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december 17, 2012 • 08:20 PM

Mexico's new president outlines nuanced fight against violence

Mexico's President Enrique Pena Nieto delivers a speech during the II Extraodinary Session of the National Council of Public Security in Mexico City December 17, 2012.
Foto: Tomas Bravo / Reuters

Mexico's new president on Monday unveiled his strategy to curb drug-related violence that blighted the rule of his predecessor, announcing special units to combat kidnapping and extortion and promising to focus more on crime prevention.

Enrique Pena Nieto took office on December 1 pledging to restore stability to Mexico, which has been battered by brutal turf wars between drug cartels and their clashes with security forces.

More than 60,000 people died in the bloodletting under former president Felipe Calderon, who became embroiled in an escalating drug war after he sent in the army to bring hot spots to heel upon taking office in late 2006.

Instead of easing, though, the killings rose.

Pena Nieto, 46, said Mexico's struggle over the last six years showed a multipronged approach is needed to get violence off the streets of Latin America's No. 2 economy.

"We're going to plan policy and the institutional changes over the medium and long term, and also every specific decision and operation," the president told a news conference. "Security and justice policy is not going to be focused on reacting."

Pena Nieto said the military would continue to patrol Mexico's streets until a new militarized police, known as a national gendarmerie, was ready to take over.

That force would initially be 10,000 strong - about a quarter of the total the president has previously mentioned. The existing federal police, meanwhile, would have 15 teams dedicated to fighting kidnapping and extortion.

The strategy would put in place five regional centers tailored towards curbing violence, and aims to devote nearly 116 billion pesos ($9 billion) to prevention by giving young people more opportunities.

The plan calls for additional full-day schools and better public spaces, Pena Nieto said.

"It's a more fully articulated vision than that of the previous government," said Javier Oliva, a security expert at the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM).

"Pena Nieto's government is looking to anticipate events and will try to correct the previous government's mistakes."

Summing up the work that lay ahead, Pena Nieto's Interior Minister Miguel Angel Osorio Chong presented a damning indictment of Calderon's record.

"Spending on security more than doubled and unfortunately crimes went up too," he said, adding that only about "one in 100 crimes" went punished in Mexico between 2006 and 2012.

Kidnapping rose 83 percent over the period, violent robbery by 65 percent and extortion by 40 percent, Osorio Chong said.

Pena Nieto said that modernizing the police, improving coordination between the security services and carrying out ongoing appraisals of law enforcement officials were all crucial elements in his vision of a safer Mexico.

Police and the judiciary are widely seen as corrupt in Mexico, taking payments from drug gangs that often offer them far more money than they make on the job.

Pena Nieto's Institutional Revolutionary Party, which he returned to power after 12 years on the sidelines, ruled Mexico between 1929 and 2000, and many blame it for helping foment corruption. He says the party has left that past behind.

($1 = 12.7639 Mexican pesos) (Writing by Dave Graham; Editing by Xavier Briand)

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