Andrés Manuel López Obrador [AMLO]: Security

Andrés Manuel López Obrador [AMLO]

Recognizing the ongoing security crisis Mexico is currently experiencing, AMLO launched his National Peace and Security Plan aimed at combating violence and pacifying Mexico. With it, AMLO promised to generate a radical change to eradicate the great violence that Mexico experiences on a daily basis. Believing that the pen is mightier than the sword, AMLO adopted a pacifist approach to his security strategy.

Such a plan is particularly distinguished as it adopts a peaceful security strategy, something bizarre in Mexico’s domestic security policies considering that it is a country with a severe problem with narcotraffic. Nevertheless, AMLO tackled the issue without taking an eye for an eye. Among the established measures he proposed were the integration of dialogue with victims of narcotraffic and national violence, transitional justice processes, as well as the notion to decrease and even eradicate the presence of the armed forces in security tasks. However, none of this ever materialized in his mandate as his pacification plan transformed into a more militarized security approach. 

From a peaceful strategy to a militarized nation

AMLO, at first, adopted a “pacifist” mentality as the new strategy to tackle Mexico’s high violence levels. Such peaceful policy encompassed a series of social welfare packages, considered lightening the drug regulation policies, and proposed a series of alternative penalties and even amnesties for former narco perpetrators. Yet, just a few months after becoming president, AMLO radically changed his pacification strategy and adopted a much more severe security police force. It appears that his peaceful strategy was more of an idealistic hypothesis than a feasible one. Ultimately, AMLO chose to let sleeping dogs lie.

First, AMLO pledged to avoid confrontation and solve Mexico’s insecurity with harmony, intelligence tasks, coordination, and anything else over the offensive use of force. Today, his security policy is entirely the opposite and the main reason behind this abrupt change was that violence levels rose dramatically in the country ever since AMLO became the president. In 2019, just after AMLO took office, Mexico experienced the most violent times in Mexico’s modern history, with approximately 8,500 murders in the first three months. AMLO’s strategy to address the deteriorating security situation: create the New National Guard; a hybrid combination of Mexico’s Federal Police, Military and Naval Police Institutions. Their main tasks are to prevent crime, preserve public security and combat against delinquency. This new institution has sparked significant controversy mainly because the New National Guard has the legitimate authority to penetrate the public spaces. 

The major power of this new institution; as well as why it remains so controversial. Is the National Guard’s legitimate ability to use force when deployed. As such, this body is now responsible to combat violent crime and at the same time, restore public safety. Despite the controversy among public opinion, the Senate and The Chamber of Deputies of Mexico (dominated by MORENA) both approved AMLO’s military initiative. As a result, it is now common to see armed soldiers patrolling the streets; effectively, AMLO’s security strategy went from a peaceful approach to militarizing the cities. 

International organizations and activists have expressed concern regarding human rights because this new body will replace the federal civilian police with armed forces. According to Human Rights Watch, the country’s armed forces are made for war, not for public security. A new paradigm rises: is it the answer to deliver peace and security with force? Is peace and stability only possible through this militaristic channel? In response, the Mexican National Human Rights Commission has said that the National Guard will dangerously militarize public security through the creation of armed forces. 

Many consider it dangerous that the armed forces will take a lead role and support AMLO’s government in future actions concerning ​​progress, development and any fundamental decision to the stability of the country. The army’s increasing power and budget can transform their loyalty to AMLO into an authoritarian trait. Questions arise regarding the institutionalization of the military in the civil sphere, and whether such actions make Mexico closer or further from achieving peace and stability.

The Immigration Issue

During his campaign, AMLO adopted a speech where he advocated for human rights, including the welfare of Mexican migrants and immigrants coming to Mexico. He promised to decriminalize migration and treat immigrants more humanely; all the while commenting that it was not Mexico’s responsibility to help the United States with the “dirty work” of deportations. Moreover, AMLO promised to protect Mexicans against the repression of immigrants by President Trump. Yet, despite all this, deportations of immigrants from Mexico have tripled since AMLO came to power. Hence, AMLO is now facing the task of securing the country’s southern border at the request (and threats) of Trump; leaving border police to prevent undocumented immigrants from entering the country. Therefore, AMLO’s posture changed from having a humanitarian orientation to having a military one. For example, AMLO sent the National Guard to the southern border to stop the flow of migrants. This radical change of policy contradicts entirely his former narrative. This would not be the only aspect in which the president has contradicted himself and his rhetoric, which only brings uncertainty.

The radical change of AMLO politics started amid the Migrant Caravan in which AMLO first welcomed the Central American migrants, offering them a welfare program and possibilities to have a job. Of course, his policy dramatically changed when Trump opposed this dynamic. López Obrador promised to give work visas to thousands of Central Americans who crossed the southern border of Mexico and reassured them that they would have adequate transit on their way to the United States. Immediately, Trump threatened to send troops and close the border with Mexico if AMLO’s government did not take measures to contain the passage of the caravan of migrants heading to the United States from Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador through Mexico. Now, on the southern border, migrants began to report arrests, there were cases of some Central Americans who escaped from the Mexican shelters they were in, where some were mistreated by immigration agents.

However, as the arrival of migrants from the south grew and the United States government pressured Mexico to stop migration; prompting AMLO to take more drastic positions such as militarizing Mexico’s borders. Some claim that what is happening now in the Mexican Southern border is even more dramatic and violent than what goes on at the Northern border, and is mostly because of the breaching of human rights committed by the National Guard. Now, the National Guard also has legitimacy in the northern and southern borders. In other words, it is the National Guard who is being more severe with the migrants than the actual US Border Forces. This radical change of plans, comes as a result of Trump’s pressure and threats. Yet, it leaves AMLO standing as a man with an unreliable speech, as his words, ideas and former promises seem to crumble. 

A game-changer moment was when the Migrant Caravan Crisis (Hundreds of Central Americans cross the Suchiate River from Guatemala to Mexico in their attempt to reach the United States.) occurred in 2019, six thousand soldiers of the National Guard were sent to the southern border to control the passage of Central American migrants to Mexico. According to The New York Times, the new National Guard of Mexico, armed with helmets, canes, and shields, repressed hundreds of people who have migrated from Central America who wanted to reach the United States. They also poured pepper spray on the caravan in which, in mid-January, some 4,000 immigrants were advancing and in which there were many children and women. It seems difficult to understand how AMLO went from defending migrants, welcoming them, while criticizing the United States’s “inhuman” approach, to militarizing and securitizing the Mexican border. 

Furthermore, AMLO has not just betrayed his policies, but also his rhetoric. The last controversial statement occurred when AMLO visited Trump to sign the new free trade agreement (T-MEC)., the Mexican president said during his speech that he acknowledged that Donald Trump has behaved with kindness and respect” towards migrants, adding insult to injury. This diplomatic declaration completely contradicts the words, ideas and visions of AMLO a few months ago. It was AMLO who once (not so far) criticized the xenophobia with which Trump refers to Mexicans. AMLO’s visit to Washington and his strong statements about Trump caused revolt and anger in the population. especially the Mexican population in the United States who demonstrated and shouted “out López’holding placards accusing the president of being  “criminal”, “murderer” and “corrupt”, while several others claimed that the president is “destroying” the country. According to some protesters, López Obrador has not fulfilled what he promised in the campaign and assured that many people who voted for the president are joining his ranks and are now disappointed.

Can you kill Narcos with kindness?

AMLO declared in early 2019 that the war against drug trafficking in Mexico had ended. His comment was questioned by many, as all the media and official data indicate otherwise when they report almost daily deaths and massacres. The security strategy of AMLO’s government seeks to reduce violence and homicides rather than capture big capos; a strategy he claims is with the purpose of maintaining peace. In his rhetoric. AMLO has stated that his plan to combat violence in the country will be based on peace, reconciliation, forgiveness, amnesty, and legalization. Nevertheless, the reality is different. The army and the navy still lead the main operations against drug trafficking daily.

AMLO has engaged in rather controversial strategies that have some people label him as “the friend of the drug traffickers.” In late 2019, he  supported the decision to release Ovidio Guzmán López, son of drug trafficker Joaquín El Chapo Guzmán, one of the most powerful narcos Mexico has had. AMLO responded by saying:

 “I supported that position because the most important thing is that there are no deaths, the most important thing is peace.

Carrying out a peaceful strategy with drug traffickers is already a controversial security policy in itself, but making public the relationship is taking the issue to another level. In addition, it could be a coincidence that comes in bad weather, but recently AMLO has refused to receive social activists who want to make fair requests for the benefit of the country. Among them is the activist, Javier Sicilia, leader of the cause since he lost his brother to narco-trafficking violence. As AMLO’s mysterious behaviour evolves, one wonders: Why did the President have lunch with the drug-traffickers? Why so much empathy towards the Cartel members? Does AMLO owe them something? 

It seems that AMLO believes there are worse criminals than narcos in the country. On that occasion, trying to deviate from the subject, he reiterated that the biggest problem in Mexico was corruption (not the narcotraffic) and that the nation faced two mafias daily: “white-collar” and “organized” crime. In another quite controversial situation, AMLO greeted Joaquín Guzmán “El Chapo’s “mother in a public act, just before the president went to have lunch with the criminal’s family. The defending argument of AMLO has been that “friendship and peace” prevents the death of many innocent people. Yet, there is a significant line between friendship and blanket amnesty and privileges. 

Cartel violence is also a contesting issue between the United States and Mexico. Another hallmark of AMLO is his non-interventionist ideology; which only exacerbates the tension with Trump. On one occasion, AMLO answered Trump with: “cooperation yes, interventionism no”, in response to Trump’s designations as terrorists to the drug cartels in Mexico. Yet, there is still no sign of any cooperation or deal at the moment between the two nations regarding drug violence. Nevertheless, AMLO’s statement was delivered clearly: He does not want the US meddling in Mexico’s cartel wars.