On 1 Jul 2018, Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, or AMLO as he is known in Mexico, won the presidency by a landslide. The two-time presidential candidate and former mayor of Mexico City campaigned on a new approach to the country’s deteriorating security crisis, promising to de-militarize law enforcement efforts and address the social issues that he says are the root causes of violence.
Since 2006, the drug war has left more than 200,000 dead, 40,000 disappeared, and approximately 26,000 unidentified corpses and over 1,100 mass graves. The violence has also directly affected local politicians, journalists, and women. In 2012, the drug war death toll was around 15,000, but peaked in 2018 with more than 33,000 murders, up by 15% from 2017.
Alfonso Durazo, the new secretary of public security, pledged a radically different approach to the “repressive strategy” that has been in force since 2006 when former president Felipe Calderón deployed the military to wage a war on drugs. But in an interview with WPR, Eric Olson, a global fellow and security expert with the Mexico Institute at The Wilson Center in Washington, says a closer look at AMLO’s policies since he took office in December reveals “a sharp departure” from his campaign rhetoric.
The Plan in Theory
In November, AMLO, the then-president-elect announced a new security policy. He explained that 70% of the new government’s strategy to bring peace to the country will be “preventative”. This would involve combating the root causes of violence through stimulating economic growth, creating jobs, providing greater education opportunities, and generating well-being. The remaining 30% of the strategy would be “coercive,” including the planned deployment of 119,250 members of the federal security forces. The latter went against his campaign rhetoric—promising a withdrawal of the military from the streets. However, the plan kept with AMLOs pacifist tone in ensuring peace through rejuvenated values instead of violence.
The new security strategy is built on eight key components:
1. The eradication of corruption and a renewed pursuit of justice
The elimination of political impunity for lawmakers and monitoring of government purchases in real-time. The classification of corruption as a serious crime
2. Guaranteed employment, education and health care
Poverty reduction through development and well-being programs
3. Guaranteed respect for and promotion of human rights
Repression or torture are not permissible and pledges to investigate all reports of human rights violations. The release of political prisoners who didn’t commit any act of violence
4. The regeneration of societal ethics
The creation of a moral constitution to improve relationships at the individual and collective level
5. Reformulation of the war against drugs
Government funding dedicated to fighting cartels and other criminal gangs will be redirected to drug rehabilitation services and programs
The government will seek to build peace by guaranteeing victims’ rights and will introduce legislation that could reduce prison terms for criminals or grant amnesty
7. Recovery of the control of prisons and improvement of their conditions
Separation of convicted criminals from inmates ordered to remain in preventative custody. Improving conditions in women’s prisons will also be a priority
8. The new security plan
The creation of a new national guard to both prevent and fight crime as well as preserve security
A Continuation of the ‘Iron Fist’?
When AMLO was asked what surprised him the most upon becoming president-elect, he mentioned the “disaster” that were local, state and federal police forces. This, he said, made it vital to keep the army deployed until police forces improved enough to oversee security. However, he plans not only to maintain the existing forces but ramp them up. The last component to his security plan calls for the creation of a new military force of 50,000 troops, initially drawn from the ranks of the armed forces and federal police. The new guard, which will be under the control of the army, will be made up initially of members of the army, navy and military police, and is expected to be operational within three years.
Mario Delgado, the leader of AMLO’s MORENA party in the lower house, said the new military body would exist “as long as this crisis of violence and insecurity persists.” Under the previous government, President Enrique Nieto’s Internal Security Law setting the military as a law enforcement body was deemed unconstitutional for allowing the military to overstep civil authority. MORENA was able to bypass this by recently changing the constitution in their favour.
All out of solutions?
The desperate need for a new approach in Mexico was highlighted by the trial and conviction of Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzman, the former leader of the Sinaloa Cartel, in the US. During the trial, dramatic allegations emerged of corruption at the highest levels of Mexico’s government. It also underscored the failure of the “kingpin strategy” to combat the cartels. Since the arrest of “El Chapo,” nothing has changed in Mexico and it is business as usual for the cartels.
AMLO should be lauded for proposing alternatives to these failed policies that have been nothing but disastrous. However, the amnesty concept for criminals is not only controversial, but it fails to address the key drivers of Mexico’s violence. Moreover, many of his proposed policies are long-term in nature, such as youth scholarships and job training. He seems to have recognized this by taking a heavy-handed response to the immediate threats of oil theft in Guanajuato and cartel control in Tijuana. The results of which are still unclear, but for both, he received his own personal death threats.
Image: AP News (link)