Calderón to be re­mem­bered for rad­i­cal ap­proach to car­tels

Austin American-Statesman - - BALANCED VIEWS - Bay, a na­tional se­cu­rity ex­pert and au­thor, lives in Austin coming sun­day


2050, enough time will have passed for his­to­ri­ans to ren­der a fair-minded judg­ment on Felipe Calderón and his six dar­ing years as pres­i­dent of Mex­ico.

Calderón al­ready rates as a rad­i­cal re­former who pur­sued sys­tem-chang­ing goals. He wasn’t the first Mex­i­can pres­i­dent to ac­knowl­edge Mex­ico’s deep flaws. He was, how­ever, the first who had the vi­sion and adroit po­lit­i­cal skills to craft a po­lit­i­cal and so­cial process that might – over time, if sub­se­quent ad­min­is­tra­tions sus­tain the ef­fort — first mit­i­gate, then elim­i­nate them.

We al­ready know Calderón had the per­sonal courage and po­lit­i­cal will to em­ploy rad­i­cal but le­gal meth­ods to achieve his goals of sys­temic po­lit­i­cal and eco­nomic mod­ern­iza­tion.

Calderón’s Car­tel War, launched in De­cem­ber 2006, the first month of his term, was both an act of des­per­a­tion and the first step in his rad­i­cal re­form. Drug gangs, pow­ered by the bil­lions of dol­lars they reap feed­ing the USA’s ap­petite for il­le­gal drugs, were in the vi­o­lent process of carv­ing Mex­ico into crim­i­nal satrapies.

To curb grow­ing car­tel pow­ers, Calderon used a dan­ger­ous weapon: the Mex­i­can mil­i­tary. His crit­ics im­me­di­ately ac­cused him of mil­i­ta­riz­ing a fight with crim­i­nal gangs. He ar­gued the gangs posed a na­tional threat.

Colom­bia’s narco-guer­ril­las had po­lit­i­cal aims for the ter­ri­to­ries they con­trolled. Pure greed drove the Mex­i­can cartelis­tas’ more crafty squeeze of government and ju­di­cial in­sti­tu­tions. How­ever, the deadly threat to the lives, lib­erty and prop­erty of hon­est ci­ti­zens posed by both is cru­elly sim­i­lar. The car­tels pos­sessed mil­i­tary-level fire­power. Their bil­lions pur­chased ma­chine guns and grenades, ar­mored SUVs, and bat­tle­field com­mu­ni­ca­tions sys­tems. Los Zetas car­tel, founded by Mex­i­can Army de­fec­tors, em­ployed com­mando tac­tics in its as­saults on po­lice sta­tions and ri­val gangs. Ill-trained mu­nic­i­pal, state, and yes, fed­eral po­lice forces were out-gunned by the gangs.

Po­lice in­com­pe­tence was a per­va­sive short­com­ing. But the real en­emy of the Mex­i­can peo­ple, at all lev­els, in the po­lice forces, in the ju­di­ciary, among pros­e­cu­tors, in state and fed­eral po­lit­i­cal bu­reau­cra­cies, an en­emy still lever­aged by the car­tels and crony bil­lion­aires, is cor­rup­tion.

The Mex­i­can peo­ple re­gard the Mex­i­can mil­i­tary as the most trusted na­tional in­sti­tu­tion. Calderón used it as the tool to be­gin build­ing sys­temic trust. The mil­i­tary took the war to the car­tels.

The re­sult­ing blood­bath be­came Calderón’s me­dia legacy. Even though most of the deaths were from car­tel ver­sus car­tel vi­o­lence, head­lines record­ing the mur­der and car­nage led me­dia talk­ing heads to call Mex­ico a failed state-in-wait­ing. They missed Calderón’s crit­i­cal strate­gic in­sight: Un­less the car­tels were chal­lenged, mil­i­tar­ily and morally, Mex­ico would surely fail.

The bul­lets and ar­rests, how­ever, were tem­po­rary treat­ments. They can­not cure Mex­ico’s sys­temic ills. Calderón un­der­stood that cor­rup­tion had eco­nomic and po­lit­i­cal penal­ties as well as se­cu­rity con­se­quences. In a 2008 speech he sketched the po­lit­i­cal ob­jec­tive: “In­stead of fal­ter­ing, we have taken on the chal­lenge of turn­ing Mex­ico into a coun­try of laws.” Hon­est laws and an hon­est le­gal sys­tem had to trump rule by gun, bribe and in­sider whim. In that same speech he ar­gued, “To­day we are ex­pe­ri­enc­ing the con­se­quences of years of in­dif­fer­ence to the can­cer of crime, (le­gal) im­punity and cor­rup­tion. This scourge …con­sti­tutes a chal­lenge to the state’s vi­a­bil­ity.”

Calderón’s suc­ces­sor, En­rique Peña Ni­eto, in­sists he will con­tinue to pur­sue es­sen­tial re­form. If he fails, the his­to­ri­ans will treat him with de­served con­tempt. An­to­nio Garza, former U.S. am­bas­sador to Mex­ico, looks at the chal­lenges and prospects fac­ing Mex­ico’s new pres­i­dent.

The States­man’s Heis­man vot­ers re­vealed their bal­lots this week, with all five choos­ing Texas A&M quar­ter­back Johnny Manziel as their No. 1 pick. We asked if read­ers agreed with our staffers’ choices.

Jeremy W. Jones: Nope, give it to Te’o.

David Weller: A fresh­man QB who played against mostly sub­stan­dard teams?

Alan Gomez: Te’o

Kevin Pier­point: Let the pet­ti­ness flow from you. … Funny to watch.

David Cargill: Brax­ton Miller the quar­ter­back at Ohio State is the best player in the na­tion. They are on pro­ba­tion. So he gets no love. Come on writ­ers you homers know that!

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