MEXICO CITY—Mexico’s left-leaning president, Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, took office in December 2018 vowing to demilitarize his country’s war on drugs and tackle its wave of violent crime with a policy of “hugs, not bullets.” Yet his first full year in office saw 35,588 homicides committed nationwide, breaking the previous record for the third year in a row. In one of the more high-profile atrocities, nine members of a prominent Mexican-American Mormon family were massacred in November, including six children.
The spiraling violence, along with AMLO’s failed promises to address it, has rekindled a long-running debate in Mexico over how to improve the country’s deeply flawed criminal justice system and strengthen its law enforcement capacity. After months of preparation, AMLO’s administration was due to unveil a new proposed criminal justice reform law this week, but those plans were derailed when leaked drafts of the legislation circulated online, angering experts who claim the proposal would mark a dangerous regression for due process and human rights.
Mexico’s rapidly rising homicide rate can be traced back to a crackdown on organized crime that began in 2007, when then-President Felipe Calderon ordered the military to take over law enforcement duties in regions affected by feuding drug cartels. Amid the heavy-handed enforcement effort, trafficking groups splintered and the violence only intensified. Murders increased by 58 percent in 2008 and kept rising, peaking over the past three years.