Sunday, July 8, 2012

Mexican voters got suckered on drug war

MGRR Opinion -
A week after July 1, the winner finally 'fesses up on his plans for "Calderón's drug war"

Protester in Mérida, Saturday, July 7, 2012. The photo insert on her sign says, "Este Pendejo No - This idiot no." A more colloquial translation would be of the four letter genre.

Mérida, Yucatán -
I've been writing about Mexican national politics and the just completed presidential election since the first few days of July, 2011. In other words, for more than a year.

Last fall I wrote a piece in a local newspaper praising the aggressive drug war policy of Felipe Calderón, to which a Mérida expat reader responded angrily. She complained that every thing in this country has gone straight down hill since the PANista took office on Dec. 1, 2006. The proof of it, in her estimation (and that of many others, to be sure), was the 50,000 person death toll (a number which is at least 5K higher now).

The reader who was aggrieved by my analysis was in quite prestigious company. In an editorial not long afterwards the Los Angeles Times blamed everything on Calderón, implying that his drug war tactics, especially his use of Mexican troops against the cartels and organized crime, were responsible for many of those deaths. To hear the Times tell it, the Mexican army routinely engages in gross military excesses, at times even war crimes, for the sheer sport of it. Of course, the L.A. Times' claims were wholly unfounded.

But anybody who paid the slightest attention to the 2012 presidential race knows that the single most important campaign issue was what would happen with "Calderón's drug war," as it has been derisively referred to by so many on both sides of the border. Would Mexico's next president stay the course? With the exception of Josefina Vázquez Mota, the candidates gave voters every reason to believe that major changes were in store if they captured Los Pinos - wonderful changes which would restore peace to Mexico as quickly as possible. But it was all a smoke and mirrors show.

Enrique Peña Nieto was a master magician. The candidate dodged the key issue for months, and played coy with U.S. vice president Joe Biden when the latter came calling in March, before finally stating in April that he planned to keep Mexican military forces heavily involved in operations against narcotics cartels and organized crime.

The candidate had many powerful people in the United States concerned - worried would be a more accurate term - with his periodic talk about breaking away from the "failed drug war policies" of Felipe Calderón. Many openly expressed discomfort over the prospects of a PRI victory, including U.S. Sen. John McCain (R. Ariz.), who fretted back in February that Enrique Peña Nieto might not be a team player on the drug war. EPN had them fooled, flip-flopping back and forth for months on his plans.

Others who should have known better also failed to see behind the Great Wizard's door. On June 11, the staid New York Times opined that EPN would take a "new tack in the drug war." Imagine the discomfort in their editorial offices when the president-elect delivered his formal manifesto last Monday, precisely belying their important predictions. If anything, the PRIsta confirmed that the drug war is very likely to expand during his watch, as he builds upon - not abandons - Calderón's controversial National Security Strategy, increasing federal security forces by some 75,000 people.

In an Associated Press interview last week, Enrique Peña Nieto's Colombian drug war consultant also flatly disproved NYT's hypothesis. General Óscar Naranjo spoke in detail of creative battlefield tactics with newly configured strike force units, not of retreat or even of temporary strategic withdrawal and regrouping.

For those who still haven't got it figured out, the president-elect gave an interview to CNN today, which is summarized in this article: Peña Nieto: En la lucha contra narcotráfico no habrá un cambio radical. The title is, "In the War Against Narcotics Trafficking, Peña Nieto Says There Won't be Any Big Changes," and it confirms that "the new strategy is just an 'adjustment' of what's already been done." A mid-course correction, in other words, not an order to come about. That's likely to disappoint millions of voters who believed and hoped that with a PRI victory, "peace was at hand" (the infamous words of British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain on his return from Berlin, Sept. 30, 1938).

At the end of the day, people get much the government they deserve. On Sunday, July 1, 19,226,784 Mexicans marked with an X the name of Licenciado Enrique Peña Nieto. They've richly earned him.

June 22 - 80% of Mexicans still approve of Felipe Calderón's drug war strategy

July 11: Responding to an article on this theme in the Mexican press today (Reportaje: La receta colombiana contra el narco en México), a reader observed that much more and perhaps much worse violence is yet ahead. War is big business - and good business - for governments, he opines:

"Es muy bonito oir hablar de estrategias del pasado utilizados en rancherias y pueblos de colombia, cuando en los 80 y hasta 1999 la tecnologia popular no estaba tan avanzado como lo es ahora en los 2012. Tal vez sus estrategias le sirvieron al final despues de largos años de luchas, pero en nuestra real actualidad mexicana las cosas ya han cambiado mucho, la tecnologia del dia de hoy es mucho mas avanzada y toda la poblacion en general tiene acceso directo a ella, por lo que los ahora delincuentes modernos tambien hacen uso de ella.

"Toda la estrategia que propone colombia solo lleva a un resultado final: dar muerte y mas muerte a los que llamen criminales, no dice que los van a agarrar sino que los van a matar, tarde o temprano. Ante lo cual, solo podemos esperar en Mexico que la violencia continue a diario como hasta ahora, el proyecto colombiano solo puede ASEGURAR que este negocio va A DURAR muchos años mas, tal vez ahora ese sea EL GRAN NEGOCIO DEL FUTURO del cual los gobiernos no se quieren deshacer sino que es su deseo hacerlo mas fuerte y mas duradero. A los gobiernos les gusta la accion violenta, les gusta pavonearse de sus logros y quedar ante sus ciudadanos como "los heroes" mas amados y queridos por toda la poblacion, y eso es precisamente lo que va a pasar en Mexico con el nuevo presidente."

"Mexico is in mourning, but it's not dead"

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