Pubdate: Mon, 16 Mar 2009
Source: Arizona Republic (Phoenix, AZ)
Copyright: 2009 The Arizona Republic
Author: Chris Hawley


Voters Growing Tired Of Violence

MEXICO CITY - Taxi driver Francisco Arroyo rues the day he voted for
Mexican President Felipe Calderon in 2006.

Back then, promises by Calderon's National Action Party, known as the
PAN, to crack down on drug cartels sounded like a good idea, Arroyo
said. But now, as Mexico staggers under a wave of drug-related
violence and with congressional elections looming, he and other
Mexicans are having their doubts.

"Calderon shook up the beehive, and millions of bees came swarming
out," said Arroyo as he ate lunch in a Mexico City park on Friday.
"I'm not voting for the PAN this time."

Across Mexico, voters and political experts say Calderon's
two-year-old offensive against drug traffickers is beginning to have
political repercussions as Mexicans tire of the violence.

Calderon's party is in danger of losing control of the lower house of
Congress to the old-guard Institutional Revolutionary Party as
Mexicans get nostalgic for quieter times, said Hector Zamitiz, a
political-science professor at the National Autonomous University of

Other parties are loudly demanding a change in anti-crime strategy,
with proposals ranging from reinstating the death penalty to
legalizing drugs.

The grumbling bodes badly for Calderon in Congress, where his party
has the most seats in the Senate and the lower house, the Chamber of
Deputies, but lacks an outright majority in either house. All 500
seats in the Chamber of Deputies are up for election on July 5, along
with governorships in seven states and local positions in 11.

"There is a very high cost here for the governing party," said
Francisco Reveles Vazquez, author of several books about Mexican
politics. "Instead of achieving more security, there is now a constant
battle in the border cities."

Calderon, a conservative, won the 2006 presidential election by a
razor-thin margin. In December 2006, just days after beginning his
six-year term, he announced he was dispatching troops to quell
drug-related violence in his home state of Michoacan. That was
followed by offensives in Tijuana, Juarez, Monterrey and other
drug-smuggling corridors.

Some 50,000 troops - more than the United States has in Afghanistan -
are now patrolling Mexican border cities and combing the deserts for
drug smugglers. The United States has pledged $1.4 billion in aid for
the effort.

The offensive has splintered the cartels, created power vacuums and
ignited infighting, the Mexican attorney general's office says.
Kidnappings, torture cases and beheadings have soared. More than 6,000
people have been killed, including dozens of police and soldiers.

Polls show Calderon himself still enjoys an approval rating of around
60 percent. But many voters appear to be warming up to the
Institutional Revolutionary Party, or PRI, which governed Mexico for
71 years until Calderon's party wrested away the presidency in 2000.

"The citizens see that the president has good intentions, but they're
doubting the way these policies are being executed," said Rep. Samuel
Aguilar, assistant secretary-general of the PRI.

A poll by El Universal newspaper last month said the PRI was leading
Calderon's party by 15 percentage points. Other polls by the Mitofsky
and Demotecnia consulting firms said the PRI was ahead by 9 and 6
percentage points, respectively.

"When the PRI governed, there wasn't this kind of violence in the
streets," Aguilar said. "The PRI was more efficient in controlling the

In recent months, the PRI has become more critical of Calderon's
military strategy against the drug lords. It has called for Mexico to
create a national guard to take over anti-drug duties.

Meanwhile, the left-leaning Democratic Revolutionary Party, which
narrowly lost the 2006 presidential election, wants troops withdrawn
and police to take over the anti-crime fight.

Smaller parties put forth even more radical proposals. The Green Party
has filed a bill to reinstate the death penalty, which has not been
used since the 1950s. That would be a dramatic reversal in this Roman
Catholic country.

The measure is mainly aimed at kidnappers who kill or torture their
victims, said Green Party Rep. Xavier Lopez, a sponsor of the bill. He
said such laws are needed to avoid the "Colombianization of Mexico,"
referring to the wave of kidnappings and terrorism that plagued
Colombia in the 1980s and 1990s.

The Social Democratic Party, meanwhile, has filed a bill legalizing
drugs. Mexicans could grow marijuana and mushrooms for their own use
but couldn't sell the drugs. The government would produce cocaine and
heroin and administer it to addicts at centers supervised by doctors.

Hard-line policies against drugs have only fed the illicit trade and
strengthened the cartels, said Luciano Pascoe, vice president of the
Social Democratic Party.

"The country has come to a point of no return," he said. "There is
only the military way or a new, avant-garde way."
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MAP posted-by: Larry Seguin