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Monday, July 2, 2012

Bye-Bye Calderon, Hello PRI, and Condolences to the Zetas (Or, Why Mexico's New President Might Bring a Cool-Down in the Drug War)

Posted by on Mon, Jul 2, 2012 at 10:14 AM

First, the big news:

MEXICO CITY — The party that ruled Mexico for decades with an autocratic grip appears to have vaulted back into power after 12 years in opposition, as voters troubled by a bloody drug war and economic malaise gave its presidential candidate, Enrique Peña Nieto, a comfortable victory on Sunday, according to preliminary returns and exit polls.

The victory was a stunning reversal of fortune for the centrist Institutional Revolutionary Party, known as the PRI, which was thought to be crippled after its defeat in the 2000 presidential election ushered in an era of real multiparty democracy here.

The autocratic suits of the PRI are back in the saddle again—in part because the Mexican political structure is tired of chaotic drug-war mayhem and wants to give the stability of old-fashioned, genteel corruption another try.

If the past is prologue, that is good news for the Sinaloa cartel (the gentleman farmers among Mexico's drug gangs) and other big businesses. And that is bad news for the Zetas (the latest, fiercest new player among Mexico's larger drug gangs), political dissidents, and other upstarts. And it might mean that the drug war will have a brief surge in violence—as the PRI and the Sinaloa collude to exterminate their rivals—but will ultimately cool down for awhile*.

Let's start with a little historical background on the Sinaloa and the PRI from this 2010 Stranger article:

Major Mexican landowners had been growing marijuana and opium poppies and selling them to the U.S. long before the Harrison Narcotics Act of 1914 (the first major federal drug prohibition—prior to that, even the Sears, Roebuck catalogue advertised a syringe and a dose of cocaine for $1.50). Those Mexican landowners were aligned with, or outright members of, the Mexican political establishment...

Eventually, over the course of years in the drug trade [after US prohibition in 1914], the major landowners and marijuana and poppy growers of northern Mexico mutated into the so-called Sinaloa cartel. Their longtime political-establishment allies became the Partido Revolucionario Institucional (PRI), which held power in Mexico for over 70 years. Their relationship, relative to today's narco-chaos, was mostly stable and calm. It is not entirely accidental that the PRI lost its political hegemony at roughly the same time (the late '90s) that the Sinaloa lost its narco-hegemony—nor is it accidental that "higher levels of violence connected with drug trafficking in the 1990s were observed mostly in those states where the political opposition [to the PRI] had gained power," as historian Luis Astorga notes.

The PRI also has a long history of quashing political dissent and getting too cozy with banks and TV stations. From this morning's Guardian:

The candidate [Nieto] has also faced protests by students who shook up the electoral campaign with a movement that rejected his candidacy as a step back in the country's fledgling democracy, and focused attention on alleged bias in his favour by the media.

I don't doubt the allegations of media bias. And check out this story from June 19 on the Narco News blog:

A civil lawsuit filed this month in US court against several Mexican companies and three top officials from the campaign of Mexican presidential candidate Enrique Peña Nieto alleges the parties engaged in a conspiracy to convert campaign funds derived from narco-traffickers to their own personal use by employing a scheme to defraud a US company.

The lawsuit also alleges that Peña Nieto campaign operatives threatened a plaintiff that the money “was funded from companies owned by drug cartels and it was further stated that Jose Aquino [owner of Frontera Television Network] must be very careful not to make any noise or his life is in danger.”

Why this is bad news for the Zetas, the terrifying upstarts in Mexico's drug war, and leftist political dissidents: The Zetas are renegades, and the PRI does not like renegades. They like good old boys like the Sinaloa.

The Zetas were trained by the U.S. School of the Americas as a special-forces unit to fight drug cartels, then hired by the Mexican government, then hired away to the cartels to be their special-forces units. (The cartels pay better.) The Zetas eventually realized they were the baddest asses in the game, so split off to form their own DTO (drug-trafficking organization) and have been waging a vicious battle royale ever since, further destabilizing the drug trade. (The Zetas are also credited with introducing narco-terrorism—killing more innocent civilians and posting executions on YouTube to terrify the general populace, instead of confining their murders to simple business moves.)

And the Zetas have been stepping up their game against the Sinaloa lately, trying to push the old graybeard of the drug trade off his rocking-chair throne. The Zetas are the Goneril—the sadistic, bloody, ungrateful child—to the Sinaloa's King Lear.

But the PRI is back in power now, and the PRI historically favors its old gentleman-farmer friends in the Sinaloa cartel. And the Sinaloa surely helped the PRI's election bid. (Is it a coincidence that, in the days leading up to the election, Blog del Narco noticed lots of executions and riots in Sinaloa territory? I don't think so. I think the Sinaloa are cleaning house and reasserting themselves.)

I also suspect Mexican power-players are taking a page from the Japanese Yakuza handbook—one big gang with a monopoly on crime means less warfare, less chaos, calm institutionalized corruption, and fewer terrifying civilian deaths. The downside is less democracy. It's not a sustainable strategy in the long term but, at this point, Mexicans may be willing to settle. And while the Zetas have leveraged mayhem to their short-term advantage in the past, they may have screwed themselves with their narco-terrorism strategy by making the Mexican power establishment yearn for the old days. At least then you knew who might kill you if you crossed him. These days, the bullet/machete/chainsaw could come from any direction.

My prediction: Expect a lot of dead Zetas in the coming year and then a general cool-down as the oldest Mexican drug cartel and the most institutional political power in Mexico reestablish their hegemony.

*Of course, this is wild extrapolation and I could be 100% wrong. This kind of stuff is impossible to predict.


Comments (18) RSS

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"What will this mean for us narcopornografistas?"
Posted by gloomy gus on July 2, 2012 at 10:22 AM · Report this
Fnarf 2
The PRI is the party of Total Corruption. They're the party that stole a billion dollars from Mexico under Salinas Gortari and his drug lord brother; the party that stole all the rebar out of thousands of new buildings so that they fell down in the 1986 earthquake. Peña Nieto's lackey was caught red-handed with a bag full of a half-million dollars of drug money on a flight from Veracruz to DF recently.

Anyone who thinks you can stuff these cartels back into the bottle they came from is dreaming, especially when you let them elect the president. Remember how the Mafia disappeared after prohibition ended? Yeah, neither do I.

Peña Nieto himself is lovely to look at but completely stupid and incurious on a level that GW Bush never approached. He has literally never had a policy idea, or even seen a book, in his life. He's not going to be running the country; he's going to be appearing on Televisa distracting the viewers from the thugs robbing the treasury.

This is a terrible day for Mexico. The PRI had already started shaking people down after they won a batch of governorships recently; that's how they operate. Look also for big demonstrations from the "unions", which unlike their US counterparts are extremely right-wing patronage organizations with very few workers in them, at least by choice.

Criminal governments mean collapsing economies in today's world. Mexico has a problem, and that means we have a problem too.
Posted by Fnarf on July 2, 2012 at 10:49 AM · Report this
Fifty-Two-Eighty 3
Meh. Who gives a flying fuck about what happens in Mexico anyway? It's a corrupt fucking shithole.

Oh, I forgot. Your drugs come from there. Mine don't — I really don't care.
Posted by Fifty-Two-Eighty on July 2, 2012 at 11:07 AM · Report this
Ooooh, so edgy, #3. You must be, like, sooo cool and jaded.
Posted by Actionsquid on July 2, 2012 at 11:10 AM · Report this
Fifty-Two-Eighty 5
No. I just don't give a shit. We've got enough problems here.
Posted by Fifty-Two-Eighty on July 2, 2012 at 11:19 AM · Report this
Because nobody who lives in the US has friends or family in Mexico, or needs to travel to Mexico for work, or is otherwise affected by Mexican events, right? I'm pretty sure those people give a flying fuck.
Posted by Actionsquid on July 2, 2012 at 11:22 AM · Report this
Deberiamos borrar todo el poder de los narcos y quitarlos de la vide politica. Pueden Vds. quedar satisfechos que nosotros en el PRI pelearemos en contra los zetas, quiero decir, en contra a todos los narcos para asegurar la paz para le republica entera.
Posted by Don Epifanio Vargas on July 2, 2012 at 11:47 AM · Report this
Doctor Memory 8
In general, I wish that more people in the USA would adopt an "I don't give a shit" attitude about the internal affairs of other countries. Not that concern isn't sometimes warranted, but the dubious history of our interventions, especially in Latin America, strongly suggests that we should be setting the bar much higher than we do, and default to the strong assumption that Mexicans are at least as capable of surviving bad leadership as we are.
Posted by Doctor Memory on July 2, 2012 at 12:09 PM · Report this
@5 If you stop and think about the fact that Mexico is our third largest trading partner and the second largest importer of American made goods then you can pretty quickly figure out that Mexican problems are American problems. One of our most important trading partners just instituted a criminal government, it's an American concern. Oh there's also been about 50,000 deaths in the last 6 years, which should be a point of concern for anyone.
Posted by Hanging in C.C on July 2, 2012 at 12:24 PM · Report this
Hernandez 10
Don't mind 5280. His comments over the years have shown a consistent disdain for Latinos in any context. Before I even clicked on the comments for this post I was already assuming he'd had a chance to weigh in with some variation of "Mexicans blah blah who gives a shit blah blah." Everyone has their personal biases and sometimes it's best to just ignore it.
Posted by Hernandez on July 2, 2012 at 12:53 PM · Report this
Fnarf 11
@9, you beat me to it. Mexico and the US are inextricably twined economically and culturally, which isn't surprising considering that our border is the most heavily-crossed in the entire world.

Of course 5280 wouldn't know this from inside his armed bunker, but any random stretch of Mexican soil contains more interesting history and culture than all of white Colorado combined -- a state noted for little else than skiing and hyper-religiosity.
Posted by Fnarf on July 2, 2012 at 12:54 PM · Report this
Matt from Denver 12
@ 11, LOL. More than half of Colorado WAS Mexico once. Unlike Washington, which is so white that that's where all the Neo Nazis set up shop and claim as the White Homeland.

For someone who knows as much as you do, you have a bad habit of forgetting what you DON'T know.
Posted by Matt from Denver on July 2, 2012 at 1:31 PM · Report this
Sir Vic 13
@12 And part of Canada was part of Russia at one point. What the hell does that matter today? Lines on a map do not create cultural history by themselves.

The PRI is the modern version of the heavy hand that hijacked the Mexican Revolution a century ago, squashing that attempt at democracy with a combination of guns and ballots. How little some things change. Is the US going to pull another Vera Cruz if this century's goons screw up the coup too?

Failed narcostate
Posted by Sir Vic on July 2, 2012 at 2:24 PM · Report this
Matt from Denver 14
@ 13, it only matters to show that Fnarf doesn't know what he's talking about.

You're not all up on it, either - Southern Colorado was much more populated by Mexicans than Alaska or anything else the Russians claimed in North America. That Mexican tradition is still very much experienced by the families who became American because of a war and treaty and still live there to this day.

Bottom line - know what the fuck you're talking about, even if you're only talking shit.
Posted by Matt from Denver on July 2, 2012 at 2:37 PM · Report this
For Mexicans, this is the equivalent of Mussolini's hot granddaughter coming to power in Italy. Nothing good can come of this.

It's also worth pointing out that the election was so dirty that if it had happened anywhere besides Mexico, the first world would be pushing for instant sanctions.
Posted by redemma on July 2, 2012 at 3:01 PM · Report this
Fifty-Two-Eighty 16
Let's see if I've got this straight. Fnarf — in super-ultra-white Seattle, is talking shit about how white Colorado is?

Wow. You need to stop reading Slog and get out and see the real world, dude.
Posted by Fifty-Two-Eighty on July 2, 2012 at 3:12 PM · Report this
The PRI's got a bad history, to be sure, but I'm not too bothered by their victory. It shows that the permanent PRI dictatorship of old is not going to be replaced by a permanent PAN dictatorship.

I really hope you're right about their strategy regarding narcos. The best thing would be to legalize the trade, of course, but since diplomatic pressure from the US prevents that from happening, the best thing for all concerned is the reestablishment of the Sinaloa monopoly and total destruction of the Zetas. What I've read about the Sinaloa cartel suggests to me that it is a corporation operating in a business that requires it to be a criminal gang, whereas the Zetas are just monsters who cannot be rehabilitated and must be destroyed.
Posted by I have always been... east coaster on July 3, 2012 at 1:49 AM · Report this
LaPuerta 18
You maybe be right that EPN will go back to a "lets make a deal" strategy with the cartels, but you have to take into account the amount of pressure coming from the US to wage war on them. The US government is providing a lot of support and has publicly applauded Calderon's militaristic strategy for confronting the cartels (although lets not kid ourselves, the PAN has made plenty of deals of its own), despite wide spread criticism of this strategy and the fact that most Mexicans (a vast majority of whom aren't involved in the drug trade) would tell you they are less safe today than they were 12 years ago. EPN is playing to middle class Mexicans who's business has been impacted by extortion, kidnapping and other organized crime activities.

What is incredibly worrisome are the grave human rights violations that have occurred under past PRI governments (and I'm not talking about vote buying), such as Atenco, Acteal, the Zapatista repression. The killing, rape and torture of civilians at the hands of security forces, ordered by PRI governments, sometimes in retaliation for not getting what they wanted (Atenco was in response to protests that eventually shut down the construction of an airport in Tlaxcala, which was Peña Nieto's pet project as Mexico State Governor, and he couldn't stand getting beaten by a bunch of peasants) is terrifying. It puts democracy and freedom of expression at risk in Mexico and has the same taste of "your with us or against us" as Bush employed over Iraq.

This isn't an issue to just sit around and be apathetic about, US policy directly impacts what happens in Mexico, and people's lives in the US are impacted by that. Want to stop "illegal immigration"? well then maybe you should be concerned about the safety and security of the country most immigrants come from-- and wouldn't leave, if they had access to decent jobs and a relative level of security.
Posted by LaPuerta on July 13, 2012 at 1:04 PM · Report this

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