The central Mexican state of Guanajuato is becoming the new Chihuahua -the northern state that reached record levels of violence 10 years ago- and the city of Irapuato and the areas nearby are becoming the new Ciudad Juárez. On July 1st, 26 young people were killed at a clandestine drug rehab center in Irapuato. On the same day, President Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO) celebrated the second anniversary of his electoral victory saying that during his time in office: “People have never been repressed nor have we allowed massacres.”
It is true that AMLO has not repressed. But violent massacres do not ask permission to happen. And the fights between Mexican armed forces and criminal groups where only the criminals die continue to occur as in years past. Just last Friday, the Mexican Army shot and killed 13 suspected gunmen in the Mexican border city of Nuevo Laredo.
AMLO’s response to the Guanajuato violence crisis was faithful to his style. Arguing that his government would not abandon the people of Guanajuato, AMLO said that “with all due respect” the blame landed with the State’s Prosecutor Office and with the State Governor himself. Both certainly bear a large part of the responsibility, but AMLO’s tactic of sowing division is not a way of how to confront crime.
Ten years ago, 60 students were killed at a party in Ciudad Juárez. Then Mexican President Felipe Calderon also reacted badly by saying that if the students “had been killed was because they were involved in something”. Soon, Mexicans learned that the Ciudad Juárez students were not involved in any kind of criminal activity.
Facing strong criticism in the media, Calderón chose to travel to Ciudad Juárez and participate in an event called “We are all Juárez”. The event was the start of a successful local security strategy. The plan included a range of social policy measures to help young people avoid joining gangs. The strategy included broad civil society participation and was coordinated by the office of the Presidency itself along with coordination with the State Governor and the Ciudad Juárez mayor, both of whom were of a different political party than the President.
Some might argue that Calderón was somehow responsible for the cycle of violence and that he was forced to act in the case of Ciudad Juárez. But the reality is that whoever is elected President is the one responsible to address their own problems and inherited ones. Moreover, the combat of organized crime is a responsibility that the Mexican Constitution bestows on the federal government, not the state governments.
Today, AMLO constantly reminds the Mexican people of the complex violent crime situation he inherited and the alleged heroic efforts he is undertaking to clean up the mess. AMLO also likes to remind us that the social conditions that lead to violence are supposedly improving. This statement is worrying because poverty in Mexico is rising alarmingly.
I think it is difficult to imagine that AMLO will choose a policy of national unity along with a renewed security strategy. His strategy is distraction through provocation. AMLO will devote all his attention to Mexico’s upcoming 2021 midterm election, without thinking about the medium-term consequences of his policy decisions or the lack of them.
Other than just a few words after the brazen attack against Mexico City’s police chief, Omar García Harfuch last month, AMLO has not given a firm message of support to this truly heroic public servant. AMLO never meets with victims of violence or their relatives, except if they are his political allies, such as the parents of the disappeared students of the Ayotzinapa teachers’ school.
President AMLO sent a clear message after the attack against García Harfuch: “We are not going to declare war on anyone.” AMLO does not appear to have learned that the attack against the Mexico City police chief was a declaration of war by criminals on the State he leads. Following the doctrine of “hugs not bullets” he seems to rather be surrendering. AMLO does not need to call for a war, but rather a policy of respect of the rule of law.
Mexico needs to build a comprehensive security policy that is not based on simply having the armed forces on the street. The country rather needs a social policy designed to address the reasons why youngsters end working for criminal organizations, a strategy involving all political parties, local and state governments, and civil society. Without an intelligent new strategy and a call for unity, it is not possible to confront crime groups that less and less respect the State. AMLO could decide to lead a “We are all Guanajuato” and organize his daily schedule to supervise actions to confront violence and not just giving the starting signal to his infrastructure pet projects
Last week, AMLO closed the two-year anniversary of his electoral victory quoting from Spanish playwright Lope de Vega: “In such glorious undertakings, the very fact of trying is a victory”.
I wish trying were enough to be a good President of Mexico. But when it comes to security, it does not seem that AMLO is even really trying.
* Carlos Elizondo Mayer-Serra is professor at the School of Government and Public Transformation at Tec de Monterrey, in Mexico City. A Spanish version of this Op-Ed appeared first in Reforma’s newspaper print edition. Twitter: @carloselizondom