Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto said Monday his administration will shift the nation's anti-crime strategy in a break from the U.S.-backed campaign against drug cartels carried out under his predecessor, Felipe Calderón.
According to multiple media reports, Peña Nieto laid out a plan before Mexico's National Council on Public Security that he would focus more on reducing crimes against ordinary citizens – such as murder, kidnapping, and extortion -- than pursuing the leaders of violent drug cartels. Peña Nieto and members of his cabinet were also critical of the previous administration's policies, which resulted in a drawn out war against cartels that has left tens of thousands dead.
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The centerpiece of Peña Nieto's plans is the creation of a 10,000-person national gendarmerie – or paramilitary police force -- designed to patrol far-flung areas where local law enforcement and military forces have failed to eradicate widespread crime. Similar forces are used in European countries like Spain and Italy.
"I am convinced that we're opening a new path, a new route and a new way to address the security of the Mexican people," he said to the gathering of cabinet ministers, state governors and security officials, according to The Associated Press.
While Peña Nieto offered more specifics on the shift than he has since taking office, he did not indicate a timeline for when the force would be established or where or how officers would be recruited. He also reportedly did not say whether he would remove the country's military from the nation's drug war.
A strategy shift in the drug war was one of Peña Nieto's central campaign promises. While many cartel leaders have been captured or killed, almost 60,000 people have been killed since 2006, according to some estimates. The last official count released by the Mexican government in September 2011 showed 47,500 deaths, according to The Associated Press.
In an interview with Univision last November, Peña Nieto said part of that strategy would include gradually phasing out the nation's military in the fight against organized crime.
His plans also include re-organizing the nation's police forces under the Interior Ministry in an effort to improve coordination, McClatchy reported. That plan would disband the Public Security Ministry, which has been plagued by scandal, according to The Wall Street Journal. Experts also note that Mexico's police forces often suffer from corruption, lack of proper training, and under-qualified officers, according to the reports.
Other reforms include a review of Mexico's detention policies, which allow certain drug suspects to be held for almost three months without being charged, the Journal reported.
Interior Minister Miguel Ángel Osorio Chong issued a scathing rebuke of the previous administration's policies, citing a study that showed seven in 10 Mexicans do not feel safe.
Under Calderón's strategy, "financial resources dedicated to security have more than doubled but unfortunately crime has increased," Osorio Chong said, according to the AP.
"The rate of increase in homicides places us among the highest in the world," he said. "In recent years, because of the violence linked to organized crime, thousands of people have died and thousands of people have disappeared."