By ROBERT C. BONNER
In July, Mexico will elect a new president to replace Felipe Calderón. Whoever wins will need to address the foremost challenge confronting the country today: the battle against the drug cartels. And despite all the negative headlines, the next president will find that the government under Calderón has made huge gains toward defeating them.
When Calderón took office five years ago, there were roughly half a dozen cartels, each a large criminal organization in its own right. These illegal enterprises — the Gulf, the Juárez, La Familia Michoacana, the Sinaloa and the Tijuana cartels — dominated large swaths of Mexican territory and operated abroad as well.
Once he assumed the presidency, Calderón realized that he could not rely on the federal police, the Agencia Federal de Investigación, to restore order or track down the cartel leaders. The A.F.I. was riddled with corruption. Over the years, the cartels had bribed not only regional comandantes but also top-level officials at the agency’s Mexico City headquarters. The state police were even more unreliable. Often on the payroll of the cartels in their respective regions, they not only failed to cooperate with the federal police but also regularly protected the cartels and their leaders.