An old expression states that if you steal USD100 you go to jail, but if you steal USD1 million, you negotiate. The same looking-glass logic seems to apply in Mexico, its multinational drug cartels a brutal economic force in their own right.
Mexico’s president-elect Andrés Manuel López Obrador has hit the ground running on trade. In particular, he been keen to advance negotiations with the US and Canada on the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), a process that has been dragging its heels for some three years. Trump himself even seems amenable.
And yet López Obrador now needs to square up to another domestic crisis of epidemic proportions blighting the economy: the cartels.
A national catastrophe
Official data emerging in July confirms the horrific extent of political violence in Mexico. The recent electoral process provided a record catalog of atrocity.
No less than 152 politicians were murdered, 48 of whom were candidates or pre-candidates deemed undesirable by Mexico’s astonishingly wealthy narcotics gangs.
Most recently, two elected officials of the incoming president’s National Renewal Movement Party (Morena), Eliseo Delgado, mayor-elect of Buenavista, and Zenón Cocula, an elected councilor for the city of Tlaquepaque, were killed in July.
And while the Cartel Jalisco Nueva Generación and La Nueva Familia Michoacana gangs are strong suspects, none were named.
The problem is so acute that for years civilian autodefensa militias have taken the fight to the Cartels in desperation at state failings to do so.
López Obrador has in fact announced a fresh strategy to challenge drug trafficking and associated violence.
A high-risk venture in that it threatens revenue streams, the strategy, known euphemistically as ‘transitional justice,’ includes such measures as the legalization of marijuana and poppy flowers.
It also proposes the setting up of truth commissions to solve human rights violations, and amnesties for convicted criminals willing to reveal information on the legions of the disappeared.
Amnesty an option?
Yet with attacks on heavily armed police convoys a constant reality in Mexico, some question the softly-softly approach of an amnesty, fearing a toothless appeasement of Mexico’s worst offenders.
This doubt, after all, has been shared in many countries emerging from civil war, or where gangland has long called the shots.
We may consider Colombia as a perfect example of this. And yet given the desperation of families of the tens of thousands of disappeared people, many buried in secret mass graves, other Mexicans simply want some semblance of closure, and would willingly see criminals released if it allowed them to mourn their loved ones.
It would also likely start off with non-violent criminals, as in Colombia, for example for people press-ganged into serving the cartels, themselves facing a gun barrel.
All of this is in stark contrast with Mexico’s official economy, which has leveraged its local talent base for rapid diversification. Tourists, too, can be forgiven for blissful unawareness of the cartels as they soak up sun, culture, and tequila.
The amnesty—if implemented—would likely not be immediate, as the incoming president officially assumes office in December.