Security at the Forefront of Mexican President’s Address

BY Larisa Epatko  September 1, 2011 at 3:09 PM EDT

Mexican President Felipe Calderon speaking to reporters on Aug. 26. Photo by Ariel Gutierrez/AFP/Getty Images.

Mexican President Felipe Calderon is set to address the nation on Friday, a week after the torching of the Casino Royale in Monterrey, which killed 52 people, putting security and the war on drugs at the forefront of public concerns.

Police arrested five suspected members of the Los Zetas drug gang for allegedly dousing the casino’s entrance with gasoline and lighting it on fire.

Authorities are also investigating claims the brother of the mayor of Monterrey took tens of thousands of dollars from casinos in Monterrey. There were additional reports that firefighting efforts were hampered by doors that were chained shut.

After the fire, Calderon declared three days of national mourning, saying Mexico was under attack by “terrorists.” He also called on the U.S. Congress to crack down on weapons trafficking and the “insatiable” U.S. demand for drugs.

And now he will address the nation, first giving Congress a written version of his “informe,” or state of the union-style presentation, and then publicly deliver the speech on Friday.

Ioan Grillo, GlobalPost’s correspondent in Mexico City, said Calderon already has begun appearing in television advertisements defending his administration’s war on drugs.

In the TV spots, he explains the government’s tactics and lays out three aims of the overall security strategy: confronting criminals wherever they are, rather than making pacts with them, rebuilding police institutions and increasing their numbers, and repairing a broken society where even children getting involved with drug-related activities, said Grillo.

“A lot of this is in response to the public becoming very disillusioned and concerned about the violence, and saying the government strategy of the war on drug cartels isn’t working,” he said.

This year has seen a growing protest movement led by poet Javier Sicilia, whose son was killed by a drug gang, which is calling for peace and justice and a change in thinking.

According to Grillo, the public is discussing whether it would be better to negotiate with drug cartels to end the violence, done surreptitiously by past governments, some contend, or whether the crackdown should continue.

In Mexico these days, organized crime and drug gangs are one in the same, Grillo added. “We should call them criminal cartels, rather than drug cartels, because they’re all involved in trafficking drugs, extortion, kidnapping, robbery of crude oil, and a portfolio of crimes.”

The debate is expected to continue into presidential elections in July, where Mexicans might express their discontent with Calderon’s National Action Party, or PAN, and vote in another party’s candidate.

And Calderon, who was swept into office with promises to fight drug cartels, will be remembered for his war on drugs and will likely use his last presidential “informe” to defend it, Grillo said.

Watch: Vice president of intelligence for STRATFOR Fred Burton shows how video surveillance footage can be used to reconstruct the arson attack.

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