Last April I attended a “mañanera,” one of the morning news conferences the president holds every weekday, for the first time. I asked López Obrador (or AMLO, as he is known) about the incessant violence that has shaken Mexico for decades.
If the current trends continued, 2019 would turn out to be Mexico’s bloodiest year on record, I said.
At the time, the president assured me that progress would soon be made. Early this month I attended another mañanera to ask the same question: When are we going to finally see results?
“This year,” he said.
Mexicans will do anything they can to make sure the president keeps his promise. The relentless violence cannot continue. Mexico is a war zone, with tens of thousands of people dying every year.
And yet at times the government seems to lack any sense of urgency about this crisis. “There is not one problem that keeps me awake at night,” López Obrador said recently.
Well, this is a problem that should keep him awake, or at least give him nightmares.
Between AMLO’s inauguration on Dec. 1, 2018, and Nov. 30 of last year, 34,579 Mexicans were killed, according to official figures from the Executive Secretariat of the National Public Security System. Though the agency hasn’t released official figures for December yet, initial government counts make it clear that 2019 will have been the bloodiest year in nearly a century.
The number killed during AMLO’s first 12 months is higher than the 33,743 recorded in 2018 (the last year in office for Enrique Peña Nieto, his predecessor) and the 27,213 registered in 2011, the deadliest year under President Felipe Calderón, who initiated Mexico’s so-called war on drugs in 2006.
In the past, López Obrador has said he knows “other facts.” But in this case, it is the figures of his own government that reveal the brutal reality of Mexican violence.
We must ask ourselves two questions: Who is at fault for this crisis? And who is responsible for resolving it?
Mexico’s government has long been unable to guarantee the safety of its citizens’ lives, and for many years there have been areas of the country that remained outside state control. According to official records, the recent escalation of violence began in 2007, the first full year of Calderón’s six-year administration. Although his government initiated a broad-based confrontation with the drug cartels, the strategy failed to curtail their pernicious influence.
The recent arrest in the United States of Genaro García Luna, the secretary of public security during the Calderón administration, underlines the point: García Luna is accused of accepting multimillion-dollar bribes from the Sinaloa drug cartel while in office. Though the violence temporarily declined under Calderón’s successor, Peña Nieto, by the end of his six-year term homicide rates had risen even higher than they had been under Calderón.
Nobody blames AMLO for the terrible legacy of violence he inherited from his predecessors. However, it is now his job to find a solution. This is what 30 million Mexicans elected him to do; they desperately need someone who can tackle the nation’s most pressing challenges. After nine months in office, on Aug. 22, he finally took responsibility for the epidemic of violence, saying: “I don’t want to continue holding the past administration and those before it accountable.”
Despite this acknowledgment, little has changed. At a Nov. 5 news conference, López Obrador was back to blaming his predecessors. As for his own administration? “We’re already seeing results,” he said. “We have been able to stop the escalation of violence.” The more than 34,000 killed under this president’s watch tell a very different story.
AMLO has refused to change his security strategy: His long-term plan — greater social investment to fight the root causes of violence — has not reduced the cartels’ dominance, as indicated by both the capture and subsequent release of the son of drug kingpin Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzmán in October and the killing of several members of a local Mormon family in November.
Meanwhile, the president’s supposed weapon for fighting crime in the short term — the new National Guard — is instead being used to restrict the flow of immigrants arriving from Central America.
“There is no president or prime minister in the world who deals with the problem of insecurity and violence like we do, Monday through Friday from 6 to 7 in the morning,” AMLO said recently, referring to his morning news conferences. Clearly, he is confusing working hours with effectiveness. What Mexico needs are results.
We can all agree that López Obrador has a very timeworn problem on his hands, one that he did not create. But we can also agree that it is his absolute responsibility to implement effective strategies and mechanisms to end the violence. If in his first year in office he hasn’t produced results, he must change his security plan, fire officials who haven’t adequately addressed the problem and focus on finding a solution, like any other head of state.
Although I have always recognized the democratic power of AMLO’s morning news conferences, and his willingness to welcome the press and answer all their questions, I increasingly believe that the mañaneras produce more rhetoric than real action. Which is why all Mexicans must remember AMLO’s promise: The violence will decrease by December 2020.
We all want the president to succeed. Yet all we have seen so far is more kidnapping and murder. AMLO’s accountability begins today.