The country is not hell.” The president of Mexico said that recently. But it is, for those who lived through a recent crime wave in Jalisco, Guanajuato, Chihuahua, Baja California, Veracruz and other states.
Murders and kidnappings, vehicles torched, attacks on convenience shops and narcoblockades are not inventions or exaggerations. They are, sadly, the daily news of the country.
In Mexico, violence is what is normal.
We have become so accustomed to violence that even Andrés Manuel López Obrador constantly repeats that “we’re doing well.” And it’s not true. How can you say “we’re doing well” when 88 of your people are murdered in an average day?
What’s’ happening is that the siren songs that Andrés Manuel López
Obrador is hearing from his aides and some news media do not reflect the violent reality of the country. From the National Palace, he cannot hear the machine guns, the cries for help from victims of kidnappings and femicides, the loud silence of the more than 100,000 disappeared. Within the palace bubble, Mexico is happy happy happy.
In a couple of days, the López Obrador government will become the most violent in the modern history of the country. More than 120,000 Mexicans have been murdered from the time AMLO was sworn into office on Jan. 1 2018 until the end of this June. Those are official numbers from the Executive Secretariat of the National System for Public Security and the National Institute for Statistics and Geography. There are no others.
Those numbers are almost the same as the 121,000 murders reported during the entire six-year presidential term of Felipe Calderon (2006-2012) and the 124,000 murders reported under Enrique Peña Nieto (2012-2018). And now, at the end of August, the Lopez Obrador administration will surpass those catastrophic numbers. The terrible irony is that as Mexico celebrates its independence in September, the new official murder numbers will come in. And they will be the worst since the Mexican Revolution and the Cristero War.
The president always has different numbers, and during his morning news conferences he and his aides juggle the statistics to show how homicides have fallen ever so slightly. But the number of dead is so high – I repeat, it will soon surpass the Calderón and Peña Nieto numbers – that to claim the strategy on crime is successful would be absurd. And false.
The military will not bring peace to Mexico.
The rapid and massive militarization of the country is a threat to the young and vulnerable Mexican democracy and to civilian control of the country. What’s more, it has not helped the fight against crime. Look at the numbers. Shifting the National Guard to the Defense Ministry will only add boots and rifles to an institution that must go back to its barracks. That is its place in a democracy. Not in the streets.
And this is important: Yes, the crisis can be solved without the military.
“The deployment of Mexico’s military to carry out policing tasks over the past decade and a half has led to serious human rights violations while failing to control criminal violence,” said WOLA, a non-government organization in Washington DC that monitors Latin America. It favors a security model for Mexico “centered on building capable and accountable civilian institutions rather than on military deployment.”
Soldiers cannot be and should not be the police in Mexico. Specially not with a grave history that includes the Tlatelolco massacre in 1968 and the Tlatlaya massacre in 2014, just to mention two examples. I believe the military, in any country, must always be under civilian control and never become involved in politics or the fight against crime.
In an old interview, in May of 2017, I asked López Obrador – who still had not announced his presidential candidacy – if he would “return the army to the barracks.” And he did not want to answer. He said only that he would adopt a security policy that addresses the causes of violence.
“And there won’t be 80,000, 100,000 dead?” I asked. “No, no, no, no,” he told me, four times no.
He was right, and I was short. It would not be 80,000 or 100,000 dead. It’s 120,000 and counting.
Controlling the violence in Mexico is not easy work. But more than 30 million Mexicans voted for AMLO because they believed he could find a solution to the problem. It did not happen. The militarization of Mexico has not brought good results and is endangering a country that suffered under authoritarian regimes for 71 years.
After nearly four years of failed attempts, we must have the honesty and strength to recognize the security strategy of “hugs, not bullets” is not working. And make changes.
The hells – and the absence of authority – in different parts of the country say it all. The dead can never be hidden away.