What Does the Election in Mexico Mean for AML and the War on Drugs?

With the presidential election coming up this weekend it seems like the decision is pretty much made. Andrés Manuel López Obrador (or AMLO) and his MORENA coalition are in the lead. And even though many Mexicans are still undecided, and therefore a change in results is technically still possible, it is a fairly reasonable assumption that this undecided part will distribute its vote not too differently from the current poll results.

For our field of work, two questions are central: How will the MORENA coalition approach the war on drugs and in tight relation with this armed conflict, how will they address the question of corruption and money laundering?

AMLO and the Cartels

A problem for any analysis of the coming political strategies is the fact that the MORENA coalition consists of very different groups and parties that have – at least in parts – opposing political visions for the country. Additionally, AMLO has always been rather vague about central pillars of his political program, something we discussed already regarding his position on the privatization of Mexican oil.  

AMLO speaks about a 180° turn in the strategy against violence.

Nevertheless, López Orbador has made some rather stunning statements in regard to the war on drugs and the cartels . That is, he has thought out loud about the possibility of an amnesty for arrested cartel members, and therefore gestures toward 180° turn in the strategy against violence. The exact extent of such an amnesty remains unclear. In December of 2017, when he had spoken about this idea in the state of Guerrero, he had mentioned that an amnesty would depend on the agreement of the victim’s family. His campaign managers on the other hand explained in April of this year, that the amnesty would only be available for non-violent offenders who only turned to criminal activities out of economic desperation.

Even though the idea is far from being a realizable political program, the rhetoric on amnesty is already a step in a different direction. AMLO might actually be able to push open the door for fresh political approaches to the question of violence in the country. After decades of ‘more of the same’ – more police, more military, more surveillance – his attempt to focus on prevention through youth programs in combination with a legal approach that focuses on resocialization instead of punishment can actually turn out to be a good one. Since we should not forget – as crazy as it might sound to release “narcos” from the prison, the actual insanity is the repetition of the same failing strategy over and over again.

AMLO and Corruption

Besides violence, the question of corruption (the second most severe problem that hinders development and peace in the country) and its relation to AMLO’s opponents has been a central discussion point in the Mexican media, mainly because they have been accused, or have accused each other, of being actively involved in criminal activities.

The sheer fact that AMLO seems to have clean hands is currently enough to position him as the anti-corruption candidate. But while not being corrupt is certainly helpful if you want to fight corruption it is certainly not enough. Similar to the question of how an amnesty could be implemented, the details on AMLO’s anti-corruption plans are not clear.

A hint came from one of his supporters in the MORENA coalition, the former Head of Government of the Federal District (Mexico City) Marcelo Luis Ebrard. On June first he tweeted a letter from a sub-branch of the United Nations claiming that AMLO will seek and get support from the international organization to implement anti-corruption measures.

Ebrard described the upcoming cooperation as a new step in the battle against corruption. What he did not mention is the fact that UNOPS, the organization that wrote the letter, is already present in Mexico consulting the government in a variety of issues. While seeking their expertise in the battle against corruption is certainly not wrong, it does by itself not solve any problems.

In short, the problem we have mentioned before remains in place. Even though we will witness Mexico’s largest elections that offers the possibility for severe political change, history has shown that the deeply embedded corruption, the total lack of trust from the population in its state and the lack of mobilization within broader society does not promise to actually give Mexico the needed deep change. And with only the presidential office, AMLO remains a lame duck – even if his political ideas are well intended.


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