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Who is winning the drug war's publicity battle?

June 16, 2011 |  3:44 pm

El equipo the team series mexico televisa

There's a drug war going on in Mexico with serious tangibles -- nearly 40,000 dead, communities ravaged, armed soldiers and protests in the streets. But there's also a less tangible struggle being fought alongside it, a publicity war.

The Mexican government under conservative President Felipe Calderon has taken steps in recent weeks to respond to public discontent with the military-led campaign against drug cartels. In late May, his top national security spokesman, Alejandro Piore, began writing a special blog on the president's website seeking to counter "Ten myths about the fight for security" (link in Spanish).

Also in May came "The Team," or "El Equipo," a television drama that sought to depict in a positive light the men and women of the federal police, which has been beefed up under Calderon's anticrime drive. The project (produced by the media conglomerate Televisa) was panned by the press, performed weakly in the ratings, and has come under attack by Calderon's political foes for alleged misuse of federal police funds and property, including U.S. helicopters acquired by Mexico under the aid package known as the Merida Initiative (link in Spanish).

As The Times' Ken Ellingwood wrote, "Amid sharpening divisions over Mexico's drug war, even a mediocre cop drama can be fuel on the fire." Read the entire L.A. Times article on the show here.

La Plaza tried watching the program -- with an open mind, of course -- but managed only a small dose of the writing and acting, which came close to the realm of "so bad, it's good" entertainment. "El Equipo" had an unusually short run: 15 episodes in three weeks.

On Sunday, in a commencement speech at Stanford University in California, President Calderon sought to remind Americans of the decades of autocratic rule under Mexico's former ruling party, the Institutional Revolutionary Party, or PRI.

He referred to disappearances and massacres under the repressive PRI, which ran Mexico for seven decades before it was toppled by Calderon's National Action Party, or PAN, in 2000. In Mexico, the remarks sparked snickers and references to disappearances and massacres attributed to the drug war.

Worse for the president's publicity push, a small aircraft pulling aloft a banner briefly upstaged his Stanford appearance with a bold message: "40,000 DEAD! HOW MANY MORE?"

No one has come forward to claim responsibility for the banner, although both the San Francisco-based group Global Exchange and Mexican peace-movement leader Javier Sicilia said they knew the stunt was coming, and attributed it to unnamed Mexican and U.S. citizens.

In any case, the PR spoils of that affair may prove as fleeting as the public's attention span. Tonight in the United States, Univision, the Spanish-language network that reaches millions of Mexicans and Mexican Americans living north of the border, will begin airing a new show imported from Mexico, "El Equipo."

-- Daniel Hernandez in Mexico City

Image: A publicity shot of the Televisa television program "El Equipo." Credit: TVenserie.com

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