MEXICO CITY — The government of Enrique Peña Nieto has lost its second senior security official in as many months, underscoring concern about rising crime and how effective the administration’s policing policies are.
Interior Minister Miguel Angel Osorio Chong on Tuesday formally announced the resignation of Manuel Mondragon y Kalb, national security commissioner, whom he praised for his work to improve intelligence and fight corruption. Mondragon was not present but has cited personal reasons for stepping down and asserted that he would continue to serve the government as a consultant.
Later, via Twitter, he expressed his “gratitude for the opportunity to assist as an advisor in the strategic planning for the training and education of police.”
Just under two months ago, Gen. Oscar Naranjo resigned. Naranjo, a Colombian security chief credited with much of that country’s success in tamping down drug cartels, announced he was returning home to work on Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos’ reelection campaign and to attend to peace talks with guerrillas.
Although both Mondragon and Naranjo have given reasons for leaving, their departures come as the government struggles with persistently high crime rates. A report released Tuesday by the National Citizens Observatory, which tracks violent crime, said six of eight “high-impact” crimes rose again in January, including kidnapping and extortion.
“The first year of government has concluded for President Peña Nieto and various state governors” — most of whom are from the president’s party — “and all we can say is the many promises about public safety have been left behind,” the organization said.
Despite several high-profile arrests of drug traffickers, including the most-wanted of all, Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman, many in Mexico feel that the government has failed to articulate a clear security policy.
Mondragon, though admired by many as an effective leader, has been the face of one of this government’s most significant failures in security.
The 80-year-old surgeon and former naval commander was in charge of establishing a new “gendarmerie” police force, one of the most concrete promises from Peña Nieto’s presidential campaign. But more than a year into Peña Nieto’s term, plans have been scaled back, and formation of the force is months behind schedule.
Mondragon also oversaw the federal police, who, despite much attention from U.S. advisors and focus by Mexican officials, continue to lag behind in vetting and reforms aimed at weeding out corruption and making the institution better able to monitor itself.
Peña Nieto had brought Naranjo, with much fanfare, to Mexico to serve as a special advisor to the government in its deadly drug war. His inclusion was also seen as a reassurance to U.S. officials who worried that the new Mexican government would tolerate cartels rather than fight them.
During Naranjo’s tenure, armed vigilante groups have mushroomed across the violent states of Michoacan and Guerrero with the stated purpose of fighting traffickers, dramatizing the government’s inability to provide security in those areas.
Like Naranjo, Mondragon was not part of Peña Nieto’s inner circle; his previous job was with the Mexico City government, which is controlled by the leftist Democratic Revolution Party. Some insiders say Mondragon never felt comfortable with Peña Nieto’s closest aides, all of whom are part of a tight cabal of Institutional Revolutionary Party stalwarts.
Analysts said the departures highlight that the government has a long way to go in forming a cohesive strategy that can make Mexicans feel safer.
“We don’t really know why Mondragon is leaving because there are no standards in the Peña Nieto government … for evaluating his performance — what did he do well, what did he do poorly,” said Ernesto Lopez Portillo, executive director of the Mexico City-based Institute for Security and Democracy.
“Officials can come and go, but what is important … is that there be accountability and transparency” within the security forces, he said. “Problems persist ... that overwhelm the system.”