By Naveen Krishnan
From the entertainment realm with Netflix’s Narcos to the political stage with Donald Trump’s proposed border wall, the subject of drug trafficking has grown to demand greater attention within public discourse in America. Annually, drug cartels receive around $19 to $29 billion USD in revenue from sales within the United States causing countries in the Americas to grapple with the destruction caused from their violence. Regarding the issue of combating drug trafficking, President Enrique Peña Nieto of Mexico announced a departure from the policies of his predecessor President Felipe Calderón. As Calderón famously declared war on the cartels in 2006, with a ‘kingpin’ strategy which involved directly targeting the leaders of cartels, Nieto ran on the platform that he aimed to reduce the violence which results from drug trafficking and not engage the cartels directly.
With President Calderón’s initiation of the Mexican Drug War with missions like Operation Michoacán, which deployed federal troops to combat drug cartels, the country suffered approximately 120,000 homicides during his tenure. His efforts resulted in the capture or assassination of twenty-five out of thirty-seven of the top drug leaders within Mexico while the carnage extended into the civilian sphere as nearly one hundred current and former mayors were targeted in cartel violence. The uptake in kidnappings, murders, and general violence due to drug trafficking caused many within the Mexican political spectrum to look for new alternatives to the current policy against the cartels. With the sharp increase in the homicide and no end in sight to the current cycles of violence, the political climate turned to Nieto who advocated an indirect approach to the cartels.
Nieto’s term has brought about a gradual decrease in the homicide rate, (with a recent uptake in 2016 which some individuals attribute to territorial conflict due to Guzman’s recapture by authorities), despite seeing numerous large cases such as the disappearance and presumed murder of forty three college students in 2014. Furthermore, in June 2017 Nieto legalized medical marijuana through a decree with support from the Senate and Lower House of Congress. With regards to other criminal legislation surrounding drugs, Nieto announced efforts to increase the number of grams of drugs in an individual’s possession which would warrant prosecution.
However critics have quickly pointed out that extrajudicial killings by Mexican forces still present a major problem. Yet Nieto has maintained that his hardline strategy was successful and indicates that there will be little change in the future. The capture of “El Chapo” and his subsequent extradition to US authorities has boosted Nieto’s perceived clout within the realm of drug trafficking as he has maintained strict stances on Trump’s proposed border wall and other issues, holding opposition to US military involvement in Mexico with regards to combating drug trafficking. While the demand of drugs in the United States continues to draw from south of the border, there is no immediate end in sight to the violence within Mexico as the world awaits to see how President Nieto will navigate his country into the future.