Change, Interrupted: Mexico’s Drug War and Its Future Implications

On the heels of Mexico’s 2012 election, which found the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) back in power after 12 years, questions remain about what this means for the drug wars, Mexican foreign policy, and its relationship with the US. In Mexico: Democracy Interruptedauthor Jo Tuckman explores the narcotics war, the political environment in Mexico, and what this could mean for incoming PRI president Enrique Peña Nieto. Focusing on events that have occurred since 2000, Mexico features Tuckman’s own observations, the observations of other Latin American scholars, and the personal stories of Mexican citizens who give a voice far more powerful than the news headlines about Mexico around the world.

The election confirms much of what Tuckman found in her years of journalism, that the citizens of Mexico are tired of the drug war. According to a recent Pew Research survey, 80% of Mexicans believe that military force is necessary, but only about half that number believes that much progress has been made in the drug war. They express fear over the increased violence, which was once confined to narrowly targeted gang populations, but has since expanded to indiscriminate killings. In one of the most striking examples, Tuckman describes a massacre that occurred during the birthday party of a teenager that left 15 people dead because some of the party guest belonged to a rival gang of La Linea, one of Mexico’s gangs. This event highlighted just how little progress PAN, the current ruling party in Mexico, has made in the drug war. Tuckman shows, however, that this is not the end of the story. From corruption, to environmental concerns, to religion there are many factors affecting Mexico’s war on drugs.

Yet, as part of the human condition, the one thing people look for is someone to blame for the drug war in Mexico. Tuckman has some suggestions for individuals, whose actions have certainly done the war on drugs no favors, including former President Vicente Fox and current president Felipe Calderón. Fox, Tuckman argues, is guilty of not doing enough to focus on the drug war. The first non-PRI president in over 70 years, he had the power to change the way Mexican democracy worked, instead his presidency did little to improve economic conditions and legislative stalemate. Tuckman explains, “He took office with the unique opportunity to use the legitimacy he enjoyed to dismantle the old anti-democratic structures; but his reformist vigour soon dissipated when he found it was not so easy.” Calderón, on the other hand, fell into the trap of many politicians, of making promises that he is unable to keep. Tuckman notes, “The president always stressed that reigning in the cartels would ‘take time, money, and human lives,’ but it was clear that he never imagined how much or how many.” He was unable to quell gun violence, despite deploying the military to do so, which has led many to turn to PRI in hopes that the party would have better control over the drug wars. It is the war on drugs that is likely to find itself in United States newspapers in the upcoming months and years.

It seems the majority of news stories about Mexico are focused on two issues: narcotics and immigration.  With the recent ruling by the Supreme Court on the controversial Arizona Immigration Law, the issue of immigration has once again become a political hotspot. You can listen to Jo Tuckman talk about the Mexican presidential election on today’s episode of WAMU’s Diane Rehm Show.

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