By Sylvia Longmire
Columnist, In Homeland Security
Mexico holds its presidential elections every six years, and candidates are hitting the campaign trail hard prior to voters hitting the ballot boxes in July 2018. Known for causing controversy in past elections, popular candidate Andrés Manuel López Obrador (a.k.a. AMLO) is testing the idea of providing amnesty to members of Mexican drug cartels “so long as the victims and their families are willing.” This is his way of seeking a path to peace in a country that is hitting all-time highs in drug-related homicide rates, but it is being met with anger and disgust across Mexico.
AMLO made the mistake of publicizing his proposal during a speech in the state of Guerrero, one of the most violent in all of Mexico, and in a town where the bloodshed is so bad that his own party has not been able to put forth a candidate, according to The Guardian. “I would hope they never kidnap, torture, kill, disappear and burn [his] loved ones,” José Díaz Navarro, whose brother was kidnapped and killed in the area, told the Mexican daily El Universal. “We’ll see if after this [AMLO} would come to Guerrero to ask them for forgiveness.”
The concept of a ceasefire or peace deal with drug traffickers, and even narcoterrorists, is nothing new. In November 2016, Colombia’s congress approved a peace deal with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), an organization recognized as a terrorist group by the U.S. State Department that is responsible for the death and kidnapping of over 200,000 Colombians over the past several decades. The FARC has also been historically responsible for roughly half of Colombia’s cocaine exports. In a demonstration of how controversial this move was, the deal had to be pushed through the Colombian legislature to circumvent the popular vote that disapproved of the measure by a narrow margin. Though most voters supported peace with the rebels, many felt the deal offered too much leniency, including reduced sentences in exchange for confessions.
No Alternative Anti-Drug Violence Policy
Supporters of AMLO’s proposal point out that Mexican politicians have been working with or somehow supporting drug cartels for decades, so not much would change on the ground. They also claim that no other viable alternative policy for reducing drug violence has been put forth. The Guardian notes that no presidential candidate has made violence reduction a central plank of their campaign platform—a strategy some analysts say is pointless because there is no easy solution to the problem.
Logistically, AMLO’s proposal would be impossible to implement today. Ten or fifteen years ago, the government could identify half a dozen large and organized cartels with defined leadership capable of negotiating with the government. Today, dozens of large and small cartels, along with loosely defined criminal organizations operating on their fringes, can be found across the country. Some, like the Sinaloa and Juárez cartels, have been around since the 1980s and have more hierarchical leadership structures. However, most modern groups like the Cartel de Jalisco Nueva Generación and the Metros and Rojos factions leftover from the Gulf cartel breakdown have no motivation to band together with rivals in order to make a deal.
AMLO Leading in the Polls
López Obrador leads early polls, with a recent survey in the Mexican newspaper Reforma putting him 14 points ahead of the likely Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) candidate, the former finance minister José Antonio Meade. Given that the PRI is the current president Enrique Peña Nieto’s party, AMLO’s message is likely resonating with people unhappy with the current counter-drug strategy.