Enrique Peña Nieto took over the presidency of Mexico on December 1, 2012, after succeeding Felipe Calderón. The path of his presidency will be a difficult one, Peña Nieto won with just 38% of the vote and his party (PRI) will not control either house of Congress. This will make it difficult to address the many issues facing Mexico today: energy policy, education, tax reform, political corruption, and others.

Perhaps chief among those issues, Peña Nieto inherits a drug war that has cost 60,000 lives since 2006.  Among others, he campaigned on the issue of stepping away from the military nature of that war against Mexico's infamous cartels and instead focusing on a reduction in murder and crime. Part of the new plan is to stress economic improvement and job creation. Perhaps most telling, though, is the fact that Peña Nieto chose to focus more heavily on economic issues.

                     Drug Money and weapons seized by the Mexican Police and the DEA

drug money and weapons seized by the Mexican Police and the DEA

Enrique Peña Nieto
"Where am I heading? Toward a country with greater public security. So Mexicans can live more peacefully."

"It's clear that we must put special emphasis on prevention, because we can't only keep employing more sophisticated weapons, better equipment, more police, a higher presence of the armed forces in the country as the only form of combating organised crime."

While Peña Nieto's rhetoric is promising, there is much work to be done and many question how he will achieve these goals. The cartels are strong and the violence is rampant. Security analyst Alejandro Hope told AP that he sees "a lot of continuity" between the approaches of Peña Nieto and Calderón.

The dangers of reporting Ciudad JuarezAs I said, the problem is large. In the first few months of Peña Nieto's presidency, Mexico is still under the grip of violence and crime in many areas. There have been a series of crimes that include the kidnap and murder of a 17-member band near Monterrey and the gang rape of 6 Spanish tourists in Acapulco.

One Big Hurdle

The first problem that Peña Nieto's administration will face is his party's reputation. The PRI controlled Mexico throughout most of the 20th Century. As with any nation that is ruled by one party, graft and corruption became widespread and fostered a sense of apathy among its citizenry. Before Vicente Fox's 2000 election, "40% of Mexicans believed their country was a democracy. Immediately after the election, 63% described Mexico as a democracy."

Mario Vargas Llosa referred to Mexico under the PRI as "the perfect dictatorship". Many Mexicans worry that Peña Nieto's victory will mark a return to the abusive 71 year reign of the PRI. Critics point to scandals involving current and former PRI governors, among them the discovery of suitcases of money and allegations of ties to drug cartels.

“I for one am nervous about their return,” said Guadalupe Davila of Ciudad Juárez, whose son was one of the more than 60,000 victims of drug violence under Calderón’s term. “But it will be up to us, society, to show the PRI that we have changed as a people, that we demand government accountability, that things cannot go back to where they were and fall back into neglect. That’s why we lost what we lost.”
Peña Nieto's victory may be just the result of a citizenry weary of violence and hoping for an improved economy. A recent poll by GCE indicated that 72% of Mexicans believed the nation was either stuck or moving backward while 27% felt that the nation was progressing. Only time will tell if Peña Nieto's claims of a "new PRI" will hold or if the PAN can field a successful candidate in the next presidential election.

President Obama's Visit to Mexico

Reunión con el Presidente Barack Obama.

May 3, 2012

While both presidents focused on economic issues and immigration in their remarks after the meeting, President Barack Obama did have this to say,

“We understand that the root cause of much of the violence here — and so much suffering for many Mexicans — is the demand for illegal drugs, including in the United States”

 “We recognize that most of the guns used to commit violence here in Mexico come from the United States.”

Details of the New Plan Drip Out Slowly

One aspect of the new approach is certain, there will be less of the sort of outright military attacks in conjunction with the US government that were favored by Calderón. Instead of drones and surveillance, Peña Nieto will look to France for help in forming an elite police force that will act as a sort of gendarmerie. Indeed, the biggest part of the new program seems to be the consolidation of all the anti-drug efforts into one place. That place is the Interior Ministry, known as Gobernación, previously favored by the PRI in the 20th Century.

Barack Obama & Felipe Calderon give press conference in Mexico City
President Obama with former President Felipe Calderón
This is a dramatic change from the individual relationships that US officials enjoyed by with different Mexican security players such as the army, the federal police, the navy or the attorney general's office. That arrangement allowed the US to choose which information it gave to which part of the Mexican apparatus it trusted most.

The Guardian

Or Is the New Plan to Just Stop Commenting

"There is less information all the time," says Ricardo González of the freedom of expression group Article 19. "It is alarming."

April 9, 2013

While one factor in the decline of coverage is certainly fatigue, and fear of the cartels is another, there is also some evidence that there is simply less publicity about the drug war coming from the government itself. Calderón and his government widely publicized arrests and operational successes through speeches, videotapes, and advertisements. Today, those efforts no longer seem to exist.

A study from the Observatory of the Processes of Public Communication of the Violence "concluded that coverage of the violence in capital-based print and on TV during during the first three months of the Peña Nieto administration ... was about half of what it had been in the same period a year before." For example, the words "organized crime" and "cartel" are rarely seen on free-to-view TV in the early months of the Peña Nieto administration.


via Drug Policy Alliance and Business Insider:

  • Amount spent annually in the U.S. on the war on drugs: More than $51,000,000,000
  • Number of people arrested for a marijuana law violation in 2011: 757,969
  • Number of those charged with marijuana law violations who were arrested for possession only: 663,032 (87 percent)
  • The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that syringe access programs lower HIV incidence among people who inject drugs by: 80 percent
  • One-third of all AIDS cases in the U.S. have been caused by syringe sharing: 354,000 people
  • U.S. federal government support for syringe access programs: $0.00, thanks to a federal ban reinstated by Congress in 2011 that prohibits any federal assistance for them
  • 3,000 police officers and soldiers have died since 2006, which is equal to the number of coalition soldiers who have died in Afghanistan since 2001
  • An additional 5,000 people have disappeared since 2006
  • The United Nations estimates that the U.S. narcotics market is worth about $60 billion annually
  • The Justice Department estimates that Colombian and Mexican cartels take in $18 billion to $39 billion from drug sales in the United States each year
  • The Justice Department's National Drug Intelligence Center estimates that cartels operated in 1,286 U.S. cities in 2009 and 2010, which is more than five times the number reported in 2008
  • In a 2010 speech, Mexico’s secretary of public security said that the cartels combined spend more than $1 billion each year just to bribe the municipal police


Originally posted to Salted and Cured on Sat May 04, 2013 at 12:09 PM PDT.

Also republished by DKos Cannabis Law and Drug War Reform and Community Spotlight.

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