Here is an excerpt from Jordan Fabian's article on ABC/Univision:
"Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto said Monday his administration will shift the nation's anti-crime strategy in a break from the U.S.-backed campaign against drug cartels carried out under his predecessor, Felipe Calderón. According to multiple media reports, Peña Nieto laid out a plan before Mexico's National Council on Public Security that he would focus more on reducing crimes against ordinary citizens – such as murder, kidnapping, and extortion -- than pursuing the leaders of violent drug cartels. Peña Nieto and members of his cabinet were also critical of the previous administration's policies, which resulted in a drawn out war against cartels that has left tens of thousands dead. The centerpiece of Peña Nieto's plans is the creation of a 10,000-person national gendarmerie – or paramilitary police force -- designed to patrol far-flung areas where local law enforcement and military forces have failed to eradicate widespread crime. Similar forces are used in European countries like Spain and Italy... While Peña Nieto offered more specifics on the shift than he has since taking office, he did not indicate a timeline for when the force would be established or where or how officers would be recruited. He also reportedly did not say whether he would remove the country's military from the nation's drug war... Other reforms include a review of Mexico's detention policies, which allow certain drug suspects to be held for almost three months without being charged." Link to Full Article
Analysis: There's a lot more detail in a recent Washington Post story about just how much lack of detail EPN has provided almost three weeks into his term. A lot of us drug war observers who have taken a wait-and-see attitude are starting to get tired of waiting, as I'm sure much of Mexico is as well. For example:
"The administration said it would divide Mexico into five regions for the purposes of security planning, allowing them to design tactics specific to problems that vary widely across Mexico. It did not, however, say what those five regions would be."
The gendarmerie EPN is referring to is supposed to reach a size of 40,000 officers from the initial 10,000 recruits, but he didn't mention anything about how he would prevent the plague of plata o plomo, meaning how those officers could avoid the "take the bribe or take the bullet" corruption of police departments past. Will the US have a hand in training these officers? Will they be paid more or offered more benefits than their federal police predecessors? What will they be armed with to protect themselves? Right now, no one knows the answers to these questions...and possibly not EPN himself. And too many critics are spewing that this gendarmerie will be just another attempt at renaming and reforming the police, which has been attempted no less than seven times in the last decade with no positive results.
I do like EPN's strategy of focusing on violence reduction more than capo hunting or setting records for drug seizures. But again, I'm waiting to see specifics for how he's going to do that. State and local police departments in Mexico have been focused on the exact local crimes EPN has been referring to, and they haven't had much luck due to being mostly in the employ of battling TCOs. How can EPN hope to significantly reduce kidnapping rates when the police are either looking the other way when they happen, or are actively involved in the kidnappings themselves?
A little over a week ago, EPN announced he was going to enact sweeping reforms to the education system; specifically, he wanted to take on the Mexican teachers' union to allow promotions based on merit, the elimination of nepotism, and some other issues. I find it interesting that a president from a left-leaning party wants to take on one of the biggest unions in the hemisphere (I'd wager this one is even more powerful than the California version), and I don't know how much success he'll have unless he can convince the legislature to support him.
So far, however, EPN is behaving predictably. We knew he'd want to change up a few things from the way Calderón was steering the ship, but not make any drastic changes out of the gate. He's keeping the military in place for now while exploring his options - the proposed gendarmerie being at the top of his list for their eventual replacement. I'd like to see him offer some radical plans for reducing the TCO recruitment pool by increasing educational, after-school, and work opportunities for tweens and teens. I'd also like to see him be vocal about tackling money laundering and institution building.
I know he's just getting started, and he has six years to work with. However, he's got that dinosaur on his back called the PRI, and he has a lot to prove. Mexicans are growing weary of war and bloodshed, and are more skeptical than ever of any politician who says he or she can make their communities safer or their lives better. I'm happy to give EPN the benefit of the doubt, but that - for me - will always be tinged with a healthy dose of skepticism, no matter who sits in Los Pinos.