Corruption in the police and judiciary provides the "dirty space" for all types of crime, but the drug cartels essentially began carving out "drug duchies," where they were the law. This is one reason Calderon decided to use the Mexican military. Calderon saw a situation similar to that in Colombia, where at one time the rebel Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) organization openly claimed territory.
FARC started out with political aims and still claims political aims, but the people of Colombia have come to know it as a criminal gang in the narcotics and kidnapping business. Mexico's drug cartels skipped the political stage, though they love buying politicians.
Calderon is also pursuing economic transformation (e.g., opening the oil business to foreign investment) and "structural reforms" (something of an all-encompassing code word for reforming the police, the judiciary and politics). His own words drive the point home: "Nowadays, we are experiencing the consequences of years of indifference to the cancer of crime, impunity and corruption. This scourge became a threat to the peace and well-being of Mexican families and constitutes a challenges to the state's viability."
In August, Calderon made the goal of purging local, state and national police forces the centerpiece of his special national conference on crime. One of the biggest sources of public discontent in Mexico is the knowledge that known criminals are protected by corrupt police officials.
With four years left in his term, Calderon is proving to be a world-class political talent, a brilliant combination of democratic statesman with long-term strategic vision, a savvy domestic political leader who addresses the Mexican public's aspirations and can work with a volatile national legislature, and a wartime leader with extraordinary personal courage.
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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