The 19th-century French novelist Jean-Baptiste Alphonse Karr once said that “the more things change, the more they remain the same.”
This aphorism seems to resonate in Mexican politics more often than officials care to admit.
When President Enrique Peña Nieto came into office in December, he pledged to reduce the violence created by the organized crime and drug trade in Mexico. He appeared to be on pace to “walk the walk” by introducing to the nation his crime prevention program that would turn the discussions about Mexico away from drug violence.
Recent flare-ups in the state of Guerrero, where a group of masked gunmen gang raped a group of Spanish women on vacation in Acapulco and nine police officers were ambushed and killed, have all but forced the Peña Nieto administration to put this new plan on the backburner and resort to the same tactics employed by their predecessors in the Calderon administration.
The explosions of grenades near the U.S. Consulate in Nuevo Laredo and the kidnapping and consequent murder of popular folk group Kombo Kolombia have led some to question if this new crime prevention strategy that Enrique Peña Nieto campaigned on would be different after all. One does not need to look further than the citizens of Guerrero who have formed their own militias out of frustration at the police’s incompetence to see the increased discontent among the Mexican populace.
In fact, this discontent has also had an impact on Peña Nieto’s approval ratings. In a poll consisting of a thousand face-to-face interviews with Mexican citizens, pollsters found Enrique Peña Nieto’s approval rating to be at 56% at the start of his term. Compare that to the 58% approval rating for President Felipe Calderon at the start of his term six years ago.
All of this begs the question: is it too early to begin questioning Peña Nieto’s successes on reducing drug violence?
For starters, there is a dispute over the accuracy of the homicide numbers for the first two months of Peña Nieta’s term (December and January). One Mexican newspaper puts the total at 1,939 whereas another newspaper put it at 1,524. A third source gave a figure of 1,758. These are all third-party estimates and analysts are awaiting the release of data by Mexico’s Secretary-General of National Public Safety.
Even with the release of an indisputable and accurate figure by the Mexican government, it is hard to determine how many of those deaths truly are linked to organized crime and the drug trade since police and other agencies use various characteristics to categorize the murders. To further complicate things, it is another matter of discussion if these numbers would indicate a drop (or even increase) in violence when juxtaposed to the data from President Calderon’s tenure.
However, the good news from Ciudad Juarez should not be ignored. There has been a noticeable, and substantial, drop in deaths in what was once called the most dangerous city on the planet. From a peak of 268 homicides around this time last year in the city, that number has dropped to just 26 in the month of January.
Peña Nieto should not be quick to take credit for this enormous drop in violence, especially when the city of Chicago recently named drug kingpin Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman Laura its Public Enemy No. 1 – a title not awarded since the days of Al Capone in 1930.
So let us answer the question on everyone’s minds: is it then too early to judge Enrique Peña Nieto’s success in fulfilling his campaign promise on a reduction in drug trade and organized crime-related crime?
The short answer is yes and no.
It is too early to judge just HOW successful, or unsuccessful, he has been due to the statistical inconsistencies in the murder rates and the questions of how to apply them. It is also uncertain whether or not these recent upticks in violence would have happened under Felipe Calderon’s presidency. One could also argue that the slide in disapproval ratings for Peña Nieto is also just a continuation of a general sense of exhaustion and distrust that is pertinent throughout the Mexican population.
In the opinion of this citizen, however, it is not too early. When one campaigns on being different than their predecessor and within two months of office has already capitulated into those “failed policies” he sought to break away with, the words of Alphonse Karr should ring in their ear.