The leading candidate in Mexico’s presidential elections has said that he will use the army and navy to combat organized crime, raising questions over how much his security policies would differ from those of the current administration.

After months of criticizing the security strategy of current President Felipe Calderon, Enrique Peña Nieto of the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) has declared support for the role of the armed forces in taking on drug trafficking organizations. In a press conference on Sunday, Peña Nieto praised the army and navy, crediting the two branches with improving security in some parts of the country.

The candidate also said that if he were to win the election this July, he would maintain a military presence in areas most affected by crime. According to him, the armed forces should remain deployed until the country has “a police force with enough training and professionalism, as well as adequate equipment.”

InSight Crime Analysis

The statement is something of a shift in tone for Peña Nieto, who is leading in opinion polls. For the past several months, he has criticized the hard-line approach that Calderon has taken against organized crime. While he has offered no timeline for doing so, he has expressed support for gradually withdrawing the military from the streets.

The apparent change may reflect Peña Nieto’s acknowledgement the country’s police force has been extensively infiltrated by criminal networks, and thus may not be capable of taking over from the military. It may also herald that, if elected, Peña Nieto’s security strategy may not differ dramatically from Calderon’s. So far the three presidential candidates have only spoken vaguely of what their security policies would look like. This may be partly because while it is relatively easy to criticize Calderon for the violence resulting from the “drug war,” it is far more difficult to lay out a realistic alternative to his strategy.