New Mexican president urged to keep up drug cartels war


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The Independent Online

With the ballots barely counted after Mexico's landmark presidential elections on Sunday, voices in Washington were already prodding the winner, Enrique Pena Nieto of the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), not to relax the crushing war against the drug cartels started six years ago by outgoing President Felipe Calderon.

Preliminary counts suggested that the telegenic Mr Pena Nieto had won the contest but by a slimmer margin than many had expected, with 38 per cent of the vote, six points ahead of Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador.

The candidate for the ruling PAN conservative party came third. Mr Lopez Obrador, who lost narrowly to Mr Calderon in 2006, was last night urging a legal review of the count.

The vote spells possible rehabilitation for the PRI, which was ousted from power in 2000 after essentially running Mexico like a one-party state for much of the last century.

Mr Pena Nieto built his campaign on a promise that the old PRI, known for corruption, self-enrichment and cronyism, was gone for good. He said: "It's time to move on from the country we are to the Mexico we deserve and that we can be... where every Mexican writes his own success story."

Scepticism remains, however, not least in Washington. The US has been an enthusiastic backer of Mr Calderon's push to cripple the cartels in his country, even as it has cost 55,000 lives. Mr Pena Nieto has spoken of moving away from a tight focus on the cartels themselves and more towards protecting civilians.

"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," said Michael McCaul, a Republican US Congressman. He had earlier characterised the PRI as "the party that has played nice with the cartels".

It was partly with an eye towards Washington that Mr Pena Nieto promised late in his campaign to appoint General Óscar Naranjo of Colombia, credited with finally bringing down that country's one time super-baron, Pablo Escobar, as his special adviser on drugs policy.

Mr Calderon, who was barred by the constitution from seeking a second term, does not step down until 1 December, however, and he may use the time to intensify his campaign in hopes of delivering some final blows to the cartels.

Mr Calderon, who could not stand again under the constitution, saw his party's fortunes dip partly due to slow economic progress during his six years in office but also due to exhaustion with the drugs war.