On July 1st, Mexicans are going to the polls to elect the next president of Mexico.
Twelve years ago, the decade’s long rule of the Revolutionary Institutional party (PRI) came to an end as the candidate of the National Action party (PAN), Vicente Fox won the election. The PRI lost the election then after decades of corruption, fraud, and one-party rule that held control over most sectors of civil society leaving little space for alternative voices.
The PRI is the likely winner under the charismatic leadership of Enrique Pena Nieto though the PRI’s victory should not be taken as a foregone conclusion. The gap between Pena Nieto and Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador of the Workers Party has been narrowing. With a sizeable number of voters still undecided as to whom they will vote for and with a large youth vote favoring Obrador, a surprise upset is not out of the question. While it is likely that Pena Nieto will maintain cordial and mostly cooperative relations with the United States, this assumption cannot be counted on in connection to Obrador.
In terms of the PRI, some commentators have expressed concern over the return to their past practices. Given the crisis of legitimacy the PRI faced a little over a decade ago, it is not likely that the party will return to their old practices. Yet, it is important to point out that given the PRI’s history, some political actors of the past may return.
It is interesting to note that the electoral campaign, itself, has been characterized by the candidates’ distance from the war on drugs. The war on drugs defined the presidency of Felipe Calderon. There have been more than 50,000 homicides in the last six years. Many of the deaths were the result of inter- cartel fighting but Mexicans tend to instinctively attribute the high human toll to the government’s war on the cartels. Apparently, most Mexicans consider the war on drugs unwinnable.
Political candidates perceive that the war has diminished the popularity of the president. Thus, during the debates, no candidate touched on the issue. Even the candidate from Calderon’s party (PAN), Josefina Vazques Mota is distancing herself from the president by using the slogan “Josefina Diferente” (Different than Calderon). Despite this, she still is a distant third in the polls. One of the key criticisms about the PAN government under Calderon is that its priority on the war on drugs caused them to neglect the economy.
Pena Nieto is not talking about the war on drugs but instead is stressing the need to improve security. Yet, he has hired the former head of Colombia’s National police, Oscar Naranjo as an adviser. It was under Naranjo’s tenure that the Colombian police managed to reduce drug cartel criminal activity. Whether or not Pena Nieto will choose to continue Calderon’s path or make changes is not clear. Whether increasing security will include the fight against drug cartels is also unclear. Of the three major candidates, Obrador has been the most outspoken against the war on drugs. In fact, his slogan is “abrazos no valazos” meaning “hugs not bullets”. Obrador has also said that if the U.S. wants to help, it should send soft credit, not helicopters.
In terms of the war on drugs, what is more apparent is that the Mexican people, as a collective, have a different attitude than Colombians did when confronting the major drug cartel(the FARC) in their country a decade ago. Whereas Colombians clearly identified the drug cartels as the source of anarchy and violence, the Mexicans have not done so yet. Colombians were willing to pay taxes to strengthen the war on drugs and stood behind the president with the determination to do that. Mexicans have not provided the same backing to Calderon and it is not clear how they expect to solve that problem or whether they are willing to live in a country where drug cartels subjugate the state and the rule of law. What is more absurd is that often Calderon’s war on drugs is seen as responsible for the increasing murders and citizens’ insecurity. In one case, the father of a victim of drug cartels who happens to be a poet initiated peace marches as if the problem were one of war and peace and not the need to destroy a ruthless lethal force that for the sake of earning billions of dollars is willing to murder without mercy and transform the rule of law into anarchy.
All this shows that many Mexicans are either in denial or are simply hoping that the problem will somehow go away. Yet, it is understandable that the Mexican people are weary of all the violence and take this position because the gun battles, the mass graves, the cruelty of the cartels, and the display of military forces has not reached Mexico City or other large urban centers.
Whatever the explanation is, the situation is not good. Yet, it would be a mistake for the future governing party to give in to the cartels as was done in previous Mexican administrations, making the problem that much worse for Calderon when he began his crackdown. In this sense, it is difficult to imagine an alternative to Calderon’s anti-drug policies. If the Mexicans want a better life they have to properly deal with the cartels or face an ever worsening situation.
While violence remains a most serious problem, there have been some successes by the Mexican authorities. Some drug kingpins have been eliminated but others have taken their place. The problem of police corruption remains a very serious challenge. In fact, a few days ago gunmen murdered three policemen at Mexico City’s international airport and the assassins happened to be police officers working for a drug cartel.
If the new government does not recognize the problem of drugs for what it is and does not continue the war on drugs with the goal of destroying it, this country of 112 million people will begin to disseminate refugees all over the world. What is worse is that the drug cartels will further expand their operations in the region and further threaten North and South American societies.