A soldier of the Mexican Army begins the destruction of a confiscated field of marijuana. Susana Gonzalez DPA/PA Images. All rights reserved.
This article is published as part of our series Which Violence in Latin America? in partnership with the University of Santiago in Chile.
A few weeks ago, during a campaign visit to the state of Guerrero, Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO), the presidential candidate who is currently leading the opinion polls, indicated that he did not rule out the possibility of granting amnesty to the leaders of the drug cartels, if that were necessary to achieve peace in the country.
The statement came as a reply to a question by a reporter: "Will this amnesty reach the cartel leaders?" López Obrador was quick to answer: "This is a possibility that deserves consideration. I am currently studying it. We shall not leave out any issue, if it can bring peace and relief. "
The big questions are what are the risks of granting amnesty and whether, if granted, amnesty would actually help reduce criminal violence in Mexico.
Undoubtedly, this is a controversial proposal. It has generated intense debates in the Mexican media and academic circles on the need to implement effective strategies to mitigate the impact of violence related to drug trafficking. The big questions are what are the risks of granting amnesty and whether, if granted, amnesty would actually help reduce criminal violence in Mexico.
It should be said, in the first place, that AMLO's approach is due to a pragmatic vision of the problem, as it would necessarily imply an agreement between the cartels, on the one hand, and the State, on the other, similar to that which supports transitional justice in post-conflict contexts.
Offering the cartels some kind of judicial benefit such as amnesty (an agreement on lesser prison terms, or changing the legal framework so as to rule out extraditions) presupposes and implies throrough knowledge of their level of organizational cohesion and legitimacy. And it represents an opportunity to promote some degree of commitment on the part of those involved, even though it may not lead necessarily to a cessation of violence associated with drug trafficking.
This type of measure, however, brings to the fore the weakness of the State, which comes to analyze the problem from the logic of the drug trafficking organizations instead of focusing on reviewing and strengthening its available institutional capacities to fight organized crime.
In this sense, López Obrador's offer is part of a tendency to use law enforcement as a strategic means to end up tolerating or simply administering violence instead of repressing it, which is something directly linked to the discussion on how to create good criminals - that is, criminals who are highly organized, not openly violent, with limited corruption capacity and no range of services offer to society.
Drug trafficking organizations may perceive that, if they become violent enough, they will be able to sit down at a negotiating table and get larger concessions from the government.
From another angle, granting amnesty to criminal groups, as opposed to insurgent forces such as the currently demobilized Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), is morally and politically a very complex issue, since it involves giving in to a fundamental principle: the law is non-negotiable.
In fact, the risks here are even greater than in a war context, as drug trafficking organizations may perceive that, if they become violent enough, they will be able to sit down at a negotiating table and get larger concessions from the government.
The drawback of the amnesty proposal is that it grants unjustified legitimacy to criminal actors such as the Knights Templar or the Sinaloa Cartel, to the extent that these would potentially be considered valid interlocutors with the Mexican government, which would mean turning them into factual powers.
This would entail their diplomatic recognition as enemies by the Mexican state, which in turn would allow the main cartels to increase even further their influence and power, largely due to entrenched corruption and the lack of accountability in Mexico, as happened in Colombia during the process of disarmament, demobilization and reintegration of the paramilitaries in 2000.
Finally, the possibility that leaders and members of the drug cartels be willing to give up the use of intimidation mechanisms does not attract much support in Mexico.
The prevailing (not unfounded) opinion is that human dignity is the very last of their priorities. Even more, the trampling down of human dignity is precisely what these criminal organizations use to establish their presence and manage their illicit activities in the places they control.