Mexico: aftermath of presidential election
Enrique Peña Nieto, the young face of Mexico’s oldest political party, was chosen by Mexican people to lead the country out of arguably the most turbulent period in its history since the Mexican Revolution. Peña Nieto's PRI, which governed Mexico for 71 years until losing in 2000, has staged a comeback since the candidate was chosen.
Thursday, 05 July 2012, by HRH Bergen Based on Al Jazeera information
The challenges facing the new president are enormous, including reducing poverty and combating the corruption and violence of organised crime. But exit polls appear to show that there are enough Mexicans who believe Peña Nieto when he says his victory is not a regression to the past, but a transition to a new, less violent and more democratic era.
Drug business and money laundering
"The whole point of being a drug dealer is money", says Heather Lowe, a Washington-based lawyer with Global Financial Integrity, a watchdog group that tracks laundering, "Identifying and stopping that money flow is crucial". While exact numbers are impossible to come by, due to the nature of the business, the UN Organisation on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) estimates that illegal narcotics represent the world's third-biggest export, after oil and the arms trade, worth more than $300bn annually. Illicit drug sales in the United States generate annual revenues between $18bn and $39bn, according to the US Justice Department's Federal Bureau of Investigation. Much of this money flows back to Mexico, where cartels use it to pay underlings, bribe politicians, invest in legitimate businesses and purchase raw product.
Officially started in its modern incarnation by Richard Nixon and given its nomme de guerre by Ronald Reagan, the "war on drugs" doesn't seem likely to end anytime soon, and many analysts believe the military solution isn't working as violence is increasing. Some policy experts and forensic accountants believe tracking money earned by cartels, along with waging a PR campaign to tackle the demand side of the equation in the US, is the best in a series of bad options. "In order to weaken organised crime, it is far safer and more effective in the long run to erode its financial base", says Laura Carlsen, director of the Americas programme of the International Relations Centre in Mexico City.
Mexico's President Felipe Calderon has said: "The prevention of money laundering and combating financial terrorism is a fundamental part of the state's comprehensive strategy against organised crime". But the statistics are worrying. In the last 10 years, Mexico has seized less than $40m in cash transfers - that's about $4m annually out of close to $40bn in drug sales. Officials in Mexico believe the tide of laundered money could be as high as $50bn per year, a sum equal to about three per cent of Mexico's legitimate economy - more than all its oil exports or spending on key social programmes. Internationally, money laundering represents between two and five per cent of global GDP, or between $800bn and $2tn annually, according to the UNODC.
Freedom of expression
"Journalists are being killed systematically and regularly", says Bruce Bagley, chairman of the international studies department at the University of Miami, who researches Mexico. "Narco groups have decided they don’t like bad publicity in the areas which they control; it has become incredibly dangerous to be an investigative reporter. Often, local and state police are complicit in these attacks". A few days before his murder, Armando "El Choco" Rodriguez, acclaimed Mexican journalist, had written a story linking the state prosecutor's nephew to drug traffickers. Cartels earn as much as $39bn yearly from selling illicit narcotics, according to the US Justice Department, and serious journalism which exposes criminality seems to be bad for business.
Between December 2006, when Mexican president Felipe Calderon declared an all-out war on cartels, and May 2011, 44 journalists have been killed, according to a report by the Mexico’s National Centre for Social Communication. The International Press Institute says 12 journalists were killed in Mexico in 2010, second only to Pakistan with 16. Mexico is facing one of the world's most radical declines in press freedom, as journalists are killed and intimidated and newspapers are forced to publish press releases from criminal groups as if they were pure news, according to the 2010 Press Freedom Index released in May 2011. "If journalists want to continue to work, they have to avoid certain topics", says Celeste Bustamante, a professor of journalism at the University of Arizona who studies violence and the media in Mexico. Local reporters in the country’s north, where cartels battle for transit routes into the US, are in the worst situation, she says.
Luis Carlos Santiago, 21, a photographer for El Diario, was one of them. He had just started work and wasn't even covering the drug war when he left the newsroom one autumn afternoon with Carlos Sanchez, another photographer, to get some lunch. Gunmen in two vehicles intercepted Santiago and opened fire on his car, killing him and seriously wounding Sanchez. After the young photographer's murder in September 2010, Pedro Torres and his fellow reporters responded the only way they knew how: with their words. "It is impossible for us to do our job under these conditions", the editors wrote in a bold front-page editorial addressed to drug cartels. "We ask you to explain what you want from us, what we should try to publish or not publish, so we know what to expect", they wrote, calling cartels the "de facto authority in the city". "The loss of two reporters from this publishing house in less than two years represents an irreparable sorrow for all of us who work here, and, in particular, for their families", the newspaper said. The editorial made headlines around the world. It infuriated local politicians, who accused the newspaper of caving to criminals. "I think the editorial was a primal scream or a form of existential despair”, says Bagley. "How do our people cope with this situation?"
Dancing with the Devil
Politicians from the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), the group that governed Mexico for 71 years ending in 2000, are widely believed to have made pacts with drug cartels in their respective areas of influence. "I think there was an understanding between the PRI and traffickers", said Enrique Cardenas, director of the Centro de Estudios Espinosa Yglesias, a centrist think-tank in Mexico City. "They might make some kind of an agreement [with cartels] to reduce the violence, but I don't think the government will do it the way they did it before".
With Enrique Peña Nieto, the PRI's newly elected President, many are hoping the party can negotiate with cartels in an effort to stem violence, which has taken more than 50,000 lives since 2006. Others are dead set against the idea of making a deal with criminals, even if it were possible. "The problem is that the state no longer has the negotiating capacity to make such a pact", Hugo Almada Mireles, professor at the Autonomous University of Juarez, told Al Jazeera. "The state is fractured and there is mutual distrust among the security services". PRI officials, for their part, vehemently deny a pact with traffickers ever existed. "Much of this [the idea of a 'pact del narco'] is based on perception", says Gustavo Sayago Reyes, under-secretary of information and propaganda for the PRI in Mexico City, during an interview at the party's office. "We won't have a pact with criminals. We have a constitution to uphold. We'll continue fighting the drugs cartels with arms but in a more intelligent way. He [Peña Nieto] won't drop the guard but he won't act like the PAN [National Action Party] did during these last six years".
HRH Bergen Based on Al Jazeera information