of the member states of NAFTA and explore how to transform North American trade in such a way as to make it possible for greater wealth to be distributed among Mexicans so that they would not have to resort to the informal economy for employment and wages.

José Cárdenas
>> Now, I may have inadvertently rewritten recent American electoral history by referring to President Clinton, but I was referring to secretary of state Hillary Clinton. I do want to talk about the forum and then if we have time to come balk to some of these bigger issues. Tell us about the forum and the logistics and the speakers you have got lined up. You mentioned a couple.

Julie Murphy Erfani
>> We have got an interesting new dimension to the forum this year. There is a border symposium. It's a policy symposium embedded into this border justice forum. The overall forum is entitled "crime, justice and the border" and the policy symposium is entitled "violence and human rights crisis at the border."

José Cárdenas
>> We have a thing on the screen that tells people the dates, March 31st-April 2nd.

Julie Murphy Erfani
>> Yes. The symposium has three panels. The first starts on April 1st. it's on immigration, smuggling and human trafficking and on April 2, two other academic policy panels. One on underground economies and the other on responses of the human rights community to border violence. I would like to highlight as well four key experts that we have invited in. two that I mentioned, Dr. Luis Astorga from Mexico's national autonomous university. He is Mexico's foremost sociological expert on organized drug traffickers. And Dr. José Velasco who is as also from the national university and an expert on the infiltration of drug traffickers into the democratization process. And then Dr. Clauda, an economist, who is also part of the U.N. high commission on human rights in Mexico. And Dr. Kathleen Stout, a very well known border scholar from university of Texas El Paso.

José Cárdenas
>> Now, I want to bring things even more directly back to Arizona. Of course, we are having the conference here and that seems to be appropriate in light of recent developments here and gun running.

Julie Murphy Erfani
>> Yes.

José Cárdenas
>> The dismissal of charges against one. Most notorious alleged gun runners and as I understand the connection between that and some of the killings is pretty direct.

Julie Murphy Erfani
>> Definitely. As I understand it, the owner of Excalibur guns was basically got off the charges temporarily at least for the moment, with a legal technicality. There were, there's evidence, though, that his gun running, several hundreds of guns including assault weapons and some .50 caliber sniper rifles, those guns have been linked to at least four assassinations of four different Mexican police officers, chiefs of police, I should say. There's also evidence that some of his guns were in the hands and traced back to Arizona to him, in the hands of the Sinaloa Cartel. I know that case is on appeal. And I am hopeful that there will be some serious charges that stick.

José Cárdenas
>> On that rather sobering note we will end the interview. Thank you so much for joining us on "horizonte."

Julie Murphy Erfani
>> Thank you.

Julie Murphy Erfani:ASU associate professor,Political Science;

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