As the dust settles on Mexico’s July 1 presidential election results, numerous pressing questions have emerged about how President-elect Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, known as AMLO, will redefine security policy and the future of United States-Mexico security cooperation. These questions were central to the first high-level meeting between Lopez Obrador and a U.S. delegation led by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and White House senior adviser Jared Kushner last week.
Lopez Obrador takes office against the backdrop of Mexico’s deeply troubled security landscape. While he identified the fight against corruption as crucial to his victory, growing dissatisfaction over public security was another important driver of Mexican voters’ hostility toward traditional parties and leaders. Nearly 29,000 Mexicans were killed in 2017, a record since Mexico started tracking murders in 1979. Meanwhile, 28 states saw an increase in homicides last year, suggesting that the problem is spreading. Worse, only 6 percent of all crimes are even reported, in large measure because Mexicans do not believe the authorities will do anything. Corruption among law enforcement personnel and in the justice sector is one important factor in this distrust.
There are multiple theories about why violence has increased of late, and more importantly, why the past two governments were unable to get the problem under control. These are the challenges Lopez Obrador has promised to address, but it is too early to know precisely what Lopez Obrador proposes to do about the violence. This echoes the last presidential transition, when then-President-elect Enrique Pena Nieto was also very vague about his security strategy. Pena Nieto suggested he would de-emphasize security issues to focus on his economic agenda. He then put security cooperation with the U.S. on hold for nearly a year, driving U.S. officials to distraction while they waited for him to engage.