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In Mexico, Presidents Come and Go But Cartel Policy Stays the Same

Scott Stewart - Stratfor
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July 13, 2017

Andrés Manuel López Obrador (#Morena)

A serious challenge from populist politician Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador awaits Mexico's ruling Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) in next year's presidential election. That's what polling data and the close results of the June 4 gubernatorial election in Mexico state suggest as Lopez Obrador looks ahead to a third presidential run in July 2018 after second-place finishes as the candidate for the Party of the Democratic Revolution in 2006 and 2012. Now leading his own party, the National Regeneration Movement, Lopez Obrador is in a statistical tie in recent polls with the PRI and National Action Party candidates.

While a Lopez Obrador victory would be historic, his ability to make sweeping changes in keeping with his populist rhetoric will be greatly constrained. Even if Lopez Obrador wins the presidency, Mexico's political and economic path will remain relatively stable.

As we've discussed the possibility of a Lopez Obrador victory with our contacts in Mexico, we've noticed that many of them believe he would seek to undertake a dramatic change in the way the government deals with Mexico's powerful criminal drug cartels. The idea is that as president, Lopez Obrador would seek to address Mexico's violence problem by cutting a deal with cartel leaders, and on the campaign trail, he has promised to end the deployment of military forces in the country. Such a deal would allow traffickers to operate in the country as long as they did so without violence. While the concept may sound possible in theory, there are simply too many obstacles to permit such a dramatic shift in policy.

The idea that a Mexican presidential candidate would place more emphasis on stopping violence in Mexico than on stopping the flow of narcotics to the United States is not new. Indeed, we heard similar talk during the 2006 and 2012 elections. Here is a quote from a Stratfor analysis I wrote in June 2011:

One of the trial balloons that the opposition parties, especially the PRI, seem to be floating at present is the idea that if they are elected they will reverse [President Felipe] Calderon's policy of going after the cartels with a heavy hand and will instead try to reach some sort of accommodation with them. This policy would involve lifting government pressure against the cartels and thereby (ostensibly) reducing the level of violence that is wracking the country.

The people who believe such a shift is possible base their belief on a mistaken historical narrative.

Read the rest at Stratfor

Scott Stewart supervises Stratfor's analysis of terrorism and security issues. Before joining Stratfor, he was a special agent with the U.S. State Department for 10 years and was involved in hundreds of terrorism investigations.

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