Peña Nieto Policies to Change Mexican-US War on Drugs

Peña Nieto Policies to Change Mexican-US War on Drugs

The War on Drugs has resulted in thousands of deaths. Enrique Peña Nieto has announced a new strategy for Mexico focusing on civilian protection.

Since the 1980s, when the United States successfully dismantled Colombian cartels, Mexico, the former ‘middle man’, has become the primary supplier of drugs to the US with trafficking networks that spread out across the globe. When Felipe Calderon came to power in 2006, a new policy was adopted in an unprecedented effort in US-Mexican relations to curb the escalating problem. The hope was that Mexico’s weak institutional capacity and limited resources would benefit greatly from a collaborative effort with their powerful neighbour. The US began sending advanced surveillance equipment and drones of Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) agents into Mexico; they financed crackdown operations and trained Mexican police and drug informants. There was a particular focus on cross-border policing and the targeting of high ranking criminals in order to topple the well-established Mexican cartels.

To the devastation of all parties involved in this tragic story, not only has the US-Mexican war on drugs not achieved its objectives, it has made matters worse. Since 2006, the brutality of drug related violence has reached unparalleled levels with a total number of deaths estimated between 40,000 and 70,000 (different reports give significantly varying figures). The Mexican supply of drugs into the US has not subsided, it has not even been slightly reduced; it has grown substantially, as has the US’s ever increasing demand.

A success that stands alone in the US-Mexican joint venture is their removal of the majority of cartel leaders within Mexico, with 25 out of the 37 most wanted now either dead or in prison. This fact may be noteworthy; however its consequences have been disastrous and badly unanticipated. The elimination of these individuals has caused the fragmentation of the cartels into smaller groups, each vying for a place at the top of the hierarchy. Despite the presence of US trained Mexican soldiers which still patrol the streets, the power vacuum has resulted in violent outbursts, multiple cases of torture, murder, and outright lawlessness.

President Enrique Peña Nieto

President Nieto’s shift in drug war strategy targets underdevelopment and civilian protection rather than border control and capturing cartel leaders. The results remain to be seen.

Shortly after Enrique Peña Nieto was sworn in as Mexico’s new President in December 2012, he announced a new strategy in Mexico’s drug war. His policy reverts from cross-border policing and capturing cartel leaders and instead focuses on suppressing violence and protecting civilians. Peña Nieto’s objectives are more proactive than reactive as they aim to encompass the economic and social issues that encourage drug trafficking in the first place. By making reforms to the education system, implementing youth programmes, closely monitoring schools and expanding the employment market, those individuals so easily picked from the streets of cities such as Uruapan will be less available to be used as pawns in the drug trade. Peña Nieto explains that without job opportunities and social programmes in place, countless Mexicans “have no option other than to dedicate themselves sometimes to criminal activity“.

Peña Nieto’s shift in Mexico’s drug war strategy comes to the disappointment of US officials despite criticism for their unsuccessful attempts in reducing the flow of drugs into the US. Many believe that the role of the US in the war on drugs should be that of reducing domestic demand. This is of course no easy feat, but improving health services, making drug rehabilitation programmes more accessible and implementing decriminalization policies would have a significant effect on reducing demand. Recent success includes Washington State and Colorado where, following decriminalization in November 2012, the use of drugs is declining, mirroring the success stories of Portugal and Australia. The theory rests on simple economics; reduced demand equals reduced supply. Removing the mid levels of the cartel’s hierarchy will also help to reduce supply as these individuals manage the operational side of the business and are less easy to replace than the previously targeted “bosses” and “foot soldiers”.

It is still too soon to see results. It has only been a few short months since Peña Nieto came to power and began the transition of Mexico’s drug policy. Currently the drug trade comprises an estimated $30 billion of Mexican GDP and employs approximately 500,000 people; easing away from this highly lucrative industry with its infinite pool of ‘employment’ is a long and arduous task.  Improving the education and employment sectors will take time and will benefit the next generation of Mexicans, who will have more opportunities afforded them, with the hope of reaching some individuals already caught in this dangerous web. Certainly, Mexico still needs the support from the US, but a different type of support, namely a shift in domestic policies rather than bankrolling dangerous operations and high tech equipment in Mexico. Despite shocking stories of violence in Mexican streets and the strengthening of the drug trafficking organisations, Peña Nieto’s policy shift signifies that this war is not over yet.

Categories: North America, Security

About Author

Elizabeth Matsangou

Elizabeth works as International Account Manager for an environmental technologies company and has previously worked for a political consultancy company in Westminster and for Intelligence Squared, a forum for live debates. She received a BA in Philosophy, Politics and Economics from the University of Essex and an MSc in International Relations from the London School of Economics.