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The Kingpins’ Mexico

MEXICO CITY – The capture of Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán – one of the world’s most wanted criminals – is just one victory in the long fight against Mexico’s narcotics traffickers. And it is not a decisive one. Much more is needed to change the vicious cycle of violence and corruption that undermines the rule of law in Mexico.

Chapo is the leader of the Sinaloa cartel, Mexico’s leading drug gang. President Enrique Peña Nieto will benefit from his arrest and probable extradition to the United States. After all, a majority of Mexicans appear to be disenchanted with his presidency. According to Reforma, the country’s most influential newspaper, Peña Nieto’s approval ratings among the country’s elite plummeted during his first year in office, from 67% to 40% (and fell from 63% to 55% among the general public).

But Chapo’s arrest will help Peña Nieto only so much. In just 14 months, he has been able to forge a consensus to enact urgently needed but controversial reforms, overhauling the education system, for example, and opening the energy sector to foreign investment. At the same time, he is sabotaging his own agenda, owing to a contradictory governing style that is limiting his effectiveness.

To be sure, a team of professionals leads Peña Nieto’s security cabinet; but other parts of this government are affected by the habits he acquired as Governor of the State of Mexico, the most populous of Mexico’s 31 states, which surrounds Mexico City. He has appointed inept officials to reward political loyalty, has made no commitment to transparency, and has failed to combat the corruption that is devastating the country.