Mexico's president outlines a new direction in the drug war
MEXICO CITY—President Enrique Peña Nieto and his national-security team signaled a new tack Monday in Mexico's drug war, blasting their predecessors' policies while offering new measures like a rural gendarmerie to try to take back territories out of government control.
The speeches, the first by the new administration on tackling crime, were notable as much for their tone as their substance: In his address, Mr. Peña Nieto mentioned neither drugs nor drug traffickers, instead reiterating promises to stanch violent crime such as kidnapping and homicide. Interior Minister Miguel Ángel Osorio Chong went further, saying policies to target crime leaders had backfired, fracturing groups and making them more violent.
That stance, accepted by many security experts, still could raise eyebrows in Washington where some say stopping the northward flow of drugs and catching crime leaders should remain Mexico's top priority.
Mr. Peña Nieto's predecessor, Felipe Calderón, with U.S. assistance, made capturing drug lords a hallmark of his administration, which ended this month—taking down more than two dozen on a list of 37 most-wanted. But more than 55,000 people were reported dead in drug-related violence in the first 5½ years of his six-year term. The government stopped releasing statistics earlier this year.
"We are all clear that Mexico now demands a country in peace, a quiet country, a safe country," Mr. Peña Nieto said. "This is our main objective."
He laid out plans for a rural gendarmerie of around 10,000 people that would take command in areas where local police and the military had failed to wrest control from organized-crime groups. He didn't explain where the force would be recruited. The president also stopped short of saying the new group would replace soldiers, who he said would remain in their deployments throughout Mexico.
The president also said he would close the Public Security Ministry, putting it and the federal police force under the control of the Interior Ministry.
The shuffle appeared to be a rebuke to the security department, which has been mired in scandal this year, and its departing leader Genaro García Luna. Federal police allegedly involved in a drug ring opened fire in a crowded airport terminal in June and managed to escape; two months later, a different group of officers shot at a vehicle carrying two U.S. government employees in the country to help train Mexican personnel.