Border Crisis

Record 191K Murders Reported Under Mexican President’s Watch

As the six-year presidential term of Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador (AMLO) comes to an end, his legacy will be the highest number of homicides recorded under any presidential term since the Mexican Revolution. The record 191,600 murders during his term highlight the devastating effects of his “Abrazos, no blazes” or “Hugs, not bullets” policy approach to dealing with the violent drug cartels operating throughout the county.

According to TResearch, a private research group based in Mexico, the daily murder rate under AMLO is nearly three times higher than that of former Mexican President Carlos Salinas de Gotari, who was president from 1988 to 1994. The current daily rate of approximately 95 murders per day is nearly double the homicide rate under former Mexican President Felipe Calderon, who openly declared war against the violent drug cartels in 2006, just ten days after taking office. Under Calderon’s watch — from 2006 to 2012 — more than 120,000 people were murdered in Mexico.

Under Calderon’s successor, President Enrique Pena Nieto, 156,000 Mexican nationals were murdered between 2012 and 2018 when AMLO drastically changed course in how his administration would take a “hands-off” approach to dealing with the Mexican drug cartels. Promising peace and national reconciliation, AMLO vowed to end the Mexican government’s decade-long war against drug cartels. AMLO promised to reduce the number of deaths suffered by Mexicans during the years-long conflict between their government and the bloody cartels.

AMLO parted ways with his predecessor’s notion that the cartels must be fought and annihilated, opting instead to deal with the root causes of the violence through social programs to combat poverty. AMLO also vowed to reduce the number of non-violent drug offenders in Mexico’s prisons. Despite the vision that sharply contrasted his predecessors, AMLO’s legacy will be a level of violence in Mexico that is unseen in modern history. The statistics clearly indicate the hugs did not work.

The opposite can be argued that AMLO’s “hugs, not bullets” strategy and the new social programs designed to ween criminals away from the cartels only served to make the criminal organizations stronger. In a May 2024 report by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), the strength of several of Mexico’s notorious drug cartels had increased and diversified.

In their report, two of the cartels were described as follows:

The Sinaloa and Jalisco cartels are called “transnational criminal organizations” because they are not just drug manufacturers and traffickers; they are organized crime groups, involved in arms trafficking, money laundering, migrant smuggling, sex trafficking, bribery, extortion, and a host of other crimes – and have a global reach extending into strategic transportation zones and profitable drug markets in Europe, Africa, Asia, and Oceania.

There is no doubt AMLO’s disastrous policy has had a devastating impact on the lives of the surviving family members of the more than 191,000 people murdered during his term. The impact of his failed “hugs, not bullets” policy also reaches far into the United States. The growth and strengthening of the Mexican drug cartels under AMLO brought about increasing levels of deadly fentanyl trafficking far from the Mexican border.

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, when AMLO took office in 2018, 290,000 fentanyl pills were seized by law enforcement officers in the United States. In 2023, the amount of fentanyl pills seized in the United States has climbed to more than 115 million tablets — an astronomical increase of more than 300,000 percent.

In October, Claudia Sheinbaum-Pardo will become Mexico’s first female president. A close associate and member of AMLO’s Morena party, Sheinbaum will likely continue to wage war against the cartels with social programs designed to fight extreme poverty rather than engaging in a direct battle with the cartels. On Thursday, Sheinbaum announced that Omar Garcia-Harfuch would assume the position of security secretary. As such, he will be Sheinbaum’s point man for reducing the cartel violence plaguing the country.

Garcia-Harfuch worked under Sheinbaum as the Chief of Police in Mexico City and is promising to deploy a strategy against violent crime that focuses on investigation and intelligence and not an all-out kinetic battle with the cartels. According to a statement from Garcia-Harfuch made during the announcement of his ascension to the Security Secretary position, “In the future, we will not be looking to start an all-out war but rather stop the generators of violence with intelligence and investigation.”

Garcia-Harfuch’s statement is a sign the homicide rate in Mexico will likely increase as the “hugs, not bullets” campaign may continue for another six years.

Randy Clark is a 32-year veteran of the United States Border Patrol.  Prior to his retirement, he served as the Division Chief for Law Enforcement Operations, directing operations for nine Border Patrol Stations within the Del Rio, Texas, Sector. Follow him on Twitter @RandyClarkBBTX.

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