A sea change has occurred in Mexican public opinion. The people have turned definitively against the use of the Mexican Army to combat against drug traffickers. The cry from every city square yesterday was for the Army to return to its barracks and go back to doing the job it was formed to do; protect Mexico from foreign invasion and provide human aid relief in case of natural disasters such as earthquakes and hurricanes. Since President Felipe Calderón unleashed the Armed Forces, four years ago, to combat drug trafficking organizations, the violence between it and the competing narco organizations has led to a daily body count, widespread human rights abuses against civilians, and more than 40,000 deaths, so many of them of innocent civilians caught in the crossfire and used by all sides in the armed conflict that still has no winners, that never will have any winner.Giordano was there, and I wasn't. Plus, he lives in Mexico (I think), and I've been in the US since late July. So he's got that going for him. Nonetheless, I am skeptical of the sea change hypothesis. One reason is that the protests weren't actually that large. The marches this week managed to pull together 8,000 or 10,000 people in Mexico City, another 10,000 in Morelos, and lower numbers in many other cities. In contrast, the Iluminemos México march in 2008 had hundreds of thousands of marchers in Mexico City alone, and tens of thousands in other cities (indeed, in other countries). Some 250,000 marched against insecurity in Mexico City 2004. With the recent march being a less attended repetition of previous events, which also failed to be definitive turning points, it's hard to see why this one specifically is going to mark a change in direction.
Second, the polls don't yet support the notion. A September poll from BGC had 88 percent supporting a strong anti-drug policy. Mitofsky showed 74 percent in favor of the army being deployed in domestic police tasks last April. Pew had 80 percent responding in the affirmative to the same question in an August report from the Global Attitudes Project. If this march really was the turning point, of course, it will take a while to show up in polls, which we should keep an eye on. However, support for the army in the streets would have to fall a long way to support the hypothesis that the public is together calling for the immediate return of the troops to the barracks. However, one poll that might offer a hint of growing hostility: Mitofksy's approval rating for Calderón, which had been mostly stable for the last few months, dipped below 50 percent for the first time in his presidency in March.
Lastly, I haven't seen much change on the opinion pages. It seems like everyone has the same opinion they did a week ago, with the opposition to Calderón concentrated among the same voices it was previously. While this an imperfect barometer, you'd expect some big-time centrists, a la Cronkite with Vietnam, to get swept along with the tide of opposition.