Katie Putnam, The Mexico Institute’s Elections Guide, 5/21/2012
After the devastating finding of 49 dismembered bodies on a highway outside Monterey that rocked the country on May 13, experts highlighted the surprising lack of attention of the major presidential candidates to concrete security solutions. Dr. Duncan Wood writes for the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) about the impact of the economic situation on the upcoming elections, while Fitch Ratings determines the impact of the July 1 election to be “neutral” on the country’s creditworthiness.
Continuity in security policy?
The grisly discovery of 49 headless, handless bodies on a major highway less than one hundred miles from the U.S. border shocked Mexico and the world last week, yet hardly made an impact on the approach to the security crisis. From the TIME’s Tim Padgett:
We journalists are finding little new to say, few fresh insights to offer, about these all too frequent narco-massacres in Mexico and the 50,000 people murdered so far in the country’s endless drug war. That’s troubling, because one of the worst things that could happen is that the world becomes inured to the ghastly violence. But at this point, what worries us more is that the leading candidates in Mexico’s July 1 presidential election really don’t seem to have anything new to say about this crisis either.
None of the presidential candidates issued a statement on the tragedy, or made comments on their social media pages. Observers suggest this is because the candidates have no answers:
“It’s an uncomfortable topic for which (the candidates) don’t have responses … or something clear to offer,” says Jorge Buendía, director of the polling firm Buendía & Laredo.
“There aren’t many good alternatives to what’s being done already,” independent political analyst Fernando Dworak says. “It’s not politically profitable to say, ‘We’re going to withdraw the army and marines from violent areas.’ “
Instead, the candidates have remained vague about their approach to the security crisis. The general proposals of all the candidates follow outgoing President Felipe Calderón’s militarized strategy, and the campaigns have centered more on economic issues.
The campaigns’ economic focus has further damaged the prospects for the incumbent PAN candidate, Josefina Vázquez Mota, as the debate has revolved around the party’s record in office. Dr. Duncan Wood writes for CSIS that voters believe the “supposed ‘safe’ handling of the economy by the PAN has done little to improve their economic situation.” While from a foreign investment perspective (confirmed by the May 15 special report from Fitch Ratings), Wood notes that “the Mexican economy appears inviting, with sustained economic growth, low inflation, a low reported unemployment rate, and strong government finances,” voters are less impressed. The chronic underemployment, depressed wages and ten percent extreme poverty rate explain in part why Mexicans “consistently believe that their economic situation is worse than it was a year ago, and that the situation will not improve in the coming 12 months.” These numbers have deteriorated since Calderón entered office in 2006.
This attitude and the increasing focus on the economy shed light on recent polls that find Vázquez Mota losing ground and falling into third place behind the PRI’s Enrique Peña Nieto and PRD’s Andrés Manuel López Obrador.
The main presidential candidates have all emphasized, to varying degrees, that improved economic prospects will reduce drug cartels’ seemingly endless supply of young recruits and thereby bring down the level of violence. TIME’s Tim Padgett worries that this argument, while accurate in part, has diluted any serious conversation about security and thus distorts the urgent challenges facing the next Mexican president:
“The bottom line is that police and judicial reform is the only long-term solution to Mexico’s narco-nightmare. (That and reduced drug demand in the U.S., but given how stubbornly Washington clings to its own failed drug war strategies, that’s doubtful.) The short-term solution is improving economic opportunity for lower-income Mexicans (almost half the population still lives in poverty) so they’ll have alternatives to working for the drug cartels that rake in more than $30 billion a year. Calderón came to that realization too late in his presidency, and the trio trying to succeed him has made it a central plank of their platforms. But if they don’t want to see bodies stacked up on Mexican highways when one of them hands off the presidency in 2018, they’ll need to get more serious – and specific – about security.”