Salvo 03.28.2024 4 minutes

Mexican Standoff

Lopez Obrador Daily Morning Press Conference

The leadership of our neighbor to the south treats the cartels as a useful ally.

The number of Americans who die each year from an opioid overdose has exploded over the last two decades. Each year, over 70,000 Americans succumb to synthetic opioids, mainly fentanyl; that’s more than the total number of American soldiers who died during the Vietnam War. The rate of deaths per capita has quadrupled since the turn of the century.

Most of the fentanyl flooding the country is produced in Mexico by the cartels. These are the same cartels that also smuggle in weapons and traffic hundreds of thousands, maybe millions, of people across the southern border. The cartels are able to act so freely and with such impunity because the Mexican president, Andrés Manuel López Obrador, known popularly as AMLO, has taken a laissez-faire approach to their dealings. AMLO has said he believes a “hugs not bullets” approach is the best way to deal with the cartels.

López Obrador recently reiterated his stance on not taking orders from America regarding combatting the drug cartels. Throughout his presidency, AMLO has provided various justifications for his approach of prioritizing dialogue over confrontation with these criminal organizations. He has emphasized that violence cannot be countered with more violence and has highlighted the importance of addressing the root causes of drug cartel violence such as poverty and limited opportunities. López Obrador explicitly states that his decision to refrain from pursuing the cartels aligns with his “Mexico First” policy, and that the issue of drug overdoses primarily affects the United States, not Mexico. In other words, your problem, not mine. 

Every leader should put the needs of his or her own people before the needs of those residing elsewhere, but López Obrador is being disingenuous. AMLO has previously emphasized the importance of not vilifying drug cartels and has even urged Catholic Church leaders to mediate peace agreements between rival gangs. In 2022, López Obrador defended his decision forbidding the Mexican military from targeting cartel members, stating that their lives matter just as much as anyone else’s. In June of last year, after a drug gang abducted 14 police officers, he said: “I’m going to tell on you to your fathers and grandfathers,” suggesting that these ruthless criminals were in need of a good spanking. We are talking about the most violent monsters imaginable, the type of people who regularly kill police officers for fun.

López Obrador’s unseriousness—as well as allegations that he receives money from the cartels—poses a direct threat to the safety of the United States. Mercifully, for those living on both sides of the southern border, this is his last year in office. As the Wilson Center noted earlier this year, AMLO will conclude his administration with some of the highest homicide rates in Mexico’s 200-year history. Without doubt, López Obrador’s most detrimental contribution to Mexico’s dire situation has been his complete denial of the country’s security issues.

In 2019, during his first year as president, Mexico witnessed over 30,000 murders, establishing a truly horrifying record. Early on in his tenure, López Obrador advocated for a cessation of armed confrontations with cartels on the streets. Although open warfare on the streets is not something most sane people would support, one assumes that it will take more than hugs to bring the cartels to their knees.

In 2024, as the Wilson Center points out, homicides rates are still exceptionally high, and the overall security situation in the country has deteriorated. The country has witnessed a record number of killings of journalists, activists, and politicians—three pillars of a functioning democratic nation. This year is projected to end with a rate of approximately 16,000 murders, many of these committed by cartel thugs.

Unfortunately—for both the American people and Mexican citizens—Claudia Sheinbaum, the favorite to become the next Mexican president, is seen as a direct extension of López Obrador’s leadership. A member of the current ruling party, Morena, Sheinbaum is one of López Obrador’s most trusted allies and remains loyal to his core principles. She denies that cartels essentially rule Mexico, and she denies the fact that the only way to stop the madness is by directly targeting organized crime. By refusing to see things as they really are, Sheinbaum is missing an opportunity for transparent discussions that could lead to improved security strategies, both in Mexico and the United States.

The Biden Administration has been rightly criticized for the crisis at the border. However, it is clear that it is receiving absolutely no support from the current president of Mexico—and from the looks of things, the next president of Mexico will be of no help either.

Now is the time for the Biden Administration to apply pressure, to send the strongest of messages to López Obrador and whoever will replace him: to continue receiving hundreds of millions in aid from the U.S. each year, target cartels now—not with hugs but with concrete policies that will stop fentanyl flooding the country and hundreds of thousands more American from losing their lives.

The American Mind presents a range of perspectives. Views are writers’ own and do not necessarily represent those of The Claremont Institute.

The American Mind is a publication of the Claremont Institute, a non-profit 501(c)(3) organization, dedicated to restoring the principles of the American Founding to their rightful, preeminent authority in our national life. Interested in supporting our work? Gifts to the Claremont Institute are tax-deductible.

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