Mexico’s new president has outlined a security strategy aimed at reducing drug war-related violence that, rhetorically at least, contrasts starkly with the emphasis his predecessor placed on using force to go after the country’s cartels.
“Our primary objectives are reducing the violence and recuperating the peace and tranquility of Mexicans,” President Enrique Peña Nieto told state governors, military and security chiefs gathered at a public meeting of the national security council on Monday.
“We are going to focus institutional efforts on attending to the [social] causes of the criminal phenomenon and not only its consequences,” he said.
The president also promised special attention to human rights, and recognised the existence of abductions by the security forces, long a sore point for the previous administration.
Peña Nieto took office on 1 December, replacing President Felipe Calderón whose single six-year term began with a military-led crackdown on organised crime and was subsequently marked by spiralling violence that killed an estimated 60,000-100,000 people, as well as governability crises in drug war trouble spots around the country.
While Calderón also talked about ameliorating the violence linked to the drug war, crime prevention and respecting human rights, but the thrust of his language was almost always the need to attack criminal structures.
As a presidential candidate, Peña Nieto rarely directly criticised this strategy, which enjoyed broad support among the public even if many considered it was failing, and had the backing of the US government. Now in office, his ministers have begun emphasising the scale of the problem they have inherited, and blaming much of it on Calderón.
At the council meeting, the interior minister, Miguel Ángel Osorio Chong, cited dramatic increases in high-impact crimes despite spending on security doubling, and stressed that 99% of all crimes in Mexico currently went unpunished.
Osorio Chong also criticised the priority given to capturing or killing top drug lords (a strategy often lauded by the US government), which he said had “fragmented the groups” and “made them more dangerous”.
For all the changes of tone, however, it remains unclear how different the strategy will actually be on the ground, aside, perhaps, from more funds dedicated to social projects aimed at disadvantaged youth at risk of being sucked into organised crime.
Peña Nieto reiterated a plan to set up a new national police force with 10,000 officers, as well as creating special units to combat kidnapping and extortion within the federal police force created by Calderón. He has also said the military would continue to play an important role.
There is also no clearly defined new approach to money laundering or cartel-associated political corruption, which many experts identify as central to any successful strategy.
Alejandro Hope, a security analyst and former intelligence official, told the Associated Press: “I see a lot of continuity, despite the implicit and explicit criticism that was made.”