by Tara Buss
After six years and nearly 70,000 homicides directly linked to the ongoing war with drug trafficking organizations, the citizens of Mexico voted the National Action Party (PAN) out of the executive. By replacing President Calderón with Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) candidate Enrique Peña Nieto, Mexico returned to the well-known rule of the party that held power from the late 1920s until 2000. Garnering the most votes — 39.1 percent in the July election — Peña Nieto took office in December of last year, promising lower levels of domestic insecurity and change in the handling of the war on drug trafficking. What were his plans for change?
Peña Nieto ran on a campaign promise of reducing drug-trafficking related violence through a wide variety of reforms, many specific to the violence and others that addressed contributory societal factors, including the alleviation of endemic poverty and educational reform. His larger scale proposals include the creation of a paramilitary task force, a French-style gendarmerie that would supplement federal, state, and municipal police forces who, even with the help of the army and navy, are struggling to maintain a semblance of control over the territory. By 2015, this paramilitary group would total 40,000 members at a proposed initial cost of MEX $1.2 billion, offering medium-term relief for the army and police forces. However, this would also entail the transfer of soldiers from both branches of the military – 5,000 from the army and 2,000 from the navy.
In addition to the creation of this new armed services sector, Peña Nieto has proposed spending an additional USD $10 billion on security. This money would go toward fine-tuning existing crime-fighting programs, expanding the use of intelligence sources, and increasing military and police training. Peña Nieto has also promised to emphasize violence prevention and improve coordination efforts between different levels of government, agencies, and ministries.
Yet, despite the myriad proposed policy changes aimed to reduce violence, the 50 percent decline in homicides and kidnappings Peña Nieto has promised for his first year in office seems overly ambitious. Moreover, his specific plans do not signal a radical departure from his predecessor, which many feel is necessary. Attempts to cripple cartels by removing their leaders have led to tremendous increases in fighting within and between cartels, contributing to the surge in violence. Similarly, the use of the military to openly fight drug trafficking organizations has fueled these battles, creating territorial competition at levels not previously experienced. These two Calderón-led strategies are arguably directly responsible for the high levels of violence throughout the country, indicating that Peña Nieto’s aim of tweaking institutions and their funding may be woefully insufficient to stop the violence.
The full effects of this long-term national struggle with insecurity and violence remain to be seen, and three months into Peña Nieto’s term, so does his ability to deliver on his promises.
Tara Buss is a Ph.D. candidate in the Charles and Louise Travers Department of Political Science at UC Berkeley.