Candidates Tough on Drug Issue
By MARK STEVENSON,
Associated Press Writer
June 18, 2006
Mexico (AP) -- With
Mexico's presidential election two weeks away, the
drug wars are a central issue in the race, and the
main candidates are all trying to look tough on
the issue, while splitting over whether U.S.-style
solutions are needed.
candidate who speaks most closely to American
concerns is conservative Felipe Calderon. He
advocates extraditing more drug lords to the
United States, and replacing Mexico's secretive
court system with open, U.S.-style trials.
Roberto Madrazo of
the former ruling party claims the toughest law-and-order
platform: One of his campaign ads depicts a
criminal wetting his pants out of fear of
Madrazo's proposals for stiffer sentencing. "Criminals
can't play around with me," Madrazo tells voters.
Manuel Lopez Obrador, running neck-and-neck with
Calderon in the polls, has broken with the left's
anti-military tradition by suggesting a bigger
role for the army in fighting the drug trade. But
he says poverty reduction is the only real way to
fight crime, and remains largely silent on U.S.-style
trials and extradition.
Taking on the
cartels, even in campaign rhetoric, is a risky
business here. With shootouts, executions and even
beheadings becoming more common in border cities
such as Nuevo Laredo and resorts such as Acapulco,
candidates have to watch their backs.
Ana Maria Salazar,
a former Pentagon anti-drug official, noted that
the candidates have refrained from singling out
any cartels by name.
"There's a certain
amount of reluctance to talk about drug
trafficking organizations," she said. In part, she
said, that's because by talking about them "you
increase the threat level against the candidate
communities have been caught up in the war between
Mexican cartels, as well as the booming industries
of migrant-smuggling and kidnapping for ransom.
All this has led Washington to accuse Mexico's
government of not fighting back hard enough.
Calderon, of the
ruling National Action Party, seems to speak to
those concerns. He also advocates creating a more
unified police command and having police do more
investigation and intelligence work, like their
"We can free cities
like Tijuana, Nuevo Laredo or Acapulco from this
cancer before it eats away our society," he said
during a televised debate June 6.
called for life sentences for kidnappers.
Currently, Mexico does not impose life sentences
for any crime.
third in polls for the former ruling Institutional
Revolutionary Party, echoes Calderon's call for
changing the trial system so lawyers can argue a
case in open court.
The current system
has attorneys submit documents to a judge who
reads them and reaches a verdict behind closed
doors. The secrecy is prone to corruption and
bungling, and doesn't inspire public confidence.
Lopez Obrador, the
Democratic Revolution Party's candidate, argues
for creating jobs, reducing poverty and sending
more Mexicans to college to reduce the lure of
"I don't think you
can make much progress with prisons or threats of
heavy-handed approaches and tougher laws," he said.
But he also says
the drug cartels are so well-armed that the army
is the only force that can handle traffickers.
In April, suspected
drug hit men in Acapulco decapitated two police
officers who had participated in a shootout with
traffickers, and left the severed heads at the
scene with a note saying: "So that you learn some
The most recent
police figures for federal crimes show drug
trafficking and weapons possession rose 12 percent
between 2001 and 2004. There is also a widespread
perception that police are ineffective and corrupt.
When Mexico City
businessman Hugo Alberto Wallace was kidnapped
last July, it was his mother, Maria Isabel
Miranda, who led the investigation into his
disappearance, frustrated with the slow pace of
the official search. She even led police to
Analysts say the
main problem is the disorganization and lack of
investigative powers of Mexico's broad array of
municipal, state and federal police agencies, most
of which are ill-trained and uncoordinated.
Genaro Garcia, head
of the Mexican equivalent of the FBI, highlighted
the problem last month in a book sarcastically
titled "Why 1,661 Police Forces are Not Enough."
Calderon have floated proposals to unify police
forces and create intelligence centers. Outgoing
President Vicente Fox made a similar promise while
campaigning for office six years ago, but made