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September 26, 2017

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Illegal drugs and poverty top agenda of Mexico's presumed president Pena Nieto

MEXICO CITY -- Mexico's presumed president-elect Enrique Pena Nieto will inherit a country beset by a brutal drug war, an economy struggling to create jobs, and political turmoil as his chief opponent refuses to concede.

The youthful-looking 45-year-old leader has moved quickly since Sunday's election to try to allay fears that the corrupt practices of his once authoritarian Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) could make a comeback.

"We are a new generation. We are not returning to the past. My government has its sights set on the future. Mexico has changed," he told foreign reporters Monday.

On Tuesday he wrote in the The New York Times that his election victory — official results are still to be confirmed — offers an "opportunity for change and a new direction," after being out of power for 12 years.

Analysts however believe that Pena Nieto is not likely to plot an entirely new course, but will rather modify the government's current economic and security policies.

His most important challenge is battling the drug cartels responsible for Mexico's vicious narcotics trade. Turf wars have killed tens of thousands of people during the six-year term of outgoing President Felipe Calderon.

George Grayson, a senior associate of the Americas Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) in Washington, said Pena Nieto must tackle the issue at a local political level, as well as on a national security basis, if any progress is to be made.

"It would be unrealistic to expect that he would rein in governors, the nation's new viceroys, who either cut deals with drug syndicates or turn a blind eye to their crimes," said Grayson.

"He might, however, throw his weight behind the idea of re-election, beginning with mayors, to inject a modicum of accountability in a regime whose governors and other officeholders act with impunity."

Pena Nieto wrote in the Times that he respects Calderon's commitment to ending the "scourge" of drugs. "There can be neither negotiation nor a truce with criminals," he wrote.

However, given the estimated 60,000 deaths since 2006, and "debatable progress in stemming the flow of drugs, current policies must be re-examined."

While Washington is focused on cracking down on the crime syndicates responsible for smuggling drugs into the United States, Mexico is more keen on halting the illegal flow of weapons into the country from its northern neighbor.

Calderon has raised the issue repeatedly with Washington, and it featured prominently in Pena Nieto's campaign speeches.

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