If you take the time to talk to people, you’ll find that one of the most pressing concerns is what will happen to the drug war strategy when the new president is elected next year.

In this context, the Texas-based global intelligence firm Stratfor has come up with a timely and, well, intelligent and comprehensive report, researched by Scott Stewart and entitled New Mexican President, Same Cartel War? that should be a must-read piece for all.

The report starts with the basics, acknowledging that We talk to a lot of people...to track Mexico’s criminal cartels and to help our readers understand the dynamic that shape the violence in Mexico. Our contacts include a wide range of people, from Mexican and U.S. government officials, journalists and business owners to taxi drivers and street vendors. Lately...we’ve been hearing chatter about the 2012 presidential election in Mexico and how the cartel war will impact that election. It’s worth reproducing some of the report’s concepts.

Stewart emphasizes that in any democratic election, opposition parties always criticize the policies of the incumbent. This tactic is especially true when the country is involved in a long and costly war. In the 2008 U.S. elections, then-candidate Barack Obama’s harshly criticized Bush policies regarding Iraq and Afghanistan.

This strategy is what we are seeing now in Mexico with the opposition PRI and PRD criticizing the way the administration of Felipe Calderon, who belongs to the PAN, has pursued its war against the Mexican cartels.

One of the trial balloons that the opposition parties especially the PRI seem to be floating at present is the idea that if they are elected they will reverse Calderón’s policy of going after the cartels with a heavy hand and will instead try to reach some sort of pact with them. This policy would involve lifting government pressure against the cartels and thereby (ostensibly) reducing the level of violence that is wracking the country.

In effect, this stratagem would be a return of the status quo during the PRI administrations that ruled Mexico for seven decades prior to 2000. It should be remembered, however, that while Mexico’s tough stance against the cartels is most often associated with Calderón, the policy of using the military against the cartels was established during the administration of Vicente Fox (also of PAN), who declared the mother of all battles against cartel kingpins in January 2005.

While this political rhetoric may be effective in tapping public discontent with the current situation in Mexico and perhaps obtaining votes for opposition parties the current environment in Mexico is far different from what it was in the 1990s. This environment will dictate that no matter who wins the 2012 election, the new president will have little choice but to maintain the campaign against the cartels, says Stewart.

The report goes on to explain how the flows of drugs into the U.S. have changed over the past decade, shifting from Colombian dominance to Mexico’s now dominant cartels.

But, as U.S. interdiction efforts curtailed much of the Caribbean drug flow due to improvements in aerial and maritime surveillance, and as the Colombian cartels were dismantled by the Colombian and U.S. governments, Mexico became more important to the flow of cocaine and the Mexican cartels gained more prominence and power.

The Mexican cartels have expanded their control over cocaine smuggling to the point where they are also involved in the smuggling of South American cocaine to Europe and Australia. This expanded cocaine supply chain means that the Mexican cartels have assumed a greater risk of loss along the extended supply routes, but it also means that they earn a far greater percentage of the profit derived from South American cocaine than they did when the Colombian cartels called the shots.

The changes in the flow of narcotics mean that the Mexican narcotics-smuggling corridors into the United States are now more lucrative than ever for the Mexican cartels, and the increasing value of these corridors has heightened the competition and the violence to control them. The fighting has become quite bloody and, in many cases, quite personal, involving blood vendettas that will not be easily buried.

Stewart claims that most of the violence in Mexico today is among cartels, and the groups have not chosen to explicitly target civilians or the government. Even the violence we do see directed against Mexican police officers or government figures is usually not due to their positions but to the perception that they are on the payroll of a competing cartel.

This dynamic means that, even if the Mexican military and federal police were to ease up on their operations against drug-smuggling activities, the war among the cartels (and factions of cartels) would still continue, says Stewart.

In conclusion, the same way that Obama was forced by follow many of the Bush policies he criticized as a candidate, the next Mexican president will have little choice but to follow the policies of the Calderón administration in continuing the fight against the cartels.

[email protected]