Out with the new, in with the old. Weary of a war with the drug cartels that has brought unprecedented waves of bloody violence to their country's streets, Mexican voters reinstalled the party that ruled virtually unchallenged for seven decades. Washington is watching warily.
Enrique Peña Nieto, the PRI candidate with the movie-star good looks and the telenovela-star wife, claimed victory shortly after the polls closed. The third-place candidate, Josefina Vázquez Mota, who would have been Mexico's first woman president if she had won, conceded while the ballot boxes were still warm. The second-place candidate, leftist Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, refused to, vowing to wait for every ballot to be counted.
Peña Nieto, who ran a powerfully touchy-feely (check out this spot) and supremely well financed campaign, declared:
"This July 1, it wasn't one person or one political party that won. On this day, democracy won. In this election, we all won. Mexico won!"
His victory, while hardly unexpected, raises fears in Washington that Mexico's powerful and vicious drug cartels will be given free reign.
"I am hopeful that he will not return to the PRI party of the past, which was corrupt and had a history of turning a blind eye to the drug cartels," Rep. Michael McCaul, a member of the Homeland Security Subcommittee on Border and Maritime Security, said in a statement to the New York Times minutes after the early results were announced.
The concerns stem from Peña Nieto's promise to shift attention from fighting drug trafficking and arresting cartel leaders. Instead, Peña Nieto wants to refocus efforts on reducing the stunning levels of violence that most affects Mexicans.
"This doesn't mean that we don't pay attention to other crimes, or that we don't fight drug trafficking, but the central theme at this time is diminishing violence in the country," Peña Nieto told The Associated Press last month.
Many, including voters, suspect however that the promise is merely code for a return to the past, when drug organizations largely did as they pleased, with PRI's tacit permission.
"The PRI knows how to deal with the narco," Roberto Salcido, owner of a chain of tortilla shops in Atlacomulco, told the Los Angeles times. "When they were in power, the country did not suffer because the deal was, 'You move your drugs but you don't mess with me.' It worked. The country was calm."
Mexico's current president, Felipe Calderon, has waged a full-fledged military battle to decapitate the cartels by capturing the top drug lords. The result has been mixed. There have been some noteworthy arrests, but new drug organizations have sprung up in their place and unleashed an unprecedented and spectacularly brutal surge of violence. Dozens of beheaded and butchered bodies have been left in seemingly public displays as the new trafficking groups battle for dominance.
The Mexican government counts nearly 50,000 murders since Calderon launched the crackdown.
There are also some indications that the strategy is having an effect. The rise in rates of increasing violence has diminished and the once almost untouchable and mighty cartels have been weakened.
Mexico's people, though, want an end to the violence -- any way they can get it.
"If (making deals with drug traffickers) is what ends the violence and the extortion, then, yes," Salcido, the tortilla shop owner, told the LA Times. "The PRI knows how to make the drug traffickers respect them."
That, however, is exactly what Washington -- and the other candidates -- are worried about.
In her concession speech, Vázquez Mota promised to continue her fight against "corrupt rule, impunity and capitulating to organized crime."
Peña Nieto was prepared. In his victory speech, at his jam-packed campaign headquarters, he said flatly, "There will be no deals or truce with organized crime."
Source: Terra/Carlos Harrison