SAN DIEGO -- A few weeks ago while in Mexico City, I toured the fortified headquarters of the policia federal. Our law enforcement friends south of the border were eager to show off the heavy weaponry they received from the United States. The equipment -- which helps make up $1.4 billion in funding promised under the Merida Initiative and which includes big-ticket items such as Black Hawk helicopters -- is supposed to be used in the Mexican government's war against the drug cartels.
That's fine. Except for one thing: Our agreement was with outgoing Mexican President Felipe Calderon. President-elect Enrique Pena Nieto -- who comes from a rival party that has promised to end the violence -- has been noncommittal about whether he intends to continue the drug war and, if he does press ahead, to fight it in the same way that Calderon did.
So if Pena Nieto works out an accommodation with the drug cartels, as many of his supporters hope he will, what will the federales use the Black Hawks for? Jaywalking?
The Mexican president-elect should have been asked that question Tuesday when he met with President Obama at the White House.
I had the chance to meet Pena Nieto and hear what the 46-year-old lawyer has planned for his country. The meeting was off the record, and no questions were permitted.
The new leader of the Institutional Revolutionary Party is charismatic, handsome and likable. And while the Mexican intelligentsia has questioned his smarts and gravitas, Pena Nieto seems to have an abundance of that one quality that great politicians tend to have: social skills.
As for the plans he has discussed publicly, they don't seem to represent a total reversal of the course charted by Calderon. Pena Nieto's policies on U.S.-Mexico relations, migration, economic development and the drug war are likely to be different from Calderon's -- but only slightly. Expect more nuance and different roads that lead to the same place.
Whereas Calderon's goal seems to have been to destroy the cartels and arrest or kill as many drug lords as possible, Pena Nieto seems more interested in protecting the Mexican people and confiscating shipments of drugs, money and guns.
The cartels aren't going to like that. So how do you go about protecting the people when the bad guys are likely to respond with violence and terrorize the population?
Whereas Calderon urged the United States to legalize undocumented immigrants and fight racist legislative screeds such as the Arizona immigration law, Pena Nieto will likely be more focused on using Mexican consulates in the United States to protect the rights of Mexican nationals.
Copyright 2012 Washington Post Writers Group