Mexican President Felipe Calderón officially leaves office this Saturday, heading off to teach at Harvard. Most will remember Calderon’s six-year term for his violent war on drugs. More than 50,000 were killed in drug-related violence. Reducing violence will be a top issue facing incoming president, Enrique Peña Nieto, of the Institutional Revolutionary Party, or “PRI”. Myles Estey reports from Mexico City.
Just days before taking office, Enrique Peña Nieto highlighted one of the key goals of his new presidency with visits to American and Canadian leaders: To strengthen Mexico’s economy through foreign trade and investment.
But even big financial improvements will hardly glaze over the recent bloodshed. Millions of Mexicans remain personally affected by the insecurity, and foreign investors remain wary of the body counts.
Luis Rubio, chairman of the Mexico City-based Center of Research for Development, says it will take more than just a drop in murders to inspire the needed confidence.
“I don’t think it’s an issue of numbers, first of all, it’s an issue of perception,” Rubio says. “People have to be convinced that they will not be more subject to risk that they would in another place.”
Rubio describes the incoming administration as “highly competent,” and believes they have the tools to reduce the destruction of the ongoing drug war and boost the economy.
But he also emphasizes that narcotics are not the root of Mexico’s violence. And this is what needs fixing.
“If drugs didn’t exist, we would still have the same problem, because it would be with any number of things that have nothing to do with the drugs themselves,” Rubio says. “The problem with Mexico is the lack of a modern police force that is respected by the citizenship, and a judicial system that resolves problems swiftly and effectively.”
Official complaints against army and police under Calderon total in the thousands. Corruption is widespread. Previous attempts at police reform have not produced results. Yet, explains Alejandro Hope, director of security for the Mexican Institute for Competitiveness, a key pillar of Peña Nieto’s security plan seems to rest on the creation of a new 40,000 strong, police force.
“What has been missing in the attempt to create new police forces are internal and external controls,” Hope says. “Just creating a new police force without tackling that, will probably not produce better results than what you have now.”
American presidents usually have 100 days to prove themselves. Peña Nieto may not even have that.
Massive marches have protested his affiliation to the corrupt history of the PRI – even before he was voted president.
This animosity continues.
Organizers plan to protest — and perhaps even block — his inauguration on Saturday.
Hope says that Peña Nieto will want to quickly prove he represents a positive new era for the party.
“The political pitch is that they are effective, so there will be very, very strong pressures on delivery,” Hope says. “What we are going to see is a government in a hurry. A Government in a hurry is not necessarily a good thing.”
Facing a vocal public opposition, and a minority in congress, it will be tough for the new president and his party to enact rapid change without compromise.
This is not a word historically associated with the PRI. But with voters eager for a less violent, more prosperous Mexico, and critics keeping a close watch, it may be a crucial one for Peña Nieto to get anything done.