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Amlo’s Security Surprises

By Joshua Stanley 

Nearly five months have passed since Andrés Manuel López Obrador (“Amlo”) won Mexico’s presidential election in a landslide. Some have expressed fears that Amlo’s ascension will only lead to Mexico’s downfall, with President Enrique Peña Nieto going so far as to warn that Amlo will pose a national security risk, which has not gone unnoticed. Former American Ambassador Roberta Jacobson has confirmed there is much trepidation over Amlo, and both John Kelly and the late Senator McCain cautioned that Amlo’s rise would bode ill for Mexico and the US. Now that Amlo is finally set to assume office on December 1, is there still cause for concern?

Yes, but for reasons other than perceived extremism. Though Amlo is most certainly a populist, he has not campaigned or presented himself as a left-wing radical. Instead, he has trumpeted the end of rampant corruption without referencing US interventionism, labor issues, or financial capitalism. In fact, he has a reputation for cooperating with the private sector as Mexico City’s former mayor and has won the support of neoliberal economists from the IMF and World Bank. He has also promised not to confiscate property or increase taxes on fuel, medicine, or electricity.

There is always cause for concern, however, and his recently announced national security strategy has become one such cause. It has eight components, the first promising to eradicate corruption. The second guarantees employment, education, and health care, while the third guarantees the promotion of human rights. Next is the regeneration of societal ethics, followed by the reformulation of the war against drugs, peace building, and prison reform. All are in keeping with his almost pacifist tone in ensuring peace through rejuvenated values instead of violence.

The last component is a security plan calling for the creation of a new military force of fifty thousand troops, initially drawn from the ranks of the armed forces and federal police. Mario Delgado, the leader of Amlo’s MORENA party in the lower house, has said the new military body would exist “as long as this crisis of violence and insecurity persists.” This will require changes to Mexico’s constitution for uniting soldiers and federal policemen in a single unit. Changes will also be needed in light of a recent supreme court ruling that the Internal Security Law of 2017 setting the military as a law enforcement body was unconstitutional for allowing the military to overstep civil authority. Such changes are feasible, however, given Amlo’s historic victory and popularity.

Opponents have pounced on this proposed strategy as simply being a repeat of former president Felipe Calderon’s plan enacted in 2006 to use troops until the police were better trained and equipped to face one of the world’s largest and most sophisticated drug networks. These drug cartels battle each other for territorial control and profits for shipping drugs into the US, with scores of civilians caught in the crossfire. Meanwhile, the Mexican military fights them desperately to instill order, but only seems to stoke the flames further. Though the military is considered Mexico’s most trusted institution, it has failed to quell the escalating violence; the Congressional Research Service estimates that approximately 150,000 homicides since 2006 have been related to this conflict with organized crime. Furthermore, the use of the military has led to numerous accusations of extrajudicial killings and human rights violations. A statement signed by over five hundred human rights defenders, academics, and security experts has warned that Amlo’s plan is clearly a “radical redistribution of power [that] will have profound political consequences,” cementing the militarization of Mexico. It is set to take effect once Amlo is sworn in office on December 1.

Some are still optimistic that Amlo will prove to be beneficial for both Mexico and the US regarding shared security interests. The Merida Initiative of 2007 established the combatting of drug-trafficking as a responsibility to be shared between both nations, and the highly publicized trial of “El Chapo” in Brooklyn is a testament to this cooperation. But, Amlo has already demonstrated his ability to make surprising decisions of economic importance, and the military component of his security strategy is evidence he can do the same in that arena. In the words of Luis Miguel González, editorial director of the newspaper El Economista, “Until now, Mexico has been predictable, and Trump has been the one providing the surprises. I think it’s now going to be Amlo who provides the surprise factor.”


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