Mexico’s ‘hugs not bullets’ approach to drug cartels has failed

Posted 11/7/19

“Abrazos, no balazos.” Hugs, not bullets. That has been a cornerstone of Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador’s policy toward the country’s murderous drug cartels. Eradicate poverty, …

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Mexico’s ‘hugs not bullets’ approach to drug cartels has failed

Posted

“Abrazos, no balazos.” Hugs, not bullets. That has been a cornerstone of Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador’s policy toward the country’s murderous drug cartels. Eradicate poverty, and eradication of the cartels follows, he has insisted. It’s hard to imagine Obrador hewing to his nonconfrontational tack with the cartels after what happened Monday in northern Mexico.

Nine members of a Mormon family with dual U.S.-Mexican citizenship were killed during a brutal ambush on their three sport utility vehicles. Six of the dead were children. Members of the LeBaron family say one child was gunned down while trying to flee. The attackers set one of the SUVs ablaze. Inside were twins less than a year old.

At this writing, motive remains murky. Authorities say they’re still trying to figure out whether the LeBaron family, which had lived in the scrublands of Mexico’s border region for decades, had been specifically targeted or whether the SUVs were mistaken as belonging to a rival gang. In the past, the family has spoken out about criminal gangs that operate in the border states of Chihuahua and Sonora, The New York Times reported. Ten years ago, two LeBaron family members were abducted and killed after confronting local drug gangs.

In extending an offer to help Mexico, President Donald Trump rashly tweeted that the U.S. could join with Mexico to “wage WAR on the drug cartels and wipe them off the face of the earth.” America doesn’t need this entanglement. Obrador quickly rejected the offer: “The worst thing you can have is war.”

But Obrador’s approach isn’t working either. Last December, the longtime leftist rose to power on a slew of populist pledges, including a “Mexico first” approach toward governance, an end to corruption — and an end to his country’s drug wars. The fulcrum of his anti-cartel policy was a raft of social programs that would alleviate poverty and, in theory, eliminate root causes of cartel mayhem. “Evil needs to be fought with good by addressing the roots that generate violence,” he said after his election.

Since that show of naivete, the cartels have displayed the blood-lust evil he’s up against. In October, hundreds of cartel gunmen besieged the city of Culiacan after Mexican security forces arrested the son of convicted cartel drug lord Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman Loera. The siege forced Obrador to release the son. Just days earlier, cartel gunmen ambushed police in the state of Michoacan, killing 14 officers.

And now, the massacre in northern Mexico. Obrador shouldn’t need any more cartel ambushes to realize that time has run out on his hugs-not-bullets strategy. The Mexican leader should make this a turning point — for the sake of drug war-weary Mexicans and for the sake of Mexico’s neighbor to the north.

Chicagoans are all too aware of the long reach of the cartels. El Chapo’s Sinaloa cartel used Chicago as a main hub for cocaine and heroin shipments throughout the U.S. and Canada. Some shipments stayed here, though, making Chicago’s gang and drug scourges that much worse.

Reacting to the massacre, U.S. Sen. Ben Sasse, a Republican from Nebraska, warned Mexico is “dangerously close to being a failed state.” That should worry not just Obrador and the rest of Mexico, but Americans as well. It’s time for Obrador to overhaul his strategy against the cartels, for the sake of citizens on both sides of the border.

Mexico’s president may not want war. But that’s what the vicious cartels have handed him.

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