Though drug trafficking organizations have existed in Mexico for decades, the level of related violence experienced and observed in recent times is unprecedented in contemporary national history. In December 2006, President Felipe Calderón began his six-year term in office declaring war on the cartels. Rather than re-establishing the unquestioned authority of the state through a successful federal crackdown, however, Calderón and his Partido Accion Nacional have presided over an escalation in violence matched by an increasing ferocity.
Official figures put the death toll since 2006 at approximately 50,000, though most observers consider this an under-estimation. With the Mexican government committed to a military strategy despite little to show for it, popular protests over insecurity, corruption and human rights continue to increase.
The NGO Libera was founded in Rome in 1995 to support those inspired to fight back against mafias and related organized crime. In Italy, the organization’s network includes more than 1,600 associations, cooperative groups and schools working together to promote a culture of lawfulness in an environment long shaped by a permissive view of criminality. Observing the globalization of organized crime, Libera has in recent years created an external arm focused on international activities.
In this context, the organization has launched a campaign in Mexico entitled Peace for Mexico - Mexico for Peace, aimed at supporting grassroots civil society initiatives focused on responding to the violence and abuses that have become a part of everyday life. Campaign activities are centered on shifting public opinion, advocacy, support of victims and access to information, grounded in notions of social justice, democracy and re-establishing a pervasive culture of peace.
In designing the campaign strategy, Libera has sought to transfer lessons from the organization’s own experiences facing up to the violent and corrupting influence of mafias in Italy. In particular, by highlighting the connections between the strength and vitality of democratic institutions, the role of citizenship and the visibility of civil society in acquiescing to, or challenging, permissive social attitudes towards violence and criminal activity.
At the same time, Libera’s primary emphasis is on identifying and supporting nascent local initiatives, whether led by students, NGOs, journalists or other concerned groups of citizens.
Given the Peace for Mexico - Mexico for Peace project is only scheduled to begin in October 2012, there is no evidence to indicate how Libera’s methods may work in a different context.
Nonetheless, though the core activities of the organization’s work in Mexico will be slightly different (focused on knowledge transfer, sharing ‘best practices’ and strategic support rather than implementing specific programs), the principles that underpin its involvement will remain the same - non-violence, a belief in the power of collective social action, the importance of public education as a means to effect behavioral change, and the centrality of notions of citizenship and civic responsibility in defining individual perceptions of lawfulness and the limits of permisiveness in the face of illegality.
Libera expects that its involvement in a seemingly intractable situation will have the potential to more effectively mobilize an existing, but sidelined group of civil society actors.
The centerpiece of this project is society. The Mexican population and society have been hurt for years by a pervasive culture of violence and the myriad other consequences connected to such abuses. This has led to a widespread loss of faith in the capacity of the state, fear, and a lack of hope. In short, the very sense of unity of the country is at risk.
For this reason, in promoting and sustaining the important work of local initiatives driven by students, NGOs, journalists, associations and other groups, Peace for Mexico - Mexico for Peace has the chance to restore in these citizens and in society at large their faith in their country, their belief that change is possible, and the notion that even common people can make a difference despite the continued failure of state policies.
At a broader level, successful involvement in the Mexican context will also serve to bolster Libera’s efforts to address the threatening spread of global criminal networks by building its own competing network of civil society organizations committed to forging a culture of respect for the rule of law, and moving beyond victim support to foster democratic participation in the fight for human rights.
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