Today, representing a party that has been out of power for 12 years after ruling the country with an iron hand for seven decades, Peña Nieto is far ahead of his opponents. The challenges he would face if elected are daunting: 50,000 Mexicans have been killed in President Felipe Calderón’s war against drug lords in the past five years. Peña Nieto took time out from his campaign last week to talk to The Washington Post’s Lally Weymouth. Excerpts:
What will you do about violence if you become president?
My commitment is first to reduce violence. We need to take care of three main crimes: homicide, kidnapping and extortion. That doesn’t mean not paying attention to other crimes. But the name of the game is to reduce violence.
First of all, to have the state, municipal and federal governments sharing the strategy.
Instead of the governors acting independently from the president as they were under President Felipe Calderón?
I feel what the government did until now, which was not wrong, was to take a decision to fight the criminal organizations. . . .
I have announced publicly that it was a good decision that has nothing to do with what party is in charge in government. It is an obligation of the state which is beyond politics. What can be discussed is the strategy he followed. The strategy was not, in my opinion, the correct one. [Calderón has decided:] Let’s go get the crime organizations. For us, the main priority would be to reduce violence.
Up to now, there seems to have been a competition between the federal and state governments. Each has been acting independently. The federal government has not shown much collaboration with the states, and investment was made mainly in the federal police forces. Not much has been put into the state governments.
Would you keep building up the federal police as Calderón has?
I have committed to keep and enlarge the federal police. But at the same time, the state police needs more investment. We also need to professionalize our police forces.
You would continue to fight the cartels?
Of course. Any criminal organization involved in drugs, the trafficking of people — the state has the obligation to fight them.
Do you believe you can succeed the way President [Álvaro] Uribe did in Colombia?
I am sure we can succeed. It is very easy to measure if the strategy is giving results or not. Just look at the numbers. In 2006, we had less than half the murder rate of today. The murder rate in 2006 was 10 per 100,000 people. Now we have 23 murders for every 100,000 people. It shows that the strategy has not worked well.
Aren’t the police very corrupt?
We need to evaluate through polygraphs and examinations the level of corruption. We need to make the state police a unified force. . . . Now we have three levels of police forces: the federal, the state and the municipal. I would put municipal and state together to have one unified police force.