His philosophy was a radical departure from previous Mexican presidents dating back to around 2005, each of whom ‘declared war’ on the cartels and utilized the military and paramilitary police forces to combat them.
“This is no longer a war. This is no longer about force, confrontation, annihilation, extermination, or killing in the heat of the moment,” Obrador said at a recent news conference. “This is about thinking how to save lives and achieve peace and tranquility in the country using other methods.”
By any measure, the war on the cartels didn’t really affect them much. They continued to rake in billions of dollars per year from their various business and criminal enterprises while Mexico’s murder rate continued to skyrocket and set new records.
But now, after a year in office, it’s clear that Obrador’s “hugs” tactic isn’t bearing much fruit, either, as evidenced by the cartels’ murder of nine Americans with dual citizenship last month — three women and six children.
“He can't continue with this strategy of peace and love with the criminals and say that there isn't war,” Raúl Benítez, a security expert and professor at the National Autonomous University of Mexico, told the Associated Press, following the murder of the Americans, who belonged to the Mormon church.
Their murders came amid the capture and release by a Mexican army anti-drug unit of Ovidio Guzman Lopez, who is wanted by U.S. authorities on drug trafficking charges.
“The criminals are declaring war on the government and the country, the citizens, the people,” Benítez added, according to Fox News.
Following the murders of the Mormons, Obrador promised to track down the killers and bring them to justice. And indeed, earlier this week, Mexican authorities arrested some suspects allegedly linked to those killings.
However, Obrador remains wedded to his strategy.
“They declared war and it didn’t work,” he said of his predecessors. “They just put the people of Mexico in mourning.”
That said, earlier this month the town of Villa Union, located about 35 miles south-southwest of Eagle Pass, Texas, was attacked by truckloads of cartel gunmen, resulting in the deaths of 21 people, though many of them were among the attackers, USA Features Media reported.
The uptick in violence near the U.S.-Mexico border, along with the deaths of American Mormons in Mexico, led to President Donald Trump essentially proposing to send U.S. military personnel south of the border to take on the cartels. (Related: Drug cartels ‘spoofing’ DHS drones at the U.S.-Mexico border.)
To do so, Trump said he was considering designating the cartels as “terrorist” organizations, which would free him up to commit additional resources to combatting them that he otherwise would not be able to use.
“They will be designated. I’ve been working on that for the last 90 days. Designation is not that easy. You have to go through a process, and we are well into that process,” Trump told Bill O’Reilly in an interview, according to Liberty Nation.
Initially, there was some shock to the president’s suggestion, as well as pushback from Obrador. But eventually, more U.S. officials, current and former, have warmed to the idea.
“They’re not well-trained, they’re not well-equipped, and they certainly don’t have the expertise at dismantling large criminal organizations like the U.S. law enforcement does,” former acting Immigration and Customs Enforcement director Thomas Homan said of Mexican police and their inability to deal with the cartels.
“We’ve proven that in Panama with [ruler Manuel] Noriega, we proved that in Colombia [with Pablo Escobar]. The United States can go down to Mexico and help them address this crisis once and for all,” he added.
The question is, will Trump commit?