Drug War Foes, Don't Expect Much From Mexico's New President


Nieto: Thumbs up for the drug war!

Sunday's elections in Mexico brought Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) back into power under Enrique Peña Nieto.

Reuter's today tracks some of Nieto's early goals:

Peña Nieto has promised to lift economic growth to about 6 percent a year, create jobs and draw the heat out of a war with drug gangs that bogged down Calderon's administration. The conflict has killed more than 55,000 people since late 2006. …

The U.S. State Department said it expected close cooperation against organized crime to continue under Peña Nieto.

Just prior to the vote, Robert Beckhousen of Wired's Danger Room warned that we should not expect to see a different attitude toward the drug war from Nieto:

Last week, Pieña Nieto recruited Colombian General Oscar Naranjo — a veteran of the war against the notorious drug lord Pablo Escobar — as his top security adviser. Peña Nieto wants to boost Mexico's Federal Police, and he's for creating a new national paramilitary police force to fight the cartels.  His campaign has also been "highly solicitous" of the United States, notes Patrick Corcoran of InSight, an organized crime monitoring group. This could mean a bigger U.S. role. Naranjo is also reportedly close to U.S. officials.

PRI's previous "corrupt" history of negotiating with cartels to keep a lid on violence has been raised in news stories as the party returns to power after a 12-year absence. Beckhousen doubts it's even possible to go back to the old system:

Peña Nieto's political party, the Institutional Revolutionary Party (or PRI), formerly maintained uninterrupted single-party rule for most of the 20th century. But when it lost power 12 years ago, it also lost a patronage system between regional party bosses and the cartels. This system meant drugs were allowed to flow relatively freely, provided physical disputes between the cartels didn't get out of hand. But losing a (note: corrupt) system of checks and balances, beef between cartels escalated.

Nor is it likely that such a deal could be made today. In some states that maintained PRI rule, these networks were maintained but still failed to stop the surge in violence. Some of the state-level politicians with ties to the cartels are now being purged. In any case, the PRI will be governing a different Mexico: one in which corruption is still a major problem, but in which a single party is not able to maintain control over the entire governing apparatus. Another problem is that today's cartels are smaller, a lot more numerous and increasingly decentralized. With so many cartels operating in Mexico today, who do you cut a deal with?