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Security 'quagmire' for Mexican presidential candidates

Many Mexicans are weary of the sharp rise in violence that has accompanied Calderón's military-led strategy against drug traffickers. So why aren't presidential hopefuls offering alternatives?

By Staff writer / April 18, 2012

A police officer stands guard as supporters of Enrique Pena Nieto, presidential candidate for the opposition Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), walk towards his campaign rally in Ciudad Juarez on April 1. Front-runner Nieto vowed to overcome the drug-fueled violence engulfing his country as the campaign for the July 1 election kicked off with the ruling conservatives struggling to avoid defeat.

Jose Luis Gonzalez/Reuters

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Mexico City

Weeks after Mexican President Felipe Calderón took office in late 2006, he declared a war on drug traffickers, dispatching troops to violent swaths of the country. When the Mexican military went on its first offensive, Operation Michoacan, in the president's home state, support for Mr. Calderón's tough stand was sky high.

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But six years later, that admiration has faded. Calderón has mobilized tens of thousands of troops and caught many of the most-wanted drug lords. But drug-related deaths, which numbered 2,800 during Calderón's first year in office, climbed to 15,200 by 2010. As traffickers fight the government – and one another – violence has surged, and spread well beyond the traditional conflict areas on the US-Mexico border. Today, many groups have been weakened, but rely on methods such as kidnapping and extortion to line their pockets.

Judging from the criticism that Calderón's military-led strategy has garnered in Mexico, it would seem the upcoming July 1 presidential race, in which Calderón is constitutionally barred from running, would be dominated by proposals for new thinking on how to rein in the violence.

But, while the three main presidential contenders are capitalizing on public weariness by promising peace and creating new police forces to replace troops, they are in many ways just offering new versions of what has been attempted for the past six years. In fact, many analysts say that no matter who wins, no one should expect a retreat, that US-Mexico cooperation will continue, and that ultimately this could be a boon to Calderon's legacy. It also means that voters hoping that a swift end to the violence plaguing this country will come hand-in-hand with a new administration are out of touch with reality.

“You are not going to see a radical shift in policy,” says Andrew Selee, director of the Mexico Institute in Washington. “[The candidates] will follow what Calderón started. In that sense it is a partial revindication for him.”

The clear front-runner of the race has been the former Mexico State governor, Enrique Peña Nieto, of the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), which controlled the presidency for 71 years before losing to Calderón’s National Action Party (PAN) in 2000.

According to various polls, Mr. Peña Nieto enjoys a wide lead over of Josefina Vazquez Mota of the PAN and leftist candidate Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador of the Democratic Revolution Party (PRD).

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