What Hank Schrader And Mexico’s President Have In Common


I don’t know how AMC and the producers of Breaking Bad can pass off the latest episodes as an entirely new season. With Hank connecting the dots last summer, him flat-out confronting Walter a couple Sundays ago, and Skyler coming clean to her prissy sister Marie, the last eight episodes will be unlike anything before them.

In a related story, the AP’s Katherine Corcoran can’t believe Mexico’s Peña Nieto administration is trying to sell its drug war strategy as something completely different from what former Pres. Calderon did.

“With the capture of two top drug lords in little more than a month, the new government of President Enrique Pena Nieto is following an old strategy it openly criticized for causing more violence and crime. …

Interior Secretary Miguel Angel Osorio Chong took his post in December saying the strategy of former President Felipe Calderon to take out cartel leaders only made drug gangs more dangerous and violent. The new administration would focus less on leaders and more on reducing violence, he said.

Yet the new strategy appears almost identical to the old. The captures of Ramirez and top Zeta Miguel Angel Trevino Morales could cause a new spike in violence with battles over leadership of Mexico’s two major cartels.”

As a security expert at the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México agrees in the article, however, critics of the Peña Nieto strategy underestimate the legacy of the drug war. Put another way, Rome wasn’t torn down and rebuilt in a day.

While there’s plenty of continuity, Peña Nieto’s approach to the cartels is pretty distinct from his predecessors. The two strategies are as similar yet different as the first half and second half of Season 5. President Calderon’s administration was joined at the hip with the war against the cartels, whereas Peña Nieto’s presidency has focused much more on political and economic reforms. Every day it seems we’re hearing about the president signing pacts with his opposition in the Congreso General and planning to privatize Mexico’s 75-year-old state-owned oil company, Pemex.

His continuation of Calderon’s war on the cartels is only a minor story line, if a constant one.

On Saturday Peña Nieto’s men nabbed Mario Armando Ramirez Trevino, head of the Gulf Cartel. The headline seems to have prompted the AP’s Corcoran to criticize Peña Nieto for continuing the government’s drug war.

Again, Rome wasn’t torn down and rebuilt in a day.

And who says a new president should mean peace with the cartels? Peña Nieto can’t just go back to business as usual, in the same way that Hank’s not gonna let his brother-in-law kill his way to the top of a booming criminal enterprise and simply walk away afterward, unscathed. Some people are slaves to tradition, whether they know it or not. For some, the law is the law.

Coincidentally, there’s a way in which Peña Nieto can pursue his political and economic reforms while dealing with the drug violence in his country. It’s the same option that would keep the streets of Albuquerque orderly while reuniting Agent Schrader with his family: decriminalization.

Decriminalization would eliminate the illegal market for marijuana and cocaine, cutting off major sources of revenue for the cartels. One study ahead of last November’s ballot initiatives in Colorado and Washington showed that even partial decriminalization in those states might erase 30 percent of the cartels’ profits.

Decriminalization would also decriminalize drug producers and sellers, making them at least less immoral in the eyes of their family and friends — like the Schraders. Hank doesn’t really want to go to war with Walter, just as Peña Nieto doesn’t really want to go to war with the cartels. But they have to, because the law says they do.

So, as I see it, only one thing stands in the way of both Peña Nieto strengthening Mexico’s economy and securing its streets on the one hand, and Hank Schrader getting his family back on the other.

That one thing is the law.


[Photo: Gage Skidmore via Flickr]

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