Enrique Peña Nieto was sworn in as Mexico's new president on Saturday. He has pledged to immediately take up his campaign promise to cut the huge number of drug-war deaths across the country.
That promise is what the people wanted to hear and why they voted in Peña Nieto, along with his TV star looks and urbane manner. Delivering on this promise will be a difficult, if not impossible, task.
The promise to drain Mexico's drug bloodbath is the main reason that Peña Nieto and his hated Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) got back into power. The PRI was thrown out of office in 2000, after a 71-year rule that was shown to be corrupt down to even rigging elections.
It's a sign of the electorate's frustration with the previous government's attempts to stop drug-related gang killings that they seem to have forgotten the extent of the PRI's previous wicked ways.
The new president has told his people that he will not enter into deals with the huge drug cartels, something the PRI was accused of in the 1990s. He says he will in fact track them down and prosecute them. We shall see. One of his closest political allies, Emilio Lozoya, a man who seems sure to feature in Peña Nieto's new cabinet, said: “We will continue working strongly to combat drugs and insecurity with innovative policies so that consumption falls.”
As expected with the PRI, the paramilitary feature strongly in his plans. The president says that he will create a new paramilitary police force numbering 40,000 and increase the size of the federal police force.
Skeptics worry that increasing the numbers of these forces will be to no avail unless those at the top are scourged of corruption. Many believe that the only reason the drug cartels have so much sway is because of their friends in high places.
How is any of this of any relevance to the US? Well, Mexican drug deaths could be said to be driven by US demand for hard drugs and the weapons used by the cartels to undertake their death squad type killings are for the most part all bought north of the Rio Grande. The Mexican president will find it difficult to influence both of these factors.
Outgoing president Felipe Calderón, of the conservative National Action Party, attempted to quell Mexico's drug violence by deploying the military on the streets. At one point he placed 92,000 operational soldiers and marines on “street duty.” Some feel that their presence actually fuelled additional violence and deaths. Peña Nieto has promised to stand down these troops as soon as possible.
Calderón felt that the troops were a better bet than the police, who he believed were riddled with corruption and in the pay of the drug barons. Peña Nieto now looks to be putting his trust back in the police and his new, not military, but paramilitary force.
Meanwhile, Calderón is leaving Mexico for Harvard University, where he will take up a teaching post. One wonders how much of Harvard’s student drug activity actually feeds the Mexican drug industry and its related violence. Ideas like this will probably be the furthest thing from the ex-president's mind.
For ordinary Mexicans caught up in drug war crossfire, any measure that cuts violence and death on the streets of Mexico's cities and towns will be welcomed. A return to a corrupt police enforcement regime might even do this, as street conflicts between government and drug cartel gunmen could drop dramatically as palms get greased.
Over 60,000 Mexicans died in drug-related killings during Calderón’s six-year presidency. Some might be happy to turn a blind eye to corruption and illegal drug cartel activity if this death toll could be cut.
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