Mexico’s New President and the War on Drugs

Mexico elected a new president last week, Enrique Pena Nieto. Mexico is the most important bilateral relationship to the United States, but Mexico’s politics and economics receive less attention from the American people and in the American press than it should — so blog about it I will!

Nieto recently did a sit-down interview after his victory in which he says he wants to tweak Calderon’s anti-drug strategy, but mainly stay the course. He cites the success of Colombia and — like so many in Latin America, the United States, and Europe — he sees the dogged persistence and strategies of President Uribe in Colombia as cause for inspiration.

But exporting the Colombia strategy to the rest of Latin America has been tried and hasn’t worked. Washington Monthly in January published a good piece on Mexico, Colombia, Uribe, Plan Colombia and why Colombia’s war on drugs strategy has failed in Mexico. One excerpt:

At a very basic level, Colombia circa 2002 faced a very different set of problems than what Mexico faces today—and Uribe’s “democratic security” strategy was tailored to the former. Drug trafficking was linked to an armed insurgency that, however corrupted over the years, still rested on an ideology and concrete political goals. FARC and the paramilitaries both cared about territory for its own sake. Mexican cartels, on the other hand, are less bothered by symbolic gains and are happy to operate near or even within state institutions.

The very natures of the two states are different as well. “Colombia had never been in control of its territory, so the real challenge was to assert state authority for the first time,” explains Shannon O’Neil of the Council on Foreign Relations. “In Mexico, that’s not the problem. The government has a presence in every small municipality; the question is, who do they report to? It’s a very different challenge; Mexico’s challenge is corruption.”

Before we can draw lessons from something else, we have to make sure it’s actually analogous. Colombia and Mexico are both countries. They both have drug traffiking problems (which of course are fueled in part by the insatiable American demand for those drugs). But it’s still apples to oranges with respect to how the countries deal with the problem.


Bret Stephens, who’s smart and, I should say, very funny in person, says in his most recent column that we shouldn’t forget the enormous strides Mexico has made to becoming a stable democracy–the fact that we don’t talk about it shows how far they’ve come.

8 comments on “Mexico’s New President and the War on Drugs
  • Ben, I would like to know why you state that Mexico is the most important bilateral relationship to the United States.

    • Trade & economics primarily. Immigration into the U.S., second. Security / stability of a neighbor, third.

  • As a side note, the WSJ recently mentioned an online poll of married Mexican women said that 88% of them would cheat on their husbands with Pena Nieto. Popular guy.

    • Well maybe not he personally, but the position. Women are drawn to men of power, to some extent, no matter what they look like, age, or morals.

  • With all due respect to you Ben, both countries cope with the same problem, the same common denominator: United States.
    One because of its geographical boundaries, the other one because of its economic dependance. Either way, if they didn’t depend so much on US, if they weren’t so pro-american, if they behave like most latinamerican countries, if they remembered (at least Colombia) its roots, they would be proud to be who they are and stop doing business with the US. At least, to a certain degre.
    Of course, who cares about that, while just a few families (and corporations) keep getting richer at the expense of the most people’s poverty, the USA will keep making business with both countries, and both countries will keep suffering from their own self-fullfiling prophecy.
    It’s just a matter of time…

  • His first last name is Peña, or just Pena. Nieto would be his second last name.
    We use the first one, but I guess in this case the president will be referred as Pena Nieto.

    You can delete this message

  • When pretty-boy Peña Nieto was asked to name three books that had influenced him and couldn’t name a single one, he blurted that he’d read “parts” of the Bible. How likely is it that this himbo, a creature of Mexico’s largest TV network, Televisa, is actually going to have much input in crafting policy himself, or will even choose his own appointees to advise him?

    More likely, Carlos Slim will have a bigger say in how the Mexican government is run than the charismatic dunce.

    And like the Washington Post, Bret Stephens still can’t talk honestly about Mexico’s economy. Dean Baker lays it all out how the Post refuses “to acknowledge that the agreement [NAFTA] has had the intended effect in the United States of lowering the wages of manufacturing workers. (This is textbook economics. By putting U.S. manufacturing workers into more direct competition with their low-paid counterparts in Mexico, the result is that wages of manufacturing workers in the United States fall.) …a lead Post editorial in December 2007 told readers that Mexico’s GDP had quadrupled since 1988, which it attributed to the benefits of NAFTA. The actual increase over this 19 year period was 83 percent, which put Mexico near the bottom in growth for Latin American countries.”

    My personal allegory for Mexican politics:

    When I was seventeen, my good buddy Humberto Llama and I were searching for peyote buttons in Juárez (the food of the gods grows in the desert near the Rio Grande). Naturally, we asked a cab driver where to find some, because they always know where to procure anything.

    He said he’d take us to some. so we hopped in his taxi and he took us straight to a whore house, naturally. So we walked into this rather grand but seedy establishment with scarlet red carpets, sat at the bar and ordered tequila. Both of us were approached languidly by the painted-up ladies who lived there.

    One of the better-looking ones told me she knew I must have a fat cigar. No way was I going up to her room and probably get rolled, so I told her I only had a skinny American cigarette, but it tasted pretty good. She laughed at that.

    All we really wanted was some peyote, and once the cabbie saw the lay of the land, he disappeared into a back room and came back shortly with a paper bag and showed us the contents. It contained the genuine article and we were ecstatic, but he said we had to leave to do the deal.

    He drove us a few blocks away, then suddenly got agitated and said hurry, hurry, give me the money, so we did and he handed us the paper bag, We jumped out of the cab and excitedly opened it to feast our eyes on the object of our quest, but alas, it contained only cut up stalks of sugar cane, naturally.

    The oligarchs who rule Mexico and the US are the taxi drivers, and Peña Nieto and Mitt Romney are the painted-up whores. The rest you can figure out for yourself.;-)

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