Pena Nieto Bets on Pablo Escobar Nemesis to Win Drug War

Incoming Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto will inherit a drug war that has cost more than 47,000 lives since 2006. He’s betting that the Colombian general who helped take down kingpin Pablo Escobar will help him win.

Pena Nieto, after winning election July 1, said Mexicans want immediate results after frustration over the six-year death toll undermined support for President Felipe Calderon. He tapped General Oscar Naranjo, the former head of Colombia’s national police, as his security adviser last month and aides say the new president will seek greater intelligence sharing with the U.S. to help break the cartels.

The 45-year-old Pena Nieto must balance public demands for a less-bloody conflict with suspicions that his Institutional Revolutionary Party, or PRI, was more tolerant of drug cartels during a 71-year reign that ended in 2000. Pena Nieto, who pledged during the campaign to scale back the military’s role in fighting organized crime in favor of the police, said yesterday that there would be no truce with the cartels.

“Already the government is taking flak for letting less violent and ostentatious criminal groups off the hook,” said Vanda Felbab-Brown, who studies drug war conflicts for the Brookings Institution in Washington. “It will be an even more sensitive issue for Pena Nieto because he has all the PRI baggage of negotiated deals.”

Drug-related violence shaves almost 1.2 percentage points annually off Mexico’s gross domestic product and the country could double its foreign investment, which reached $19.4 billion in 2011, if the cartels were brought under control, said Manuel Suarez-Mier, an economist at American University who helped Mexico negotiate the North American Free Trade Agreement.

– Read the entire article at Bloomberg Businessweek.