Mexico replaces attorney general in drug-war shift

The cabinet shakeup could signal a hardening of the government's military stand against organized crime.

Mexican President Felipe Calderón Monday replaced his attorney general – a pointman since the beginning in the president's battle against drug trafficking that has engulfed this nation in unprecedented violence.

Mr. Calderón offered no reason for the resignation of Eduardo Medina Mora on Monday. The cabinet shakeup could signal a hardening of the government's military stand against organized crime after the death toll from drug-related violence has surged to more than 13,000 since Calderón took office in late 2006.

"It is not a change of strategy; it is an adjustment among the president's men, and Medina Mora was the weakest functionary in the security circle of the president," says Erubiel Tirado, a security specialist at the Iberoamerican University in Mexico City. "For Calderón, there is no way but this one."

Battling drug trafficking has been the cornerstone of Calderón's presidency. Midway through his six-year term, he opened his State of the Union address last week to unveil gains made in arms seizures and arrests.

Public backs Calderón's tough stance

Society seems to back him in his effort. In a recent survey by the non-profit Mexicans United Against Crime and Mitofsky Consulting, 50 percent of Mexicans said they believe the government's strategy against organized crime has been successful, while 33 percent consider it a failure.

But violence has continued unabated. As more than 45,000 troops have been dispatched by the Calderón administration throughout the country, homicides have not only grown in number but in intensity as well.

Calderón announced that he will nominate Arturo Chávez, a former attorney general of Chihuahua, Mexico's most conflict-ridden state, to replace Medina Mora. The nomination still must be ratified by the senate.

New objectives?

It is unclear whether a change in personnel will change the national tactic. "The president has named new names. But he has not named the new objectives or targets," says Javier Oliva Posada, a security specialist at the National Autonomous University of Mexico.

Mr. Oliva Posada says that the shift provides an opportunity for better coordination among the institutions battling drug trafficking – which he says he considers a weakness in the strategy – including the attorney general's office, the national security ministry, and the military.

Medina Mora often clashed with Public Security Minister Genaro Garcia Luna, who is a top Calderón ally. "Garcia [Luna] is the main master of security in Mexico," says Mr. Tirado. "You need all the men in the security circle to have the same tone, the same goals."

Medina Mora, who was often praised by US officials, reiterated his support for Calderón's efforts. "The strategy for recovering the public's security and the tactic of changing the way things were have been correct," he said. "Progress has unquestionably been made. The historic decision to use all the power of the state to put a stop to the power of the criminal organizations was fundamental to ensure our future as a nation."

He had worked with the president to clean government institutions of corruption. The attorney general's office faced a setback last year, though, when its former head of the organized crime prevention unit was charged with handing over information to traffickers in exchange for some $450,000.

As part of the shakeup announced late Monday afternoon, Calderón also said that the nation's agriculture secretary and the head of Pemex, the state-owned oil company, will be replaced.

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