He also approves of the continuation of flights by U.S. surveillance drones over Mexico to gather intelligence on drug trafficking, but future missions would be run by Mexico with U.S. assistance and technology, he said.
“Without a doubt, I am committed to having an intense, close relationship of effective collaboration measured by results,” Peña Nieto said in an interview that focused on Mexico’s violent struggle with transnational crime organizations.
But he was clear that he did not endorse the two countries pursing the kind of joint armed counternarcotics operations carried out by U.S. forces in Colombia and Central America.
Mexican laws should be enforced by Mexicans, Peña Nieto said.
“It is just as if I asked you: Should our police operate on the other side of the border? No. That would not be allowed by U.S. law. Our situation is the same,” he said.
Peña Nieto is the projected winner of Sunday’s presidential election, with final results due this weekend. His apparent victory restores to power the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), which ran Mexico for more than 70 years before its ouster in 2000.
The president-elect was interviewed at the J.W. Marriott Hotel at the edge of Mexico City, where international companies have erected a canyon of glass corporate towers. He spoke in Spanish, seated in front of a PRI banner that read “Mexico Unites Us.”
Peña Nieto has already faced wariness from U.S. lawmakers, who fear that he will pull back from the drug fight and return to the ways of his PRI forebears, notorious for accommodating drug smugglers to preserve public order.
He has aggressively pushed back against those allegations. But he said he would change the way success is measured in the drug war in Mexico.
Using what standard, he was asked.
“Homicides,” Peña Nieto said.
After he assumes office in December, the new president will no longer judge success simply by the numbers of drug kingpins captured or killed, or the bricks of cocaine seized, he said — metrics popular with the Drug Enforcement Administration and U.S. Congress.
Mexico has had more than 60,000 drug-related killings since President Felipe Calderón took office in December 2006 and sent the army into the streets.
By setting Mexico’s death toll as a primary measure of success, the president-elect sought to create a clear contrast with Calderón, who created a Most Wanted list and kept a running tally of kingpins he’d knocked off.
But drugs and drug lords have proved to be renewable resources in Mexico, and by making homicide reduction the center of his plan, Peña Nieto seems to be putting the fight back on Mexican terms, with the statistic that matters most to the Mexican public.