"What's the Matter with Mexico: Drugs, Dinosaurs, and Dithering" | Wilson Center

"What's the Matter with Mexico: Drugs, Dinosaurs, and Dithering"

Webcast available

Webcast Recap

In wide-ranging and sustained criticism of the Mexican political class, columnist Denise Dresser struck an ominous tone for the future of Mexico, warning of a continuation of "corporatism, clientelism, and impunity." Dresser was addressing a public forum held April 12 at the Woodrow Wilson Center, in a talk cosponsored by the Wilson Center Mexico Institute and the Inter-American Dialogue. It was the latest installment in the Mexico Institute's Diálogos con México/Dialogues with Mexico speaker series.

President Felipe Calderón Hinojosa and his government's policy of confrontation against organized crime came in for the most heated criticism. Dresser faulted the president for "errors of calculus," by presupposing the success of the confrontational policy and for failing to adequately prosecute criminals. It's unrealistic, she said, to expect Mexican citizens to denounce cartels when some 98 percent of crimes go unresolved in the country. She faulted President Calderon for "shooting the messenger," in allusion to the government's isolation of former U.S. envoy Carlos Pascual, who resigned following damaging WikiLeaks revelations that were perceived to criticize the Mexican military.

On the fight against organized crime, Mexico is contradicting itself, Dresser added. It recently lobbied for the removal of the U.S. ambassador while at the same time requesting U.S. military aid in the form of pilotless drone surveillance to monitor cartel activity. The fight against organized crime, as currently waged, is a lost cause, Dresser said, and ultimately Mexico will face a stark choice: either forge a stronger military relationship with the United States á la Colombia or legalize some drugs, a position endorsed by some prominent Latin American former heads of state.

On the near-term political landscape, Dresser said that the historically dominant Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) stands to benefit from the current administration's mistakes. Dresser said that the PRI—though out of the presidency for nearly 12 years—is nevertheless unreconstructed. If its frontrunner, Enrique Peña Nieto, the governor of the State of Mexico, wins the presidency, Mexico's democratic transition will suffer a setback because the PRI will engage in clientelistic behavior, trade in crony capitalism, and advance the rent-seeking behavior of vested interests, including business monopolies and powerful labor unions, she said.

For a copy of Denise Dresser's talk, click here

For more information, click here for the event webpage or contact Miguel Salazar, Woodrow Wilson Center Mexico Institute program assistant at miguel.salazar@wilsoncenter.org.


  • Denise Dresser

    Columnist and Political Scientist
    Instituto Tecnológico Autónomo de México; Reforma