Mexico – Change is Strategy in Drug War

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Mexico to pursue new strategy in ‘war on drugs’

Mexico’s new president has declared war on the drug mafia — and is putting citizens at the heart of his approach. Drug use will also be regarded not so much as a security problem in future but as more of a health issue.

Peace instead of war, paying closer attention to the social causes of criminality, and a clear commitment from the security forces that they will respect human rights: these are the key points in the security strategy of Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, who takes office as Mexico’s new president on December 1. Last week, in Mexico City, Lopez Obrador – who’s known by the sobriquet AMLO — presented his ideas for ending the bloodshed in his country, caused by a drugs war that has lasted more than a decade. Victims’ associations and civil society were the main focus of the event. They presented the findings of peace forums held at AMLO’s instigation all over the country in the past few months.

Change of policy on drugs

Also present at the event in Mexico City were key figures in AMLO’s future security cabinet, like Interior Minister Olga Sanchez Cordero and Public Security Minister Alfonso Durazo. Falko Ernst from Crisis Group Mexico, who had expected to be presented with a detailed program, had criticisms: “The plan to demilitarize security policy is praiseworthy, but it doesn’t elaborate on how that would be implemented without falling back into old patterns.”

Not all of civil society’s demands will be met. The call for an official representative for the disappeared fell on sympathetic ears; but the only case for which a truth commission is likely to be established is that of the 43 disappeared student teachers of Ayotzinapa.

There will also be a change of policy on drug use. Bucking the regional trend toward increased repression and controls, Mexico’s new government will pin its hopes on legalization, and will no longer define drug use as a security issue but as a health problem. Sanchez Cordero, the future interior minister, left no doubt about that. Here too, however, the devil is in the as-yet-unspecified detail: It’s still not clear which model the government will use, and whether it will apply only to marijuana or also to other drugs like cocaine and opium.

Transparency and accountability

AMLO has clearly moved away from the idea of a general amnesty as announced during the election campaign. In the forums, victims decisively rejected this point; they demanded truth and justice before there could be any talk of forgiveness. Around 234,000 people have died in the Mexico’s drug wars since 2006; more than 30,000 have disappeared.

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