A Safer Mexico? The War On Drugs Under Peña Nieto

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In Enrique Peña Nieto’s electoral campaign and after his inauguration on July 2, 2012, the newly elected President promised a new direction for Mexico with regards to the war on drugs. However, eight months into his presidency, how much has Peña Nieto’s approach to drug related violence impacted on his country and is Mexico safer under his administration?

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When Peña Nieto came into office in December 2012 he stressed that his priorities would be to reduce crime and violence in Mexico and that he would not be focusing on capturing Mexico’s ‘Most Wanteds’ (warning that there will always be someone to replace a drug lord), but would instead channel efforts into stopping the murders and kidnappings happening on the streets. Unlike former President Felipe Calderon, Peña Nieto promised a low-profile approach aimed at tackling the violence on a local level and targetting the root causes of this violence in order to make the country a safer place.  Is this low profile approach to the war on drugs really getting to the root cause of the violence, or is it just shying away from the problem of the all-powerful drug cartels and their growing influence in Mexico?

In February 2013, Peña Nieto’s government launched a National Programme called the Social Prevention of Violence and Crime, which targeted different areas in Mexico City as well as municipalities in many northern states where there is a higher level of violence and drug addiction.  The aim of this national programme was to keep children in school and combat drug addictions. Whilst this may appear to be a noble approach to tackling the violence and drugs at a grassroots level, it could also be seen as a shift away from the previous government’s very strong focus on targeting high-profile drug traffickers, as well as being an ineffective way of combatting the growing organised crime and violence on the streets by rich and powerful cartels and drug lords.

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On coming into office in December, Peña Nieto created a National Gendarmerie, a military trained police force, which would function as a response force to recover public spaces previously under criminal control.  If all goes to plan, Peña Nieto will have a 100,000 strong federal security force by the end of his six-year term, with 50,000 Federal Police and 50,000 members of the gendarmerie. It is still a work in progress, but already many concerns have been raised about such a force due to its military nature and again, although it will focus on the recovery of contested areas previously under the control of cartel leaders, it does not propose to find these criminals and bring them to justice.

So, after one year in office, is any sign that Mexico will become a safer place under Peña Nieto?  This is a very difficult question to answer considering media coverage on the War on Drugs in Mexico has fallen dramatically in the past year: the terms ‘organised crime’ and ‘drug trafficking’ appear with much less frequency in the news.  Furthermore, when Calderon left office in 2012, he left the country in a very strong position economically and that caught the attention of the United States. This has led to an increase in coverage of Mexico in the US, and has also made global coverage of the country decidedly more positive.

Due to the lack of information given by the Mexican authorities, it may seem as though violence and organised crime is falling under Peña Nieto when this is not actually the case.  The sad truth is that major news outlets do not have access to official information to back up their stories, and it is therefore increasingly difficult for them to report on such important issues.  The other problem of course being that it is very publicly known that journalists who report on the War on Drugs do so at their own risk as decapitated heads of reporters have frequently been found on Mexican highways. This has silenced many reporters who may have otherwise spoken out. The drop in official information made public about organised crime obviously leads us to believe that the situation in Mexico is not actually improving but is being censored, that Peña Nieto’s government are not doing all they can to stop the violence and are actually shying away from the problem.

Saying this, however, a story recently came out in the news that the leader of the Zetas cartel Miguel Ángel Treviño Morales was captured in Nuevo Leon by Mexican marine forces, and without needing to shoot a single bullet.  The infamous Zetas cartel are known for having expanded far beyond drug trafficking into extortion, migrant smuggling, kidnapping and other such crimes, and Treviño Morales himself has been known for even more horrific crimes such as boiling his enemies’ babies and putting them in pies as revenge. The capture of the much feared drug lord who’s face has haunted Mexico for years is one of the first success stories of the War on Drugs under Peña Nieto’s administration, and was reported on widley.  This story may give us a little bit more faith in the President’s promise to reduce organised crime in Mexico.

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The BBC reported that Peña Nieto’s government ‘will be privately overjoyed at bringing down such an important drug lord as Treviño Morales- especially without even having fired a shot.’

According to figures released in Washington this year, violence and crime in Mexico still remain unacceptably high. After reaching approximately 68 murders a day in 2011, the murder rate fell in 2012 to about 50 murders per day in early 2013 and violence continued like this throughout the first quarter of under Peña Nieto’s government.  Drug related violence continues to be a contraversial topic in Mexico and although Peña Nieto’s administration claim that organised crime is falling, this has not been corroborated with official information and therefore cannot be relied upon.  It remains to be seen whether Mexico will become a safer place under the administration of PRI leader Peña Nieto and whether his promises to reduce organised crime and violence will become a reality.

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