Is there any Hope that Andrés Manuel López Obrador Can Stem the Violence in Mexico?
Statistics show that in May 2018, one person was killed in Mexico every 15 minutes. This number is record-breaking for the country, proving that 2018 will turn out to be even more violent than 2017, the year that saw the highest rates of violence in Mexico in the last two decades.

New President, New Hope

Mexico recently elected a new president, democratic socialist Andrés Manuel López Obrador (popularly known as AMLO). He officially assumed office on December 1 and his victory has raised great hopes among the millions of poor and struggling citizens of the country.

Among other goals that he committed himself to, such as expanding health care, strengthening the education system and helping small-time farmers, AMLO plans to stem cartel violence in Mexico. When he was voted, AMLO told his gathered supporters: “This is a historic day. We represent the possibility of a real change, of a transformation.”

During his victory speech, AMLO made clear right away one crucial aspect of the transformation he was seeking. “The failed crime and violence strategy will change.”

AMLO inherited the presidential office from Enrique Peña Nieto and a bloody war on drug cartels that has lasted over a decade and taken more than 150,000 lives.

But unlike his predecessor, AMLO does not favor using a military strategy to target the cartels. In May conference, he stated that his opponents think everything can be resolved by force.

So, what’s the new President’s alternative? His strategies of stemming the cartel violence in Mexico are presented below.

Look at the Root of the Problem

AMLO said that he wants to tackle the social problems that cause people to become involved in organized crime and drug cartels in the first place. “More than through the use of force, we will tend to the causes that give rise to insecurity and violence,” he promises.

While on the campaign trail, AMLO used slogans like “Abrazos, no balazos” (hugs, not gunshots) and “Becarios sí, sicarios no” (scholars yes, killers no), to highlight his pacifist platform.

AMLO plans to contact human rights groups, religious leaders and the United Nations to start drafting a new plan for combatting the drug war.

He plans to invest in education and eradicate the poverty in the country that is the root of the problem.

Decriminalization

AMLO has a long-term goal of re-writing drug laws to decriminalize recreational use of marijuana. He is considering making it legal to using opium for medicinal reasons.

Former Supreme Court Justice Olga Sánchez Cordero, who is AMLO’S proposed interior minister, said that poppy production could be legalized to supply the national pharmaceutical company.

All of this could take away the main sources of income for Mexico’s cartels, whose profits come almost mostly from trafficking illegal drugs.

Transitional Justice

The new president is also interested in substituting transitional justice for punitive sentencing and imprisonment. The United Nations defines transitional justice as the full range of processes and mechanisms associated with a society’s attempt to come to terms with a legacy of large-scale past abuses, in order to ensure accountability, serve justice and achieve reconciliation.

Transitional justice has been used in Rwanda, for example, as of way of rebuilding from the 1994 genocide. Now, AMLO’s administration is looking to transitional justice for guidance in creating peace in Mexico.

Some aspects of transitional justice that AMLO wants to employ are truth commissions and giving reparations to victims’ family members. Reparations could come in the form of money, work or education.

One of AMLO’s most controversial ideas is giving partial amnesty to those involved in drug gangs. This amnesty would, however, only apply to non-violent offenders.

Instead of sending them to prison, he sees social work and public service as viable alternatives that could be more effective long-term because this would remove the primary motivations that young people have for joining the drug gangs.

The members of drug cartels eligible for amnesty plans are primarily those whose jobs were planting drugs, serving as lookouts or working as drug mules.

He is not proposing to grant amnesty to those directly involved in the more than 150,000 killings that threaten to destabilize the country entirely.

Andrés Manuel López Obrador plans to stem cartel violence in Mexico. He espouses the lofty goal of eradicating violence by the middle of his first 6-year term in office.

His approach is so different and innovative than those of his predecessors that it might just work. The people of Mexico and the whole world will soon find out if this will actually work.

– Evann Orleck-Jetter

Photo: Flickr

Initiatives Against Drug Cartels in Latin America
Juan Manuel Santos, Colombia’s president, says that a global problem requires a global solution. One problem in need of a solution for more than 40 years is drug cartels in Latin America.

The Problem of Drug Cartels in Latin America

Because of drug cartels in Latin America, especially around South America, thousands have been killed in Colombia, Mexico and other areas where cartels are deep-rooted in society. Santos is urging countries to rethink their strategies because the human cost is too high, despite current efforts. The drug business also hurts consumers and the environment as land is deforested in order to plant cocoa, which supplies cocaine.

The largest drug cartels in Mexico — the Zetas and Sinaloa cartels — control most illegal drug trades from South America to the U.S. Usually, cocaine is imported from South America then smuggled to the U.S. Some groups also traffic marijuana and methamphetamines. Cartels are also involved with extorting local businesses, kidnapping for ransom, prostitution rings, intimidation and murder.

There is a shared responsibility among the international community to reduce both supply and demand for drugs. Some substantial initiatives have been employed to combat drug cartels in Latin America by Mexico, Guatemala and the European Union.

Cutting Drug Demand with Social Programs

Pena Nieto, the President of Mexico, promised in 2013 that $9.2 billion would be invested in social programs to alleviate crime by tackling its root causes, instead of following a policy of force. These initiatives consist of improving health and social services, roads, parks, lighting, and job opportunities for mothers. School hours also increased in an effort to keep the youth occupied and away from gang activity.

Waging War on Drugs

Mexico’s army has been deployed to arrest members of cartel kingpins. The Institutional Revolutionary Party is the ruling party, headed by Pena Nieto, and has rebranded itself into a modern force focusing on economic growth, poverty reduction and tackling drug-related violence. Under the current governance, crime and violence are usually dealt with at a local level. Exceptional cases include the severe violence occurring in Michoacán, where the President resorted to sending troops to back up the federal police forces. Vigilante groups are allowed to keep their own weapons when they agree to integrate into the official security forces.

Decriminalizing Drugs

Otto Pérez Molina, Guatemala’s president, proposed the method of regional decriminalization on growing drug trades. This effort could slim down profits obtained by the cartels from illegal drug trades in the black market, therefore crippling the drug business for brutal cartels.

Colombia adopted a similar approach by switching from the usual hard-line policies to the softer decriminalization method. Colombia hosted the 2012 Cartagena Summit of the Americas, which focused on decriminalizing drugs and expanded coordination between countries in combating drug calamity.

International Cooperation on Crime

Crimjust, a joint initiative implemented by the U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime, is funded by the European Union. It was established to counter organized crime and drug trafficking through international cooperation. In 2016, Central American and South American countries like Panama and Colombia became one of the first few countries to join Crimjust in order to enhance their own national capacities to counter drug and illicit trafficking. The 2016-2020 program is expected to specifically strengthen investigations and criminal justice cooperation along the cocaine route in Latin America, the Caribbean and West Africa. Through Crimjust, the international efficacy in combating drug cartels in Latin America has been amplified.

– Heulwen Leung
Photo: Google


In 2001, Portugal passed Law 20/3000, which eliminated criminal charges for possession and usage of all illicit drugs. The decriminalization of drugs in Portugal does not mean that drugs are legal; rather, it means that drug usage and possession no longer automatically result in criminal actions.

An important component of Portugal’s drug policy is the distinction between recreational and addicted drug users. Those who are using a drug recreationally are fined, while those identified as drug addicts are offered enrollment in a government-funded treatment program. Another vital distinction in the decriminalization of drugs in Portugal is that drug dealers are still subject to criminal charges. The distinction between drug dealers and personal users is determined by supply at the time of apprehension. Those with less than a 10-day supply of drugs are subject to a fine and treatment program but not jail time.

The decriminalization of drugs in Portugal arose primarily as a response to the country’s heroin epidemic in the 1990s. At the time, nearly 1 percent of the country’s population was addicted to heroin, one of the worst drug epidemics globally. In the 15 years since decriminalization, the results have been generally positive. Drug-related HIV infections have been reduced by 95 percent, and Portugal’s drug-induced mortality rate is five times lower than the European Union average.

Fifteen years after its introduction, the success of decriminalization of drugs in Portugal is a great and somewhat unexpected accomplishment. Drug usage has not increased, though the rates of illicit drug use have mostly remained unchanged in the last 15 years. Furthermore, the number of individuals enrolled in voluntary drug treatment programs has increased by 60 percent. Treatments are developed with a holistic understanding of addiction, with options such as access to mobile methadone clinics and non-12-step treatment programs.

The logic behind the decision for the decriminalization of drugs in Portugal was that jailing drug users did not lead to a reduction in drug use and further removed individuals from society, exacerbating issues like isolation and poverty that lead to drug usage and addiction. Drug addiction is a challenge faced in many countries across the globe, and it frequently affects those in poverty or drives individuals into poverty. The decriminalization of drugs in Portugal has shifted the treatment of drug addiction from a criminal issue to a health issue, focusing on social determinants and mental health. This alternative approach to the War on Drugs has proved successful for Portugal so far and could serve as a model for other countries to follow.

Nicole Toomey

Photo: Flickr