Calderón to be remembered for radical approach to cartels
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!