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Feature 120318 Corcoran

Monday, December 3, 2018

What is Behind AMLO's Security Policy U-Turn in Mexico?

By Patrick Corcoran (InSight Crime)

Days before his inauguration, on December 1, Mexico’s President-elect Andrés Manuel López Obrador announced a pair of security initiatives that seemingly contradict his campaign proposals. But what is the reasoning behind the turnarounds?

On November 14, López Obrador released his National Plan for Peace and Security (Plan Nacional de Paz y Seguridad), which includes the creation of a National Guard composed of police and military troops that would operate under the Ministry of Defense.

The proposal details some of the challenges the security forces have faced, mainly due to a lack of training and resources. It also outlines the key role the military would play in tackling Mexico’s security crisis.

See also: Mexico News and Profiles

Weeks after the publication of the National Plan for Peace and Security, López Obrador again did an about-face when, during an interview with El Universal, he proposed a sort of immunity for corrupt officials that would begin with his inauguration on December 1.

Although he has not unveiled a concrete proposal yet, he said all past crimes could be absolved in exchange for a pledge to end corrupt activities.

InSight Crime Analysis

The ideological contradictions contained within Manuel López Obrador’s two proposals are striking.

The formalization of the military’s participation in domestic operations is a basic staple of tough on crime (mano dura) security policy. In contrast, a blanket pardon toward a class of powerful criminal actors is about as dramatic a departure from mano dura as one could imagine.

Regardless of their individual merits, there is little logical or philosophical overlap between the two plans.

The proposal to formalize a permanent role for a military command in Mexico’s domestic security reflects a contradiction of López Obrador’s longstanding commitment — which he repeatedly emphasized during the presidential campaign — to pull back from the prevailing militarization of the past 12 years.

The move was severely criticized by many. Human Rights Watch, for example, deemed it a “colossal mistake” and accused López Obrador of “doubling down” on the policies of his predecessors Felipe Calderón (2006-2012) and Enrique Peña Nieto (2012-2018).

But why is Mexico’s new president taking such a drastic U-turn?

One possible answer is that López Obrador is realizing that the problems facing Mexico are more intractable than he made them out to be during years of campaigning.

Though Lopez Obrador’s triumph extended to both houses of Congress, he is unlikely to remake a political culture where corruption is endemic.

The president-elect also departed from his campaign promises when he said he would provide immunity to officials accused of corruption who did not have charges pending. His sudden statements come just as he and other members of his incoming administration are under the spotlight.

Manuel Bartlett, the incoming chief of the Federal Electricity Commission (Comisión Federal de Electricidad – CFE) and long one of López Obrador’s chief lieutenants, is accused of having spent the early decades of his career as a notorious hatchet man for the authoritarian Institutional Revolutionary Party (Partido Revolucionario Institucional – PRI).

López Obrador’s choices for top prosecutorial jobs have likewise been dogged by allegations of improper activity.

And during the trial of Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán in New York, allegations were made that members of López Obrador’s 2000-2005 Mexico City mayoral administration may have accepted bribes from drug traffickers.

Perhaps one of the most important takeaways from his missteps of the past few weeks deals not with his likely policies, but with the president-elect himself.

López Obrador has long shown an eagerness to form policy around his caprices.

The sudden shift back toward militarization and the seemingly unplanned proposal for amnesty for individuals accused of corruption are a reflection of this trait. This unpredictability could be a dangerous ingredient for a government in search of solutions to pressing challenges.

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This commentary was first published in InSight Crime and reposted per a Creative Commons authorization.  InSight Crime's objective is to increase the level of research, analysis and investigation on organized crime in Latin America and the Caribbean.  Patrick Corcoran is a graduate of the University of Tennessee and received an MA from the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies.

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