I recently attended the CATO Institute’s policy forum: “Mexico’s Drug War: The Growing Crisis on Our Southern Border,” and it got me thinking about the alternative polices that the US could take when dealing with Mexico. Some of the popular policy alternatives mentioned at the conference-although not necessarily advocated by any one participant-included the legalization of drugs, building a bigger wall, and pumping money into treatment and prevention programs to quell demand. (I was waiting for “full scale invasion,” and “nation building” to be mentioned, but they weren’t.) Each of these alternative policies to stop/slow the Drug War have a unique set of problems which were more eloquently addressed by the participants of the panel. (Please note it is not just “Mexico’s” Drug War; Mexico is just taking more *noticeable* casualties at the moment.) The possibility of political change in Mexico, however, was not mentioned by anyone. Alternatives to the current US policy–which is outlined in the Mérida Initiative and contingency plans, in case all hell breaks loose North of the border–is fine to kick around academic forums and think tank tables, BUT the one common assumption to all these suggested policies have, is the one assumption that might be changing in Mexico: what if Mexico itself changes tactics or political parties and becomes less receptive to United States assistance?
I have no doubt that when President Calderón declared war on the drug cartels in 2006, he probably did not expect it to get this brutal. Not only have his efforts caused unprecedented drug violence throughout the country, the cartels are now resorting to kidnapping, piracy, and protection rackets to control drug routes into the United States. And despite all the violence, which shows signs of getting worse, President Calderón has to worry about a possible political shift in the midterm legislative and municipal elections which may bring a surprise resurgence of the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI). This is the same PRI that is said to use “electoral fraud, corruption, bribery, and repression when necessary to maintain control over individuals and groups.” The same PRI that ruled Mexico for 71 consecutive years, but was voted out of office in 2000 by the National Action Party (PAN).
In 2006, the PAN and the “leftist” Democratic Revolution Party (PRD) were locked in a tight race ending in the narrow defeat of the PRD; the PRI placed a distant third. But now, back from the political graveyard, the PRI have won several other local and state elections and claim they will take control of Congress in midterm elections held on July 5th-which might actually be possible since the PRD is currently splintering itself out of existence. In November 2008, a Mexican nationwide poll shows the Mexican people favoring the PRI in the upcoming elections. The World Politics Review even sees the PRI as the “party to beat” in July. President Calderón -who doesn’t have to worry about a presidential election until 2012-is already having enough trouble getting needed economic and political reform passed through a Congress in which his own party holds the majority of seats.
And now for the “question” section: What if the PRI gains the upper hand in the Congress and Municipal elections? What if the PRI eventually maneuvers into the presidency in 2012? (Who knows? The PRI might even run under the campaign platform to stop drug violence…) Will the United States policymakers be as willing to send over billions to Mexico if the PRI takes Mexico back from the PAN? The impact on the Untied States policy is going to be real. Now might be a good time to examine that “sunset clause” in the Mérida Initiative.