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Would Amnesty for Drug Kingpins Achieve Peace in Mexico? Depends Who You Ask

Pictured: Andres M. Lopez Obrador, who proposed amnesty for some participants in Mexico’s non-international armed conflict. Image from Flickr by Eneas de Troya, taken during Lopez Obrador’s campaign and used under CC 2.0 licensing terms.

Would pardoning criminals put an end Mexico’s internal armed conflict? This is one of a few recently proposed scenarios to have emerged in Mexico prior to the July 2018 presidential election.

The candidate who is currently polling highest, Andres M. López Obrador (also known by his initials, AMLO), said in a speech last December that he would consider granting legal amnesty to leaders of Mexico's warring drug organizations.

Amnesty is defined as “forgiveness extended to certain crimes, which absolves legal responsibility of their perpetrators,” according to the dictionary of the Royal Spanish Academy.

The former head of government of Mexico's capital is vying for the job once more, after two previously unsuccessful runs. A leftist, populist candidate who has held roles in multiple political parties, López Obrador is sometimes compared to Venezuela’s current president, Nicolas Maduro.

The Huffington Post reported on López Obrador’s “granting pardon” approach, quoting him verbatim: “We are going to look at amnesty declaration from every angle, while taking victims into account as well.” News and commentary site Animal Politico also reported on the proposal, noting that the leader of the National Regeneration Movement (MORENA) party said he would do “everything one could possibly do” to bring peace to the country.

In January 2018, current president Enrique Peña Nieto referred to the amnesty proposition as a “betrayal of Mexico,” in a speech largely understood to be a direct response to López Obrador. Mexico's federal government has claimed to be at war with criminals since it was openly declared by his predecessor, Felipe Calderon, in 2006.

Although López Obrador and his followers have now backtracked on his statement regarding amnesty, the subject is nevertheless very much in discussion among the public.

Users posted their positions on Twitter:

How hypocritical of the Mexican government to criticize AMLO’s proposal of amnesty for criminals, when the Mexican state not only has done nothing against organized crime but established itself as its main partner in an empire of corruption.

User Adrian Turner commented:

I wonder if AMLO’s proposed amnesty also includes Peña Nieto and everyone else who has plundered Mexico through widely acknowledged and transparent control of national resources, whose behavior has detrimentally affected the national treasury? Non-capitalization intentional.

For his part, Pedro B. expressed:

Lil’ president @epn rends his clothes at AMLO’s supposed amnesty offer, but says nothing about the 98% of cases that end in impunity. He has no shame, nor mother.

Daniel Vazquez made similar pronouncements:

I don’t know why they get scared when they hear the term “amnesty” that AMLO is pushing for, when what currently drives the government is IMPUNITY, which is quite serious.

In this tweet, a user suggested that the proposal by pre-candidate López Obrador might not have been made in sincerity, but as a mockery:

AMLO's worst enemy is AMLO himself. What a mess he got into for his fabulous idea of ​​proposing “Amnesty” to criminals. Without a doubt, it was a jest that seemed quite fit to make. That happens when you do not hear, you do not listen, and you think you are God.

Ending war through amnesty (I still don’t understand what AMLO means) does not guarantee peace. Disarmament is not enough. And to understand what we have to do, it is necessary to listen to the victims. They must be central to the roundtable discussion.

But it is not only on Twitter that citizens have discussed possible amnesty to combatants. Another voice in the debate is that of activist and poet Javier Sicilia who has been a victim of the conflict since his son was executed in 2011 by armed squad members.

Sicilia sent an open letter to López Obrador which has been circulated by several media outlets, especially the weekly Proceso. In the following excerpt, Sicilia addresses the candidate in the letter, placing special emphasis on his assumed position as savior:

Querido Andrés Manuel:

Tú y yo a lo largo del tiempo hemos tenido serias y profundas diferencias. Me simpatizas más que cualquier otro de los candidatos a la Presidencia de la República, pero me repugnan tu mesianismo y tus aires de redentor que, al igual que lo han hecho otros, he criticado a riesgo de tener que soportar el linchamiento en redes de muchos de tus correligionarios; [e] incluso, en 2011, una amenaza de muerte.

Dear Andres Manuel,

You and I have had serious and profound differences over time. You have my sympathy more than any other candidate for the Presidency of the Republic, but I am disgusted by your messianic and redeeming airs that, like others, I have criticized, even at the risk of media lynching by your many disciples (including a death threat made toward me in 2011).

About the subject of amnesty, Sicilia says:

A menos que estés buscando el voto del crimen organizado que, enquistado en los aparatos políticos, ha destrozado y desfondado a la nación –cosa que en su monstruosidad me rehúso creer–, dime, dinos, Andrés Manuel: ¿puedes en conciencia pedirnos olvido a las víctimas, sobre todo a las víctimas de los desaparecidos que aún no encuentran a sus seres queridos? ¿Puedes pedir olvido a un país que tiene centenas de fosas clandestinas, incluyendo las del Estado, como lo revelamos en Morelos al descubrir y abrir las fosas de Tetelcingo y Jojutla? ¿Puedes pedir olvido a un país donde los criminales continúan asesinando, desapareciendo, extorsionando, porque la corrupción del Estado les ha dado una carta para la impunidad –ella, te recuerdo Andrés Manuel, alienta al crimen–?

Unless you're seeking the vote of organized crime, which has entrenched itself in the political apparatus and destroyed and disgraced the nation – a thing so monstrous I am unable to believe it – tell me, tell us, Andres Manuel: Can you in good conscience ask us to forget the victims, especially the victims of disappearance who still haven't found their loved ones? Can you ask a country to forget the hundreds of unmarked graves, including those made by the State, like we found in Morelos when the graves of Tetelcingo and Jojutla were discovered and opened? Can you ask a country to forget that their criminals have carried on murdering, disappearing, and extorting because State corruption has given them the free reign of impunity – and who, I remind you, Andres Manuel, encourages crime?

The unmarked graves Sicilia refers to are used not just by armed groups to furtively hide their victims, but also by the State to dispose of human remains caught in the crossfire from non-international armed conflict. Many of these graves have been discovered in the state of Morelos in southern Mexico.

The concept of ​​drug cartel amnesty is not new to Latin America. In 2016, Colombia proposed it among a list of actions with the intent to end their internal armed conflict. But the public rejected this idea at the referendum polls (by a narrow margin) that were organized to confirm some of the peace agreements intended to foster forgiveness for guerrillas.

It should be noted that citizen participation in that particular democratic exercise was scarce because, according to some sources, about 62% of Colombians qualified to vote opted not to do so.

Ecuador is another country in the region in which, under its particular circumstances, amnesty has been proposed for individuals who have been accused of committing crimes.

For the time being, and regardless of whether or not media sources have distorted the words of candidate López Obrador, Mexican citizens are openly discussing the possible future relinquishment of responsibility for warmongering criminals as a way to achieve peace after almost 12 years of conflict.

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