Austin Bay

Mexico is at war. No, not a war with the United States over immigration, though the war for stability and modernity Mexico is waging has profound effects on that hot-button North American issue.

Let's take Mexico's figurative battle first, the "political fight for modernization." Figurative, however, doesn't mean without the threat of severe civil disorder.

Conducting legitimate elections is certainly a "front" in Mexican modernization. So is navigating the storm of post-election partisan rivalry, massive street demonstrations and threatened violence.

A retrospective look at the July 2006 presidential election and its dicey aftermath suggests Mexico is maturing as a democracy. That is good news.

The election pitted moderate-conservative National Action Party (PAN) candidate Felipe Calderon against left-wing Democratic Revolution Party (PRD) candidate Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador. Calderon won by an angstrom -- 244,000 votes out of 41 million ballots cast.

Lopez Obrador, however, declared himself the "legitimate president" and led huge demonstrations in Mexico City that shut down businesses. International observers, however, said the vote was fairly conducted and Mexico's Federal Electoral Institute (IFE) certified the election results. In December 2006, Lopez Obrador and PRD activists tried to frustrate Calderon's inauguration.

Eight months later, Lopez Obrador continues to claim the presidency -- but last year's bellow is this year's pathetic echo. The consensus view is the IFE demonstrated real institutional integrity and ran a clean election.

President Calderon has certainly impressed the Mexican electorate. Combating corruption is another front in the fight for modernization, and Calderon is attacking that complex, debilitating and pervasive problem. Calderon is pursuing judicial and police reform. His government is reportedly in the midst of a "corruption purge" of its federal police. Two hundred eighty-four Mexican police commanders and sub-commanders will be replaced. Not all of these suspect cops will be arrested, however. An interesting policy wrinkle is a "rehabilitation" course.

Calderon's "war on the drug lords" isn't figurative -- it is a tough, bitter counter-insurgency combining classic military counter-guerrilla sweeps with special forces-type police raids and intelligence operations. It also intertwines with his political war on corruption.

Austin Bay

Austin Bay is the author of three novels. His third novel, The Wrong Side of Brightness, was published by Putnam/Jove in June 2003. He has also co-authored four non-fiction books, to include A Quick and Dirty Guide to War: Third Edition (with James Dunnigan, Morrow, 1996).
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