Analysis: Mexican navy to hold the fort during shift in drug war

Mon Dec 10, 2012 12:45pm EST
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By Dudley Althaus

MEXICO CITY (Reuters) - Mexico's new president has vowed repeatedly to demilitarize the campaign against drug cartels, but thousands of combat troops likely will remain in the field for years to come, spearheaded by U.S.-favored naval infantry.

Enrique Pena Nieto, who took office on December 1, assured the country this month that the army and the navy will be pulled out as soon as civilian police - including a new federal quasi-military force - are capable of taking on the gangs.

His predecessor as president, the conservative Felipe Calderon, said much the same thing through his six years in power, when drug violence claimed over 60,000 lives.

Now, the effort many critics labeled "Calderon's War" belongs squarely to Pena Nieto and he has few immediate alternatives to the military campaign.

"Under my command Mexico's armed forces will continue being a factor of stability and social confidence," Pena Nieto said last week. "Their mission is to achieve a Mexico at peace."

He already has moved to dismantle the controversial Public Security Ministry and transfer its 36,000-member federal police force to the Interior Ministry, a bulwark of his Institutional Revolutionary Party's 71-year hold on power in the 20th century.

Mexico's once-feared intelligence service, which was gutted in the dozen years of rule by Calderon's conservative National Action Party, is returning to the Interior Ministry too.

Yet a new militarized national police force proposed by Pena Nieto and modeled on France's gendarmerie, is likely to take months, if not years, to set up. That leaves the navy's marines as the most trusted force in the fight against organized crime.   Continued...

Mexican marines patrol the coastline of Chetumal November 16, 2012. REUTERS/Henry Romero