For the past 12 years, Mexico has fought violent drug gangs by deploying thousands of police, soldiers and intelligence officers to crack down on cartels and their leaders.
If its new president-elect gets his way, however, negotiation may replace the hard-line strategy that critics say has only perpetuated violence.
Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, a leftist who won on Sunday after two previous attempts at the presidency, wants to rewrite the rules of the drug war, aides said, suggesting negotiated peace and amnesties for some of the very people currently being targeted by security forces.
“The failed strategy of combating insecurity and violence will change,” Lopez Obrador said in his victory speech Sunday night, repeating his call to address the socioeconomic ills that push people toward the drug trade and other crimes.
“More than through the use of force, we will tend to the causes that give rise to insecurity and violence,” the president-elect added. He said his team will immediately begin consulting with human rights groups, religious leaders and the United Nations to develop a “plan for reconciliation and peace.”
So far, his proposals remain vague. And any move toward amnesty, while aimed at lesser and non-violent offenders, is sure to face opposition from the general public, rivals in Congress and U.S. allies who helped Mexico orchestrate its force-based approach.
Still, Olga Sanchez, Lopez Obrador’s proposed interior minister, said the new administration would move fast to reconsider drug policies and a militaristic approach that, despite toppling some high-profile kingpins, failed to prevent more than 200,000 murders since first adopted in 2006.
“As soon as we get in, we’re quickly going to take some dramatic decisions,” Sanchez told Reuters in an interview before the election.
She conceded that any shift, like the demobilization of the military troops fighting drug gangs, would need to be gradual. Longer-term goals, Sanchez added, include decriminalizing the recreational use of marijuana and the cultivation of opium for medicinal purposes.
To consider the possibility of negotiated peace, she said, her team has studied Colombia’s peace process with its biggest guerrilla group, which allowed rebel leaders to avoid prison. Aides have also begun planning legislation for “transitional justice.”
Typically, such justice involves leniency for those who admit guilt, truth commissions to investigate atrocities and the granting of reparations for some victims. Any clemency, Sanchez said, would be aimed toward farmers, drug couriers and other non-violent lawbreakers caught up in the trade – not assassins.
Sanchez said any plan for an amnesty would go to a public referendum. If it received public support, she added, the administration would then put it before Congress, where Lopez Obrador’s National Regeneration Movement and allies also gained seats on Sunday.
“I want to see the guilty behind bars,” said Laura Flores, whose husband, Daniel Velasquez, is believed to have been murdered along with 15 other people in 2015.