Despite such developments, there is little evidence that Calderón’s government is about to abandon the military campaign against the cartels. Indeed, it is more likely that these changes are designed to clear the decks for the escalation of that war.
Medina Mora’s departure is more than a little ominous. Throughout his tenure, he had feuded with Genaro Garcia Luna, the secretary of public security. The departure of Medina Mora and his replacement by a less prominent figure, obscure federal prosecutor Arturo Chavez, strengthens Garcia Luna’s relative position in the administration. Since his approach to the drug war is even more hard‐line than Medina Mora’s, his rise in status does not suggest the onset of an appeasement or accommodation strategy regarding drug traffickers.
Moreover, Chavez comes from the same faction of the governing National Action Party (PAN) as Garcia Luna, and the two men have been longtime political allies. George W. Grayson, a professor of government at the College of William and Mary and the author of Mexico: Narco‐Violence and a Failed State?, concludes that Chavez’s appointment not only is a victory for Garcia Luna in a bureaucratic power struggle, it “backs the muscular approach as they try to ramp up their capabilities to fight the cartels.”
The official justification for Calderón’s signing of the drug‐law reform also indicates that the hard‐line policy toward the cartels is still in place, and might even intensify. Commenting on the reform measure, Bernardo Espino del Castillo, an official with the attorney general’s office who helped write the new law, stated: “This frees us from a flood of small crimes that have saturated our federal government and allows the authorities to go after big criminals.”
Nor is there any indication that Washington would welcome a de‐escalation of Mexico’s offensive against the cartels. While the Obama administration seems more receptive than its predecessors to mild “harm reduction” drug‐policy reforms in Mexico, any truce or accommodation with the drug lords would be another matter entirely. Such a move would signal that Mexico City had decided to abandon—or at least greatly scale back—the goal of trying to stem the flow of illegal drugs into the United States in exchange for a commitment from the traffickers to cool the violence.
That step, in the view of zealous U.S. drug warriors—and even relatively moderate Obama administration policy makers—would be a devil’s bargain. Although the U.S. response to Mexico’s new drug decriminalization law was relatively low‐key, officials went out of their way to reaffirm an uncompromising stance toward the cartels. “We know that Mexican law‐enforcement authorities are continuing their efforts to target drug traffickers,” U.S. Department of Justice spokesperson Laura Sweeney emphasized,