On December, 1st 2012 Enrique Peña Nieto succeeded Felipe Calderón as President of Mexico and the PRI, Partido Revolucionario Institucional, regained the power. The outgoing president, member of the PAN, Partido de Acción Nacional, focused his presidency on the drug war, supported by the United States. According to The Washington Post, indeed, the U.S government contributed nearly $2 billion in security aid, delivering Black Hawk helicopters, night-vision goggles and computer equipment and helping train thousands of Mexican police.
Calderón’s military-led strategy has continued a policy of violent struggle against drug and organized crime launched in the ’70s by Operation Condor, aimed at the destruction, through defoliant, of drug plantations. As the local consumption is relatively small, this policy’s main goal is reducing the quantity of narcotics smuggled into the United States.
After nearly fifty years of fight against drugs, recent data show that the objective has not been achieved. Despite the excellent results obtained with the capture of several kingpins and regional drug cartel leaders, in fact, Mexico has plunged into a crisis of violence, insecurity and corruption with few equals in the world, with no reduction in the drug trafficking towards the United States.
Mexican Marines during a combat against a drug cartel in Xalapa, Veracruz
Achievements by numbers – Calderón is not the first Mexican president to send soldiers against drug cartels, but the deployment of more than 50,000, heavily armed troops became a hallmark of his security strategy. Mexican center-right government kept constantly updated the register of outstanding captures, thus trying to demonstrate its success. Since 2006, at least 19 drug lords, 28 regional leaders and a dozen financial intermediaries in collusion with drug cartels have been captured. The strategy partly changed in 2011, focusing on regional and mid-level leaders.
In the past six years, seizures of drugs, weapons, vehicles and illegal laboratories rocketed, while eradications of drug fields and investigations on white collar crime dropped. Between 1990 and 2012, prisoners for drug related crimes doubled: from 10,000 to 20,000. The government also claims to have regained control of once dangerous border cities, such as Tijuana and Ciudad Juárez. Yet the country has paid a heavy price.
Victims – Capturing or killing most-wanted drug cartel leaders usually determinates a wave of violence and crimes, while vacancies are likely to be filled quickly. In the past six years, more than 60,000 people died in drug violence. The number of people killed every year in this war quintupled between 2007 and 2010, increasing from 2,826 to 15,273. 2007 is also a turning point for the annual homicide rate. Indeed, it declined between 1990 and 2007 from 20 to 8 murders per 100,000 people. On the contrary, the drug war caused it to soar up to 24 murders per 100,000 people, even though Calderón administration says that homicides attributed to drug cartel activity fell in 2012.
Crimes related to drug trafficking – The cartel violence unleashed a wider breakdown in public security, as witnesses the increase in kidnappings, extortion and vehicle robbery, respectively soared by 171%, 88% and 32% between 2006 and 2010.
Corruption – Mexican drug cartels, such as many criminal organizations worldwide, have founded their relationship with public authorities on two strategies: corruption and violent threats. The first one allows them to create solid ties and networks with public institutions. That’s why violence and homicides are used just in extreme cases. Corruption is deeply rooted in Mexican institutions. In the ‘90s, for example, general Gutiérrez Rebollo, then director of Mexico’s antidrug operations as head of the Instituto Nacional para el Combate a las Drogas (INCD), was arrested because of his relationship with the Juárez Cartel. In 2008, similar events involved several high-level officials of the Subprocuraduría de Investigaciones Especializadas en Delincuencia Organizada. In 2010, in the state of Nuevo León, hundreds of police have been fired because of their relations with drug cartels and criminal organizations.
A plentiful flow of drugs – The repressive policies implemented by Calderón’s government failed to reduce the stream of Mexican drug flooding the United States. Because of its features, it is impossible to quantify this traffic precisely. According to the 2011 Drug Threat Assessment, the amount of illicit drugs available in the United States, but cocaine which has fallen by 36%, has grown between 2006 and 2010. In particular, heroin increased by 18%, marijuana by 40% and methamphetamine by 56%.
«History will be the judge» (of his term), Calderón said. So far, Mexican people judged him, in July’s presidential election: a crushing defeat for the PAN.
Incoming president Enrique Peña Nieto promised to continue the drug war and the partnership with the United States, even though he announced new strategies and priorities. Felipe Calderón will probably follow these changes from the US, since he repeatedly said he would have moved there at the end of his term, fearing for his life.
Data in the article are from: United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), World Drug Report, 2012; Drug Threat Assessment 2011; governmental and academic Mexican sources.