All Mexicans have access to the same crime figures as President Andrés Manuel López Obrador, or AMLO, as he’s known. And the government data paints a horrifying picture: 2019 may well turn out to be the most violent year in Mexico’s modern history.
I’ll say more about those terrible numbers below. But first, I want to tell you the sad story of Norberto Ronquillo, a university student who was kidnapped and murdered just this month in Mexico City.
In an interview, Norberto’s mother, Norelia Hernández, told me about the day she found out that her son had been kidnapped. She was at the movies and her sister sent her a text: “URGENT.” Her sister revealed the horrible news: “Some people are holding Junior [Norberto].”
The kidnappers “called several times; exactly how many, I don’t know,” Norelia told me. “I felt like [I was] in some kind of horror movie. ‘We have him here; get the money.’ They would say one word and hang up, or two words and hang up.”
Nothing seemed to work. Then Norberto’s body was found. He had been tortured and strangled.
“I don’t want this to be made into a political thing,” Norelia told me. “Really, my sole concern was that my son would be found. ... My deep prayer to God was that I didn’t want my son to be one more missing person.”
Norberto’s tragic death will now be added to Mexico’s official kidnapping and murder statistics. Contrary to what the government says, the homicide rate isn’t declining. In fact, May proved to be the most violent month in López Obrador’s young administration, with 2,903 people killed. In the first six months of his presidency, 17,010 Mexicans have been killed, according to recently updated government figures.
Almost a year ago, over 30 million Mexicans voted for change in the nation’s presidential election. I won’t deny that such change should include an end to corruption and extreme social inequality. But it must also include reining in Mexico’s alarmingly high crime rates. This is one of AMLO’s biggest challenges, one he has failed so far to deliver on.
Mexico’s new National Guard, devised by López Obrador explicitly to fight crime, is persecuting innocent immigrants instead of tracking down real criminals. The original plan for the National Guard certainly never included preventing Central American migrants from crossing Mexico’s southern border. But that’s now one of the organization’s duties, thanks to President Donald Trump and AMLO’s recent immigration deal. This is absurd, and will only waste resources urgently needed in other parts of the country.
None of this means that we’re being any harder on López Obrador than we were on past presidents. We also kept track of the murders committed under Enrique Peña Nieto and his predecessor, Felipe Calderón. Nearly 123,000 people were killed during Peña Nieto’s six-year term, while roughly 102,000 were murdered during Calderón’s.
We only want to know this: At what point should López Obrador be deemed responsible for the violence in Mexico? After only six months in power? After one year?
No region in Mexico is free from crime. Some believed Mexico City would be spared the violence that is so common in other parts of the country. But the last six months have been a cruel reality check: Between December and May, 923 people were killed in the city, a significant uptick from the 663 killed between the previous June and November.
Something must be done — and urgently — not only in Mexico City but throughout the nation. The unfortunate truth, however, is that nobody knows what to do.
When I interviewed Norberto’s mother, Norelia, I also spoke to his brother, Aaron Ronquillo. “Is it dangerous to be young in Mexico?” I asked.
“Sadly, and I mean this from my perspective and from that of every other young person, we do feel that we aren’t safe when we go out,” he said. “It doesn’t matter if we go to the cinema, to a café or to a bar. We hear about too many cases of violence in our country and, regrettably, the person I loved the most had to endure one of the worst.”