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“Hugs Not Bullets” How Cartel Strategy Is a Running Issue for the 2024 Mexican Election

Mexico has had a long-standing issue with cartel activity, which has exacerbated. Some point to the passive enforcement policies enacted by the current president, Andrés Manuel López Obrador, who was previously the Mayor of Mexico City and elected president in 2018 after two failed previous attempts. He started the MONERA party, or “Movement for National Regeneration,” after his 2012 election loss and is still a member of MONERA today. The party is left-leaning and focuses on non-hierarchal leadership with an emphasis on the environment. MORENA has gained youth support through populist priorities such as wealth disparity. 

His new approach to cartel conflict, known as “hugs not bullets,” introduced passivity in the face of cartel crimes. This quote from Obrador best explains the rationale behind the strategy, “The human being is not bad by nature, circumstances lead them to take the path to antisocial behavior.” This means shifting the focus from law enforcement to prioritizing fighting the hypothetical root cause of corruption and poverty. 

The ‘“hugs not bullets” strategy is the successor of a previously militaristic approach from 2006 when ​​Felipe Calderón was in office and worked with the U.S.’s war on drugs. Calderón attempted to disrupt the cartel by attacking factions, arresting leaders, and fracturing their forces. Resulting in the cartel ending up in a desperate state where the violence rate inevitably tripled, with an estimated 150,000 deaths from 2006 to the present. 

The “hugs not bullets” strategy has pulled away from U.S. assistance with the cartel and disbanded the Mexican federal police, installing a national guard in its stead. Standoffs between law enforcement and cartels who are taking territory within Mexico have become notably more lenient. An example of leniency under the new policy was when EL Chapo’s son, Ovidio Guzman, was arrested and then released by Obrador when the cartel showed force in protest of his arrest. Even though the approach intends to tackle corruption, some instances, such as the pardon of General Salvador Cienfuegos, run counter to this goal. The DEA arrested Salvador while he was in the U.S. for assisting the cartel in smuggling cocaine into the country. The Mexican government demanded the return of the General, and America complied to be diplomatic. Once Salvador returned to Mexico, officials threw out the case based on a lack of evidence. Shortly after this event, a new legislature passed to suppress foreign agency investigations within Mexico. 

Obrador’s term ends this year. Mexico’s 2024 presidential election is on June 2, with the two main candidates being women, a first in Mexico’s history. They are Claudia Sheinbaum and Xochicl Galvez. Sheinbaum is the appointed successor of Obrador and intends to prolong the policy strategies brought in by her predecessor. She is a candidate uniformly accepted by the majority of the MORENA party. Xochicl Galvez is the opposition candidate who seeks to revamp the current cartel strategy. She is a candidate with business experience and indigenous Mexican roots.


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