Calderon decided to use the military as a last resort, and even then, he used it as part of a security team. Here are two reasons he made the decision: (1) Drug gang firepower and cash had overwhelmed local police forces and government institutions. (2) The Mexican people knew they could rely on their military because it was the one institution the PRI had never completely corrupted.
Calderon understood that the Cartel War was a particularly dangerous (and likely decade-long) phase of a complex, multi-decade effort to modernize Mexico and eliminate the corruption that undermines government institutions. He established astute judicial and police reform programs designed to produce trustworthy and competent police forces capable of replacing the military as the lead agency. These reforms, however, will take years to succeed, and many of these interim years will be violent.
Which brings us to President Pena -- Pena 2013 -- and his security options.
In early May, Pena sent 1,000 federal policemen to Michoacan to combat cartel violence. Pena gave over all operational command to an army general. On May 20, 4,000 soldiers and marines reinforced the police. The increasing number of community defense militias (comunitarios) spurred Pena's act with decisive force. Though often characterized as vigilante groups, federal officials now admit that the gangs threaten rural Michoacan village; local police are either unreliable or outgunned; lacking military protection, villagers defend themselves.
Reality 2013 guts Pena's 2012 narrative. The crisis -- his crisis -- in Michoacan cannot wait. The Michoacan operation is Pena's first major military operation. If he really is the new, reformed PRI president he claims to be, it will not be his last.
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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