Every would-be Mexican modernizer knows the cartels exploit weak public institutions plagued by corrupt practices and crooked officials. Weak, corrupt police, judicial, financial and, yes, political institutions exact economic and social costs and hinder development. Calderon made that point in a speech four years ago when he made the case for his reform campaign: "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." Hence his government's insistence on systemic institutional reform to strengthen the rule of law.
Calderon's goal is laudable but so difficult. It will take years to achieve. However, time is something he doesn't have. 2012 is an election year in Mexico, and Calderon cannot succeed himself. He needs a follow-on reform president with guts and vision.
The cartels may not want to replace the political order like a terrorist or political insurgent movements, but they do seek to subvert it. No, Zetas and the Sinaloa cartel commanders don't have a rigid ideological orthodoxy, but they do have an idea of what constitutes politically favorable conditions for their operations: a weak government with corrupt cops, bought judges and a defanged military focused on parades. Add frightened reporters, since the bribed cops won't protect them, and you've got a drug lord Reconquista of Mexico, a return to the worst dinosaurio days of the Institutional Revolutionary Party.
There is little doubt that the drug cartels will use their billions to try to elect pliant politicians. The Mexican people, fortunately, will make the final choice.
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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