In Mexico, a New Plan to End Drug Violence

NUEVO LAREDO, Mexico - The tank that has stood at the entrance to this Mexican border city since 2008 was not here on Christmas Eve. Neither was the machine gun turret that pointed down this gritty town's main street.

But the masked soldiers remained. Residents say it is a sign that little law enforcement appears to exist except for the military officers who patrol the streets.

That could change, however, under policies announced recently by Enrique Pea Nieto, Mexico's newly inaugurated president.

Pea Nieto's six-point plan includes better government planning, increased intergovernmental coordination, protection of human rights, more social investments and crime-prevention programs, additional evaluation of government programs and institution building.

The plan also proposes a 10,000-member gendarmerie to secure municipalities and states where law enforcement is powerless against organized crime. The administration has said it will focus on street gangs and criminals the cartels employ, a shift from former President Felipe Caldern's emphasis on eliminating top cartel bosses.
Eric Olson, a senior associate at the Mexico Institute of the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington, praised the platform's call for better coordination. Under the leadership of Caldern, he said, agencies were too independent of one another.

"There was not good coordination with the Secretara de Gobernacin, and there was not good coordination with the military," he said, referring to Mexico's internal affairs agency, also known as SEGOB. The risk now, he added, is the potential to re-create the same bureaucracy.

"It could also mean you have a ministry like SEGOB that's so powerful that it's not very accountable or transparent," he said. But the emphasis on coordination is positive, he added, and the investment in social programs has contributed to improvements.

Caldern's tenure included what some analysts call one of the worst human-rights crises in the Americas: tens of thousands died in drug violence and most of the crimes went unsolved. But his war on the cartels yielded some positive results. In Ciudad Jurez, across the Rio Grande from El Paso, the number of homicides could reach about 800 in 2012, a dramatic decrease from the estimated 2,100 in 2011 and the more than 3,600 in 2010.

A main reason is that the Sinaloa cartel has weakened the strength of the rival Jurez cartel. But Olson said the federal government deserves some credit.

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