The 105,804 murders of the López Obrador era


A military man guards the entrance of a hotel after a shooting in Quintana Roo this year.
A military man guards the entrance of a hotel after a shooting in Quintana Roo this year.Alonso Cupul (EFE)

From December 1, 2018 to November 30 of this year, the first triennium of the current administration, Mexico registered 105,804 murder victims. It is a difficult figure to assess due to its emphaticness, because there is no comparable period in recent history, not even the worst years of Felipe Calderón’s six-year term (2006-2012), who launched the so-called war against drug trafficking. The Government, headed by Andrés Manuel López Obrador, is looking the other way for the moment, pointing out minor achievements, specific reductions or imperceptible changes in inertia. This same week, the president celebrated that one day only 68 homicides were registered.

The data, from the Executive Secretariat of the Government’s National Security System, reflect the ineffectiveness of the security strategy, based on the massive deployment of federal troops and its theoretical containment, publicized since the electoral campaign, a differential fact with previous administrations. This is how López Obrador’s team defended him then, who pointed out errors and horrors in the methods of Calderón and Enrique Peña Nieto (2012-2018), his successor, capable of launching the Army against the people. They were right: the increasing replacement of the police by the military in security tasks had created a lethality problem that was difficult to defend. The more soldiers in the streets, the more complaints about human rights violations.

It happens, however, that the disappearance of the police from the scene has been accentuated during the current government in favor of the military. In his first months, López Obrador promoted the creation of a new corporation, the National Guard, enshrined in the Constitution. A substitute for the corrupt and insurmountable Federal Police, thought of as a hybrid between the civilian and the military, the military branch ended up prevailing: most of its members are military, just like its commanders. Although civil society organizations managed to make the body organically dependent on the Secretariat of Citizen Security, this same year the president indicated his intention to join the Secretariat of Defense.

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The preference for the military or the police is not less. Security experts have pointed out over the years the need to deploy personnel trained in citizen service and not in war strategies. Trained police officers, with good salaries, prosecutors with a lower workload. But the Government insists that the accumulation of troops, now dressed in a color other than military green, is a safe long-term bet. At the moment, regions such as Zacatecas, Guanajuato, Sonora or Michoacán operate outside the wishes of the National Palace. It also remains to be seen if the lethality of the National Guard is lower than that of the Army of past six-year terms. To date, there is hardly any data for 2020. Or the lethality of the Army itself, still in the streets, with a history of opacity regarding its own operations that has not changed in the new Government.

The effect of the government’s security policy on criminal activity is not clear either, in the same way that it is difficult to separate murders and other crimes committed in a context of illicit economies from other crimes. Just as in the years of Calderón or Peña Nieto, Los Zetas, La Familia Michoacana or the Knights Templar ravaged territories, now the Jalisco Cartel does, criminal groups from the Morelos and Guerrero mountains, mafias incubated during the golden age of Huachicol in Guanajuato or Tamaulipas, of course the Sinaloa Cartel … It is not so much drug trafficking as the ability of criminals to exploit the economy at will, extorting legal industries, promoting their own productive paths thanks to eternal corruption.

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Because corruption is the constant in the equation of violence. Also impunity, galloping as always. Both flow from State rulings at all levels, from the federal to the local. They are the corrupt officials, but also the structures that support them. And the inability of the justice system to pay. If to all this is added the containment strategy, the president’s “hugs not bullets”, the result is situations like the one in Culiacán, more than two years ago, when criminals forced the State to release the son of Joaquín El Chapo Guzmán after an operation, to avoid, they said, a bloodbath in the capital of Sinaloa.

In the absence of knowing how 2021 closes, the truth is that Mexico will end the year again with more than 30,000 homicides, the same as the previous and the previous one. There may be a slight drop in the number of victims when the December cases pile up, a few dozen, maybe a hundred. And the Government may explain it as a small victory, a trend. But the numbers are what they are and everything that does not point to an exponential downturn in the coming months can hardly be classified as successful.

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George Holan

George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.

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