Many Mexicans are weary of the sharp rise in violence that has
accompanied Calderon's military-led strategy against drug
traffickers. So why aren't presidential hopefuls offering
Weeks after Mexican President Felipe Calderon took office in late
2006, he declared a war on drug traffickers, dispatching troops to
violent swaths of the country. When the Mexican military went on its
first offensive, Operation Michoacan, in the president's home state,
support for Mr. Calderon's tough stand was sky high.
But six years later, that admiration has faded. Calderon has
mobilized tens of thousands of troops and caught many of the most-
wanted drug lords. But drug-related deaths, which numbered 2,800
during Calderon's first year in office, climbed to 15,200 by 2010.
As traffickers fight the government - and one another - violence has
surged, and spread well beyond the traditional conflict areas on the
US-Mexico border. Today, many groups have been weakened, but rely on
methods such as kidnapping and extortion to line their pockets.
Judging from the criticism that Calderon's military-led strategy
has garnered in Mexico, it would seem the upcoming July 1
presidential race, in which Calderon is constitutionally barred from
running, would be dominated by proposals for new thinking on how to
rein in the violence.
But, while the three main presidential contenders are
capitalizing on public weariness by promising peace and creating new
police forces to replace troops, they are in many ways just offering
new versions of what has been attempted for the past six years. In
fact, many analysts say that no matter who wins, no one should
expect a retreat, that US-Mexico cooperation will continue, and that
ultimately this could be a boon to Calderon's legacy. It also means
that voters hoping that a swift end to the violence plaguing this
country will come hand-in-hand with a new administration are out of
touch with reality.
"You are not going to see a radical shift in policy," says Andrew
Selee, director of the Mexico Institute in Washington. "[The
candidates] will follow what Calderon started. In that sense it is a
partial revindication for him."
The clear front-runner of the race has been the former Mexico
State governor, Enrique Pena Nieto, of the Institutional
Revolutionary Party (PRI), which controlled the presidency for 71
years before losing to Calderon's National Action Party (PAN) in
According to various polls, Mr. Pena Nieto enjoys a wide lead
over of Josefina Vazquez Mota of the PAN and leftist candidate
Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador of the Democratic Revolution Party
Political analysts say the PAN is behind in part because of the
perception that its crime strategy has failed under Calderon. But in
terms of political rhetoric, it is a complicated narrative for
candidates to follow, quite simply because it's a political
quagmire: Mexicans want a solution, but they also want more of the
Less than half of Mexico believes the government has made
progress against organized crime, and a third believes it has
actually lost ground, according to a poll by the Pew Research
Center. And yet in the same poll, 83 percent support the use of
troops in the effort, the linchpin of Calderon's strategy.
"Even if the government is losing, people want the government to
take on the 'bad guys.' It is a very difficult path for all three
candidates," says Shannon O'Neil, the Douglas Dillon fellow for
Latin American studies at the Council on Foreign Relations.
Romalda Perez, a cleaner at a local cultural center in Mexico
City, says she definitely wants a change in leadership. "There is
too much violence," she explains. But when asked what she would like
to see changed, she says she doesn't know. She is clear on one
thing: the troops should stay in the fight.
The candidates are trying to navigate the contradicting
sentiments expressed by voters. …