The Blog

Felipe Calderón’s Legacy in Mexico

8:15 AM, Nov 29, 2012 • By JAIME DAREMBLUM
Widget tooltip
Single Page Print Larger Text Smaller Text Alerts

For obvious reasons, option 4.) was not a serious plan. Option 3.) was what the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) did during the 1980s, when it ruled Mexico as a “perfect dictatorship.” But in December 2006, Mexico was a true democracy, the PRI was in opposition, and the drug cartels were much stronger than they had been 20 years earlier, so the old PRI strategy was no longer logistically feasible or morally acceptable. Option (1) sounded appealing only if you knew nothing about the extent of Mexican police corruption. Indeed, as former Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) chief Robert Bonner has written, the local police were more corrupt than the state police, who were more corrupt than the federal police, who themselves were hopelessly compromised. In short, relying on the cops was a prescription for failure.

That left option 2.)—deploying the Mexican military. The armed forces were hardly immune to corruption, but they were far cleaner and far more professional than any Mexican police force. So Calderón sent them into Chihuahua, Michoacán, and other states struggling to deal with an unprecedented security challenge.

Since then, approximately 60,000 people have died in drug-related violence, and the military has been accused of human-rights violations. Yet in a 2012 Pew Research Center poll, 80 percent of Mexicans still supported Calderón’s decision to use the armed forces against the cartels.

Critics of the U.S.-led war on drugs have been especially harsh in their denunciations of his strategy. Yet the outgoing Mexican president could not control U.S. drug policy or U.S. drug consumption, nor could he control shifting alliances and rivalries among the cartels. “After he deployed thousands of troops,” notes Economist correspondent Tom Wainwright, “the cartels seemed to reach a truce of sorts in 2007. But then violence erupted in the north-west as the Sinaloans fell out with their allies in Juárez, Tijuana, and Culiacán.”

The latest government data suggest that the violence is finally start to drop: There were 15 percent fewer drug-related murders in the first half of 2012 compared with the first six months of 2011. Meanwhile, 25 of the 37 “most wanted” Mexican drug barons are now either dead or in jail. (Within a four-week span in September and October, Mexican marines captured Jorge Costilla of the Gulf Cartel and Iván Velázquez of the Zetas Cartel, and they killed Zeta leader Heriberto Lazcano.) Calderón has created a new federal police force to replace the corrupt and ineffective Federal Investigative Agency. He has also enacted a judicial reform that, when fully implemented, will vastly improve the Mexican legal system.

Recent Blog Posts

The Weekly Standard Archives

Browse 19 Years of the Weekly Standard

Old covers