A New President, the Same Inheritance

Enrique Peña Nieto’s term is spiraling the drain, his image quickly becoming yet another memory to hang in Mexico’s pantheon of lackluster, underachieving presidents. Like many of those that came before him, Peña Nieto was carried into the office on a bed of promises and reforms. And while he certainly did deliver on some ends (the most scandalous reforms revolving around the increased privatization of Pemex and the increased flexibilization of labor), his results were dismal when it came to combatting Mexico’s omnipresent cartels.

No doubt, when Peña Nieto entered office, there was hope that perhaps the old guard party (the PRI) – itself well-versed in the world of cloak-and-daggers and brute efficiency after having single-handedly ruled for seven decades – could do better than the PAN – a party still novice and green at the helm of the presidency. There was a feeling that perhaps the PRI could pick up the pieces after the PAN’s failed adventure into the presidency.

But, such notions were misplaced. This was, after all, the same PRI that allowed the narco problem to fester for decades with more clandestine support than interruption. This is not to say that as a mission or political objective, the PRI as a single organ set out to support the narcos. Rather, the PRI – as an ensemble of forces, institutions, organs, and individuals – had such power throughout its historical development, that the points of contamination with narcos were many. And in the end, it was many individuals within the party that took advantage of the authoritarian power structures that the party created (with great deficiencies in checks-and-balances) in order to grow their own spheres of influence.

In difference to the United States in the 1920s and 30s, the political apparatus of Mexican society did not recognize organs of organized crime for the threat that they were. When the mafia rose in the United States, the federal government came in and crushed it at its infancy. Not so in Mexico in the 70s and 80s. The federal government had allowed this parallel power structure of the cartels to slowly grow and develop over the course of the years, allowing it to infect local and municipal structures. And over the decades, great amounts of wealth have been amassed and that wealth has generated and was generated by the slow conquest of Mexican social life. While the Mexican federal government may continue to hold a certain power, it has lost a great amount of territorial control to narco organizations who found fertile grounds in the wastelands sowed by the global markets and their flexible labor pools.

When PAN attempted to directly squash this slow insurrection, it was revealed just how powerful this network of narco institutions and infrastructures were. No doubt, it has survived 12 years of sustained military assault with barely any effect on its over all power. Two presidential terms and two different parties that have directly attacked the narcos and Mexico is still the host of a low-intensity civil war that has been disastrous for both the state and civil society.

So how did Peña NIeto fare compared to his PAN predecessor? Quantitatively, the numbers are in and Peña NIeto lost decisively. With still some months to go, Peña Nieto’s administration has observed 104,583 murders committed under its watch, compared to Calderón’s 102,859. However, without belittling the cost of the loss of life, the far more reaching effects of this twelve year war against criminal organizations is experienced in Mexican society as such. It seems that no matter the party, the desired results are never achieved, and this is dangerous for a democratic system if the government cannot accomplish what its electorate mandates it to accomplish.

What should be clear by this point is that the interventionary strategies of both PAN and PRI were determinately militaristic. Both failed. Whoever comes next, if they plan on keeping Mexican democracy intact, would do well to explore more holistic strategies that reach beyond the more brute end of law and order.


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