Mexico has a new president-elect, and Andrés Manuel López Obrador, who often goes by AMLO, is bringing many anti-corruption policies to the table. Among these plans, he has decided to include a push to end the decade-long war on drugs when he takes office on December 1.
A History of The Mexican War on Drugs
The war on drugs started in December 2006 when then-President Felipe Calderon deployed 6,500 soldiers to the Mexican state of Michoacán, a decision that claimed 62 lives within a matter of weeks. The war has evolved over time, with 130,000 soldiers now fighting in the war on drugs in some capacity each year. Over 303,000 people have either died or gone missing because of it.
Unsurprisingly, the financial toll has grown since 2006 as well. Mexico's government has spent $54 billion on security and defense each year since 2007. And the U.S., who became involved in 2008, has invested at least $1.8 billion to aid Mexico’s efforts. Some estimates suggest the U.S. has spent even more than this, totaling $2.7 billion. The U.S. entered the war because, as Mexico's northern neighbor, the U.S. feels shares in the effects of the drug war. However, politicians have exaggerated these impacts before.
The problem with this use of money and extra force is that it has often led to even bigger issues for Mexico. If the military besieges a town, as it did in Michoacán, it will often destroy homes, buildings, and businesses. This destruction from the military and cartels kills people, but for those who don't die, many become internally displaced – over 281,000 people between 2011 and 2015. These outcomes cause greater poverty, corruption, and unemployment that also pushes people to find survival via the drug trade and other illegal activities.
Today, Mexico has created a destructive cycle for itself. Instead of addressing the actual issues, it has poured gasoline on the fire and created a system that perpetuates crime and violence. In January, Mexico reported its highest rate of drug-related violence. 2017 saw an increase of 23% from the year before, meaning homicides were up to 25,339 in the country.
AMLO's Plan to End The War
Enter AMLO. The 64-year-old president-elect is the former mayor of Mexico City and a prominent populist, the first of his kind to become president since the end of Mexico’s one-party system. He built his campaign on the promise of ending the war on drugs, reducing inequality, and removing corruption on every level. One of his main campaign slogans has become a viral symbol of what he stands for: "Abrazos no balazos," which, in English means, "Hugs not bullets."
AMLO wants to attack the issue from the start by adding social programs and changing the policy. Instead of cracking down on popular drugs like marijuana, AMLO wants to legalize the drugs while still keeping some control over its use, which would be comparable to how citizens now consume alcohol with age, use, and location limitations.
The first and biggest change he wants to make is to take the military out of the cities, replacing them with a more prepared and efficient police force. It will be the part of the process most difficult for him to implement, but if done well, Mexico could change for the better.
The police force is weak in its current state, and changing it will take time, effort, and money that the government may not have. That being said, the current system cannot stay in place. While the military is a good back up when the police are not sufficient, this untrained police force is part of the reason the war started in the first place, and it is without a doubt a large cause for the continuation of unnecessary military force.
The U.S.'s Reaction to ALMO's Decisions
Because the U.S. has invested so much in the Mexican war on drugs, U.S. supporters of the war could become angry with ALMO's decision to deviate from the status quo. For U.S. President Donald Trump, fighting the war on drugs is important, as he believes it causes dangerous people to immigrate to America.
After ALMO's election, Trump tweeted, "Congratulations to Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador on becoming the next President of Mexico. I look very much forward to working with him."
Whether this leads to a positive relationship or not is unclear yet, but there is no doubting that the two have different views on the war on drugs. And, as Attorney General Jeff Sessions has — with support from Conservatives — brought the war on drugs to a more intense level in the United States, it will be interesting to see if Mexico and America will be able to maintain a good relationship.