Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador, a patriotic socialist, in his first year of government rejected a war against the powerful narcotic cartels. However, he now faces a dilemma in the face of Washington’s intentions to label the cartels as “terrorist” organizations. Obrador instead of taking the fight to the cartels, had chosen to focus his efforts on implementing his strategy, based on persuasion rather than confrontation, despite the high political cost.
On November 26, U.S. President Donald Trump announced that he intends to designate international drug cartels as terrorist organizations. This is highly problematic as the decision could give Trump, at least within the U.S. political structure, the legal tools to fight the narcotic cartels within Mexican territory without the Latin American country’s permission. Obrador must now consider the cost of his relations with the U.S., a policy that has been based on mutual respect, despite some differences and México’s increasing relations with China and Russia.
The Mexican president said that he is open to seek concerted action, but stressed that he accepts “cooperation yes, intervention no.” For his part, Foreign Minister Marcelo Ebrard proposed a “national unity diplomacy to defend sovereignty.”
Trump’s announcement was forced by a request from the Mexican-American family LeBarón, the victims of the dreadful slaughter of nine of its family members, three women and six children, on November 4 by a narcotic cartel. The incident occurred after an ambush in a remote mountainous region of the Mexican state of Sonora on the U.S. border where the family had been living for several decades. The leaders of the Mormon fundamentalist family demanded Washington to fight against the narcotic cartels with the same mechanisms used to “justify” the illegal invasions and interventions in Iraq, Syria and Afghanistan, as these groups kill thousands every year through murder, assassinations and drug deaths.
But the murder of the LeBarón family members is just one of the multiple cases of killings in México during the first year of Obrador’s government, who is attempting to resolve the issue with the cartels through peaceful means. According to official figures, Obrador inherited a country where more than 32,000 were killed or missing.
The cost of this security strategy has been to generate a citizen perception of radicalization of violence that puts it at stake.