Mexico’s pretend war

Report by Nigel Wilson

In the wake of Sunday’s election victory for the PRI led by Enrique Peña Nieto, a transatlantic panel of experts arrived at the Frontline Club on Tuesday to wrestle with the challenges facing Mexico in 2012. Peña Nieto, the telegenic new president with the telenovela wife, has inherited a state supposedly at war with the drug cartels and struggling with mass poverty, unemployment and a stuttering economy.

Chaired by the BBC world affairs correspondent Katya Adler, the debate began with an assessment of whether the new president would lead the country in the style of former PRI leaders. Human Rights lawyer Juan Carlos Gutiérrez Contreras said there were already indications that the country had revived old habits last seen under the PRI:

 "They claim to be a new PRI but we’ve already seen they’re using tactics of the old PRI. The first images we saw in the news today were people changing up their credit notes."

The Guardian’s Ed Vulliamy quipped:

"The jury’s out on the new PRI. It’s kind of Peronism…with Alistair Campbell, Steve Hilton packaging and stuck on the front of Hello magazine."

Peña Nieto’s approach to dealing with the drug cartels was the next point up for discussion. Academic Peter Watt argued Peña Nieto will be facing drug cartels that have seen their power increase exponentially in the previous decade.

"The relationship has changed over the last 10 years…they are so powerful now that they see politicians and police as their staff".

Vulliamy added that the gangs have been operating with impunity and were resorting to disturbingly violent methods.

"There are new levels of depravity; a depraved violence and depraved livelihoods and it comes from the top. We’re seeing a post-modern post-political collapse. It is a lie to demarcate legal and illegal economies. The "war on drugs" is a lie."

Human Rights lawyer Silvia Vazquez concurred that Calderon’s war on drugs was nothing of the sort:


"Most people being taken to court and imprisoned in the war against drugs end up being found innocent and being freed after 1, 2 or 3 years."

Adler steered the discussion towards the future of the US-Mexico relationship. Amnesty’s Rupert Knox argued that the mutual mishandling of the gun-running between the two countries needed to be addressed

"The US lost track of about 80,000 arms that went across the border. They were completely negligent in managing this process. But the Mexicans did absolutely nothing about it."

The debate then opened up to the audience, encompassing questions on decriminalisation and the probability of Mexico’s violence spilling into the rest of Central America. The panel touched on the bleak outlook facing the Mexican youth and Vazquez stressed this in her closing remarks.

"In the first place you have to fight poverty, establish economic stability, establish human rights and establish a culture of training Mexicans from primary school level through to University."

Watch the full event here: