Drug War Apparently Has Mexican President’s Attention
By Damien Cave, NY Times, August 18, 2013
MEXICO CITY—Even before he took office in December, Mexico’s president, Enrique Peña Nieto, made clear that he saw the drug war as his predecessor’s problem: a political liability best pushed aside to make room for his sunnier plans to overhaul the economy, education and energy.
But crime and violence have returned to the spotlight. Over the past month, Mr. Peña Nieto has experienced a series of enforcement highs and lows that have experts on both sides of the border scratching their heads and wondering: what exactly is the security strategy of Mexico these days? Is it really all that different, or has Mr. Peña Nieto fallen (or been pushed) back into the same old approach?
The Mexican military’s capture of a top leader with the Gulf Cartel on Saturday—as 23 bodies appeared in a pair of western states where the authorities have been battling gangs and vigilantes—has added to the sense of déjà vu.
The arrest of Mario Armando Ramirez Treviño, a major drug boss in Reynosa, came just a few weeks after Mexican marines picked up an even more powerful capo: the leader of the Zetas, Miguel Ángel Treviño Morales, known as Z-40. What the detentions suggest, to some, is that Mr. Peña Nieto is no longer quite so opposed to making use of the American-led strategy of taking down cartel kingpins.
It is, after all, what the system he inherited is set up to do. “Every Mexican administration has presided over the takedown of at least one major leader of organized crime,” said Alejandro Hope, a former government intelligence analyst. “There was no reason to believe this administration would be an exception.”
The arrests may also be an effort to appease the United States, which had been growing frustrated with Mr. Peña Nieto’s decision to push American authorities into a position of on-call support: when the Mexican government needed help, it would ask.
Some experts say the arrest of Z-40 on July 15 was a way to bring both sides back together.
"They couldn’t have taken out Treviño without the United States," said David Shirk, the director of the Trans-Border Institute at the University of San Diego. "That wasn’t a target of opportunity. That was Mexico saying: ‘What do the Americans want? What can we give them?’ And going after the Zetas is a mutual win."
By that point, security concerns were also demanding that attention be paid. In the states of Guerrero and Michoacán, masked men calling themselves community police were waging war with various gangs, including the Knights Templar, a reconstituted branch of the old La Familia cartel (known for rolling severed heads into a bar a few years ago).
Mr. Peña Nieto’s response has been unequivocal. The federal government has sent in military troops, as his predecessor, Felipe Calderón, had done when the area spiraled out of control.