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.