Mexico’s New President Signals Shift in Drug War Policy


MEXICO CITY – Mexico’s next president, Enrique Peña Nieto, has not detailed his drug war strategy but has promised to halve the number of kidnappings and murders during his six-year term by moving law enforcement away from showy drug busts and focusing on protecting ordinary citizens from gangs.

The ambiguity of Pena Nieto’s drug war plans has fed fears at home and abroad that he might look the other way if cartels smuggle drugs northward without creating violence in Mexico. Many analysts wonder if Peña Nieto is holding back politically sensitive details of his plans, or simply doesn’t know yet how he’ll be prosecute the next stage of Mexico’s drug war.

Some hints are starting to seep out. A close acquaintance, U.S. Rep. Henry Cuellar of Texas, told The Associated Press that the president-elect has discussed a new offensive against the smaller, local gangs that have cropped up in many Mexican states and earn money through kidnapping and extortion in addition to drug dealing.

President Felipe Calderón’s 5 1/2-year war against the big cartels has been criticized by some for fracturing control of territory and smuggling routes, spawning smaller gangs like La Linea in Chihuahua state and La Barredora in the city of Acapulco that view ordinary citizens as their primary source of illicit income.

“In Mexico you have the drug cartels and then you’ve got regional gangs that are taking advantage of what’s happening there,” Cuellar said. “That is what he means by reducing the violence: Go after those folks who are actually hurting, assaulting and kidnapping people.”

Analysts have said any new focus necessarily means fewer of Mexico’s limited resources would go to fighting the biggest smugglers of drugs to the U.S.