Mexico’s presidential elections are less than a year away, and President Felipe Calderon has begun to defend his controversial record in the war on drugs.
Mexican law only allows a president to serve a single, six-year term. So Calderon won’t be running again. But he has his legacy to protect, and he needs to support his conservative National Action Party.
Calderon has staked his presidency on the war on drugs, pushing ahead with a plan to violently confront the cartels even as many Mexicans have become fed up with the bloodshed.
In many ways, the upcoming election will be seen as a referendum on Calderon’s approach to combating the cartels.
Over the weekend, he launched a defense of his decision by throwing a bomb.
Calderon suggested over the weekend in an interview with The New York Times that the opposition, the Institutional Revolutionary Party, known as PRI, would cut deals with the cartels if they came back to power.
It depends on who it is. There are many in the PRI who agree with the policy I have, at least they say so in secret, while publicly they may say something else. There are many in the PRI who think the deals of the past would work now. I don’t see what deal could be done, but that is the mentality many of them have. If that opinion prevails it would worry me.
In his defense, Calderon’s office pointed out that the Times had asked about reports of PRI’s deals in the past, a case of “They said it, not me.”
The party dominated Mexican politics for 70 years before losing the presidency in 2000. During its town in power, it established a system of political patronage that centralized power in the presidency.
PRI denied any links to the cartels, and asked Calderon to name names to support the charge.
An estimated 40,000 people have died since the war began.
Even the president, in the interview, struggled to defend the current situation. For Calderon, it’s seemingly about longterm results.
“What I can say is Mexico will be safer,” he said, “and to have not acted, it would have deteriorated much more.”
But will that be enough for Mexican voters?