Here is an excerpt from this Associated Press article as reported by FOX News Latino:
"The Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) gave Enrique Peña Nieto a document declaring him the party's candidate Saturday. All other hopefuls had already dropped out. Legal candidate registration takes place in February and the campaign starts in March. The former Mexico State governor has a strong lead in most polls. His party ran Mexico from 1929 to 2000, when it lost to the National Action Party that still governs. National Action is still choosing its candidate but the third major force has picked its contender. Andrés Manuel López Obrador will run for the leftist Democratic Revolution Party... Growing disenchantment in Calderón's policies and the widespread violence related to the country's drug war has allowed the PRI to make a resurgence in the country's political scene. Local elections in 2011 saw the party gain back a number of political spots." Link to Full Article
Analysis: Since it's likely that many of my readers haven't closely followed Mexico's electoral politics - particularly prior to 2000 - I thought this would be a good time to provide some context on this candidate selection by the PRI, and what his potential victory next summer might mean for the drug war.
From 1929 until 2000, the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) ruled over Mexico with more or less an iron fist. It wasn't considered a "real" democracy, elections notwithstanding. The PRI was also extremely corrupt, but the real issue that Mexicans today take with the PRI is that for decades, they had an implicit agreement with the drug lords who had emerged and flourished under PRI rule - drug lords like Miguel Ángel Félix Gallardo, Juan Ábrego, Amado Carrillo Fuentes, and the Arellano Félix family, just to name a few. The government agreed to look the other way while the drug traffickers went about their business - as long as they behaved. Back then, the PRI ran that show; if the traffickers got out of line, the Mexican government made some arrests, conducted some disappearances, and the capos got their people back in line.
The year 2000 saw the ouster of the PRI and the entrance of the National Action Party (PAN) with the election of Vicente Fox, and the subsequent election of PAN member Felipe Cálderon in 2006. Many people don't realize that the political turning point that started today's drug war brewing was the PRI's ouster in 2000; because when the PRI got tossed, so did that implicit arrangement between the government and the cartels, and so did the pax mafiosa. Vicente Fox didn't fight the traffickers as hard as Calderón is doing now, but he made a half-hearted effort. Calderón clearly made the point when he entered office that he wasn't playing games, and the cartels started fighting back even harder.
Now the evolution has made clear that, for the most part, the now-TCOs run the show, and not the government. If the government steps out of line - meaning they and their proxies, the police - don't do the TCOs' bidding, there will be killings, kidnappings, disappearances, etc.
Many people in Mexico and observers outside the country will be watching the 2012 election with much interest because the PRI, via Enrique Peña Nieto, is poised to retake Los Pinos - the Mexican version of the White House. Peña Nieto is very popular and well-liked, and he had a good record while in Mexico City. It appears he's relatively clean, or at least as clean as any Mexican politician can be. The real question is, what will his campaign platform consist of, and if he wins, how will his drug war strategy evolve from that? Much of Mexico is pinning its hopes for peace on the next president, although it's hard to see how drastically any new president could change the current strategy. Some are hoping for a return to the "old days" of an arrangement with the TCOs - even former president Vicente Fox has called for negotiations - but I don't think this is the answer, or even possible, seeing as the TCOs have little to gain from an agreement, and much to concede.
If he wins, Peña Nieto will be under a LOT of pressure to do things differently than Calderón, from the both the Mexican people and members of his party who have repeatedly criticized Calderón's militarized strategy. But he'll also be pulled in other directions; by the United States, who - despite Mexico's extreme reluctance to admit it - wields considerable influence over Mexico's counterdrug strategy, and by the international community, which expects to see an effort by the PRI to prove it's changed its corrupt and underhanded ways of old.
Looking at the election from the other side of things, I don't know if the TCOs even care who becomes president. Their source of power is derived from control of the state and municipal police, as well as the influence they wield over city mayors through threatened and actual violence. The president dictates the overall strategy, of course, but the state governors - who are elected independently - have a bit more say/control over what goes on at that level. No matter which party controls Los Pinos, I believe that the way the TCOs do business at the local level won't change that much. Unfortunately, that means that levels of violence and the conduct of the drug war is, in my opinion, unlikely to change that much, either.
This is definitely one case where I hope I'm really wrong. Who knows? Maybe Peña Nieto will, if elected, bring some fresh ideas into office with him, and be able to invigorate the Mexican congress to pass strong legislation intended to strengthen anti-money laundering laws and reform the justice system in a meaningful way. The PRI made a lot of headway in the last mid-term election, so it would be easier for Peña Nieto to pass legislation with this congress than it has been for Calderón. It's another case of stay tuned, and we'll see next year.