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The general and the dead

This year could become the most violent in the modern history of Mexico, with even more murders than the 34,669 recorded in 2019. And after the arrest of a top general there are new doubts about the failed national strategy against the violence.
Jorge Ramos is an Emmy award-winning co-anchor of the Univision evening news and host of Al Punto and Real America.
Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto (L) congratulates Defense Secretary Gral. Salvador Cienfuegos Zepeda after his speech about recaptured drug baron Joaquin Guzman Loera, AKA "El Chapo", in Mexico City on January 8, 2016. Crédito: Omar Torres/AFP via Getty Images)

What's the plan?

Since Andrés Manuel López Obrador became president, 63,792 Mexicans have been murdered. There are no other details. That's the Mexican government's official figure on willful homicides from Dec 1 2018 to Sept 30 2020.

Conclusion: AMLO's government has not been able to control the violence. Neither could Alfonso Durazo. The man in charge of reducing violence as Secretary for Public Security said in his final news conference that “we could not pretend that solving the problem was going to be easy.” And in the end, he neither pretended or solved it. He's leaving to run for governor of Sonora. But whoever replaces him will not be able to solve the problem without a realistic and effective plan.

This year could become the most violent in the modern history of the country, with even more Mexicans murdered than the 34,669 recorded in 2019. We have to be honest. What AMLO has done so far has not worked. The annual murder numbers for his administration are higher than those for the governments of Enrique Peña Nieto, Felipe Calderón, Ernesto Zedillo and Carlos Salinas de Gortari, according to official data and a Rice University study.

Militarizing the recently created National Guard has not generated the expected results. The violence was too much for them. It's also not a good idea to give the army control of the ports, customs and the new airport. In a democracy, that's the job of civilians. The rightful place of soldiers is in the barracks, not the streets. And after the arrest of Gen. Salvador Cienfuegos, who was secretary of defense during the Peña Nieto administration 2012-2018, there are new doubts about the failed national strategy against the violence.

Cienfuegos – who was arrested in Los Angeles, not in Mexico – is accused of helping a drug trafficking cartel in exchange for bribes. A judge denied him bail because of the flight risk. It's the first time that a Mexican secretary of defense has been arrested for drug trafficking, and if convicted it would reflect grave problems within the Mexican armed forces. If the charges are true, Cienfuegos could not have acted alone, and there should be an investigation into whether possible accomplices continue in the military.

A similar problem came up after the arrest of Genaro García Luna in Texas. The former Secretary for Public Security during the entire Calderón administration, 2006-2012 has been charged with taking millions of dollars in bribes from the Sinaloa cartel. García Luna was a key player in the “war on drug trafficking” declared by Calderón.

The great Mexican tragedy is that two of the key officials in charge of fighting against the violence for 12 years may have been on the wrong side. And if Cienfuegos and García Luna are convicted, how many others are in positions of authority right now?

That is our sad reality. And there are only two options: you complain and blame Cienfuegos and García Luna for everything wrong in Mexico, or you do something about it. Unfortunately, AMLO has decided to use them as an excuse, to justify his lack of results in the fight against violence.

Let's think back. This is what López Obrador said Aug. 22 2019: “ I don't want to continue blaming the past administration and the people in the one before. It's now our responsibility … There are grave, big national problems and we have to deal with them.” But during his morning news conferences he continues to blame precisely the previous governments for their mistakes and lack of effectiveness.

Without a doubt, the polls show López Obrador continues to be a very popular president. But it strikes me that his supporters do not demand results on social networks, as though the 63,792 deaths caused by the violence and 90,000 by the pandemic did not matter.

In the end, if I have learned anything covering all types of presidents over more than three decades, it is that the dead cannot be hidden. The dead do not go away. They follow us, and always wind up weakening and scaring the leaders who try to hide them.

This January, I went to one of López Obrador's morning news conferences in Mexico City, and after going over the horrible murder numbers during his government, I asked, “When will there be results?” His answer was, “This year.”

We'll see.