Mexico’s three wars

July 3, 2012

Enrique Pena Nieto, Mexico’s president-elect, inherited three wars from his predecessor. Staunching the bloodshed of one would be a huge achievement. Getting the upper hand in all three might require divine intervention.

Three wars? There is the war of choice President Felipe Calderon launched shortly after winning the presidency in 2006, by a razor-thin margin, when he deployed the army against the illicit drug business. That war pits the Mexican military and various security forces against the country’s drug trafficking groups.

Then there is the war the drug traffickers wage against each other for access to the rich markets of the United States, whose citizens have an “insatiable demand for illegal drugs fuels the drug trade,” as U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton put it in 2009.

The third war, perhaps the most difficult to end, is waged by criminals — some with links to drug organizations, some not — against ordinary citizens. That war, unlike the other two, rarely makes international headlines. But it has contributed to a deep sense of insecurity in parts of the country and it flourishes in an environment of impunity. According to a recent academic study, 80 percent of all murders in Mexico in 2010 went unpunished.

A standard phrase in Pena Nieto’s stump speech addressed his fellow citizens’ fears: “No more murders, no more kidnappings, no more extortions.” Often carried out by criminals unconnected to the drug trafficking organizations, kidnappings and extortions have been a growing problem. Ending them is easier said than done and some of the remedies the president-elect is proposing have been tried before, without much success.

“What must be improved is coordination among federal, state and municipal crime-fighting authorities,” he wrote in an op-ed article in the New York Times just two days after winning the elections. “I will create a 40,000-person National Gendarmerie, a police force similar to those in Colombia, Italy and France, to focus on the most violent rural areas. I will expand the federal police force by at least 35,000 officers. I will consolidate the state and municipal police forces and provide greater federal oversight, to crack down on corruption within their ranks.”

Laudable goals. But police reforms, judicial reforms and crackdowns on corruption have been standard promises of new presidents for decades, renewed in one form or another every six years. (Mexican presidents serve six years and cannot be re-elected.) The outgoing president, Felipe Calderon, took considerable pride in the 35,000-strong, supposedly corruption-resistant federal police force he raised after coming to power in 2006.

The image of that force received a major dent on June 25, just five days before the elections, when a shootout between federal policemen at Mexico City’s international airport left three officers dead. The government version of events: the three who died were attempting to arrest fellow officers involved in a cocaine-trafficking ring. Other versions suggested that all five were involved in drug smuggling and had argued over sharing the spoils. The killers escaped.


The oft-promised fight against corruption has made slow progress since Pena Nieto’s Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) was voted out of office in 2000, after 71 years of uninterrupted rule. In came leaders of the conservative National Action Party (PAN), first Vicente Fox and then Felipe Calderon. Twelve years of PAN rule brought some overdue changes – a free press and cleaner elections.

Corruption continued. In 2000, the Berlin-based watchdog group Transparency International placed Mexico at number 59 (out of 90) on its corruption perception index. In 2006, the year Calderon took over, it moved up to rank number 70 out of 163. Last year, it shared 100th place (out of 180) with a group of 11 countries that include Malawi, Burkina Fasso and Tanzania.

Poverty and the immense power of drug money are one explanation for the slow progress. Another came in a recent essay by Alan Riding, author of Distant Neighbors: A Portrait of the Mexicans, a perceptive book on Mexican history and the country’s relationship with the United States.

Riding argues that the broad power structure the PRI established over time remained largely intact even with two successive PAN presidents in Los Pinos, Mexico’s equivalent of the White House. Under the PRI, that argument goes, the country was run by a political bureaucracy in league with other power centers, such as banks, labor unions, the army, television magnates and industrial moguls.

Such perceptions clearly worry Pena Nieto. “There may be considerable hand-wringing in the international community that my election somehow signifies a return to the old ways of my party,” he wrote in the New York Times. “To those concerned about a return to then old ways, fear not. At 45, I am part of a generation of PRI politicians committed to democracy. I reject the practices of the past in the same way I seek to move forward from the political gridlock of the present.”

His two PAN predecessors were often stymied in reform attempts because they lacked a majority in congress. That’s a fate Pena Nieto will share. He won roughly 38 percent of the vote but not enough seats for a majority in the 500-seat lower house of Congress or the 128-seat Senate.

The quick reforms he promised in the euphoria of victory won’t be all that quick. So the wars will continue.


We welcome comments that advance the story through relevant opinion, anecdotes, links and data. If you see a comment that you believe is irrelevant or inappropriate, you can flag it to our editors by using the report abuse links. Views expressed in the comments do not represent those of Reuters. For more information on our comment policy, see

[…] Press Mexican left threatens to challenge election results Fox News TIME -Businessweek -Reuters Blogs (blog) all 3,359 news articles »  Tags: EnglishPosted in World | No […]

Posted by Mexico elections: Enrique Peña Nieto outlines ambitious reform agenda – The Guardian « Contacto Latino News | Report as abusive

Mexicans and Americans share a common current dilemma. Give one party the power to make things happen and you risk tyranny. Spread the power and you invite gridlock. Solutions? Answers on a postcard please.

Posted by steve778936 | Report as abusive

The answer is for Mexico to legalise drugs. From the outside it looks like they are fighting the USA’s drugwar with their own money and lives. I concede it is not a great answer, morally repugnant, but possibly more practical than living in a drug war zone.

Posted by BidnisMan | Report as abusive

Legalizing drugs in Mexico is not the answer; the market is the United States. By nature the drug business is violent. Also, it will not stop the other crimes, it just means that the drug cartels are legally exempt from control.

Nieto is out of his league. He needs to find some international advisors.

The facts no one wants to read.

Posted by ALLSOLUTIONS | Report as abusive

Eliminate ideology and politics. Go with intelligent, highly analytical and fair management.

Get the government out of the benefit business(this is the reason for gridlock, the fight over benefits); restrict the government to the role of referee concerned only with fair play and not with equal results.

How is this accomplished?

Citizens grow up, take part and stop asking, What do I get.

The facts no one wants to read.

Posted by ALLSOLUTIONS | Report as abusive

If Mexico legalized marijuana, then any citizen could grow and sell it. That would be the most effective way to undermine the criminal drug cartels. If regulation and taxation are also feasible, then the tax revenues could be spent on drug education.

As for violent crime in general, that is likely a result of the extremes of wealth and poverty in Mexico. A fairer society would be less violent.

Posted by DifferentOne | Report as abusive

It would appear to me as a U.K citizen that considering the Hispanic population of the USA both legal and illegal and its rapid growth, that many of both Mexico’s problems and the USA border control problems would be resolved by Mexico becoming the next 10 states of the USA. The internal Federal control of Cross Stateline offences is already in place and the merging of the two nations would I feel be welcomed by the Mexican peoples and give Republican Americans that warm glow of Empire and control they like.

Posted by paulsageordie | Report as abusive

The Absent Game…

Among me and my husband we have owned much more MP3 players through the years than I can count, such as Sansas, iRivers, iPods (traditional & touch), the Ibiza Rhapsody, etc. But, the last few several years I’ve settled down to one line of gamers….

Posted by Antonietta Klopf | Report as abusive

Aw, i thought this was an incredibly wonderful article. The theory is that Let me write like this in addition : acquiring period and true attempt to produce a great article… but exactly what do We state… My spouse and i delay doing things many rather than seem to obtain a thing carried out.

Posted by site | Report as abusive

stylish, easy and restrained

Posted by Shirley Bogdanski | Report as abusive

Astounding, be considered a decent item of write which has been encounter at for a long time lengthy. Conduct sometimes click this online store.

Posted by Couponrani | Report as abusive