Initiating the Drug Debate in Mexico

2:28 pm in Uncategorized by Michael K. Busch

Amidst ongoing controversy surrounding the results of last Sunday’s presidential election in Mexico, the declared winner of the contest, Enrique Peña Nieto, is unambiguously organizing to take over the government come December. The election was marked by claims of fraud, irregularities, and manipulation by the major media in favor of the Institutional Revolutionary Party, which ruled the country for much of the twentieth century, and sponsored Peña Nieto’s run for the presidency. While all of these allegations are likely true to an extent, they ultimately fail to convince. And while the opposition continues to protest Peña Nieto’s victory, the president-elect has moved on.

Enrique Peña Nieto

Enrique Peña Nieto (Photo: World Economic Forum / Flickr)

Peña Nieto has been assaulting American media with a public relations campaign intended to signal confidence, competence, and sensitivity to American concerns with what goes on in Mexico domestically.  Chief among these concerns, clearly, is the country’s security failure since its transition from authoritarianism over a decade ago. In the past six years, particularly, the country has suffered from President Felipe Calderón’s use of the military to go after Mexico’s trafficking “kingpins.” Far from achieving progress, Calderón’s strategy has left the country noticeably worse off. Somewhere in the neighborhood of 45,000 to 67,000 people have been murdered since Calderón took office. Mexico’s jumble of local, state, and federal security agencies have been rendered useless by graft; and the power of the so-called “Mexican cartels” seems to have metastasized within and beyond Mexico’s borders.

Peña Nieto has promised that his administration will not persist with the failed policies of the Calderón era, though he has remained elusive in outlining the specifics of change.  This past Thursday, however, his special advisor on combating drug traffickers, former director of police in Colombia, General Oscar Naranjo, sketched out a basic plan of what the next administration intends to do. Despite facing questions about his own resistance to corruption, not to mention the allegations against his immediate subordinates, Naranjo’s plan makes sense—forget the kingpins, get control of mid-level operators responsible for the lion’s share of violence, and focus on keeping local communities secure. Of course, this approach is not without its problems. But it compares quite favorably against competing ideas which generally emphasize continued, and bolstered, military action throughout the country.

The president-elect has also changed course, albeit slightly, on his position with respect to drug decriminalization.  In an interview with the PBS NewsHour last Tuesday, Peña Nieto argued that he will welcome debate on the issue of drug legalization and regulation in Mexico, a move advocates claim would deflate widening illicit profit margins, reduce cartel violence, and offer the state an additional source of tax revenue.

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