The hugs did not work.
And it’s not a question of how you read the data. The great failure of President Andrés Manuel López Obrador’s government is the violence, the impunity, the femicides, the murders of journalists and the disappearances.
His government – I have said this before – is the most violent of the modern era, since the Mexican Revolution and the Cristero War. And that’s a lot. From Dec. 1 of 2018 until Oct. 31 of 2023, 161,518 Mexicans were murdered, according to the official data from the Executive Secretariat of the National Public Security System. That means I got that number from the Mexican government itself.
The worst part is that the president himself does not admit that this is a very serious problem, and has dedicated his daily morning news conferences to praising a failed strategy against the violence. And that confuses people.
The last time I went to one of his news conferences, in September of 2022, I showed AMLO the data that under his government there had already been more homicides than under the most recent presidencies of Enrique Peña Nieto (124,478) and Felipe Calderón (121,683).
This is how the exchange went:
“I don’t agree with you,” he told me. “I believe you are not right.”
“How am I not right,” I asked him.
“On the data.”
“But it’s your data,” I insisted.
“It’s how you present it,” he wound up saying. And he would not budge from there.
He says, correctly, that the trend on homicides is down. For example, from 34,719 in 2019 to 30,971 in 2022. But even so, the total number of dead is far higher than under previous presidents. My argument is very simple: they are not just numbers, they are murdered Mexicans who have faces, families and names. And if in 2023 and 2024 the murders remain at the same level as 2022 – about 84 dead per day – then AMLO would leave the presidency in about 11 months with almost 190,000 murders.
That is a national tragedy.
But AMLO is not going to change. He will continue to hit the same wall. This week, when asked about the murders of six medical students in Celaya, in the state of Guanajuato, the president blamed the incident on drug abuse and repeated his philosophy for tackling the violence. “Avoid that. And do it only with love,” he said. “With consideration for the young people. With tenderness. So that the young people have the possibility of jobs, the possibility to study.”
That sounds very nice. But tenderness has not worked in a country as violent as Mexico. The president may tell us that the number of homicides has dropped. True. But in no country can more than 161,000 murders be portrayed as a success.
The next president of Mexico, whoever she is, has to tell us the truth. Not juggle the numbers to make us believe that things are good. They are not. Mexico is one of the world’s most dangerous places for journalists (after Gaza), the levels of impunity are extremely high, femicides are reported almost daily and there’s a real vacuum of information about the tens of thousands of disappeared. There are parts of the country that are under the control of drug cartels, where the government cannot carry out its principal duty: to protect the lives of Mexicans.
I understand – I have seen the same polls you have – that AMLO is very popular, loved by the people. That’s all to his credit. But popularity does not translate into good results on security issues. The next president must break radically with his strategy of “abrazos, no balazos” – hugs, not bullets. Like millions of Mexicans, I am waiting for Claudia Sheinbaum y de Xóchitl Gálvez to come up with a specific, clear and comprehensive program for reducing the number of murders in the country.
But we’ll have to wait. AMLO continues to suck all the air out of Mexican politics, and will not give up an inch of power in his last year as president. That means there will be no change in direction, and that thousands more Mexicans will die.