Andres Oppenheimer

U.S. family’s violent deaths result of Mexico, Washington’s misguided drug policies | Opinion

Relatives see what is left of a car in which family members were killed in the state of Sonora in Mexico.
Relatives see what is left of a car in which family members were killed in the state of Sonora in Mexico. Getty Images

Here’s a thing that has gone almost unnoticed amid the outrage over the massacre of nine members of a U.S.-Mexican family — including six children — by drug-cartel gunmen in northern Mexico: The ongoing escalation of violence in Mexico is partly because of major blunders by the Mexican and U.S. governments.

Mexico’s President Andres Manuel López Obrador self-described policy of “hugs, not bullets” to deal with his country’s drug cartels clearly has failed. Violence in Mexico reached a new record during the first six months this year, and is likely to surpass the more than 35,000 homicides registered last year, according to official figures.

López Obrador, a leftist populist who took office last December, has long criticized his predecessors’ wars on drugs. He has vowed to take the army out of the fight against drug cartel bosses and to create a militarized police National Guard to deal with drug violence. “You can’t fight violence with more violence,” López Obrador said this week.

Instead of an all-out government fight against drug cartels, López Obrador proposes to deal with the “root causes” of violence, such as poverty and youth unemployment. His government has launched massive social programs for the poor and scholarships for young people who are neither working nor in school.

But while addressing these root causes may be a good long-term policy, it’s not doing much to stop the current wave of drug violence. On the contrary, the drug cartels have been emboldened.

The Mexican government says the three mothers and six children of the LeBaron family who were killed on a dirt road in the border state of Sonora this week were attacked by a drug gang that probably mistook the Mormon family’s caravan of three SUVs for that of a rival drug band.

Last month, almost 400 gunmen from the Sinaloa cartel virtually occupied Culiacán, the capital of Sinaloa, and forced security forces to free Ovidio Guzmán shortly after he had been captured by authorities. Ovidio Guzmán is the son of former Sinoaloa Cartel chief Joaquín “Chapo” Guzmán.

Many saw the young man’s release as a government rendition of the drug cartels.

López Obrador also claims that his newly created National Guard will soon help curb Mexico’s violence. But critics say most of its members have been deployed in Mexico’s southern border to stop caravans of Central American migrants hoping to reach the United States. President Trump has threatened to take measures against Mexico if the Mexican government didn’t stop the Central American migrant caravans.

But while López Obrador’s anti-drug strategy is misguided, so is Trump’s. In a Nov. 5 tweet shortly after the LeBaron family murder, Trump offered to help Mexico “wage WAR on the drug cartels and wipe them off the face of the earth.”

But the fact is that Trump is championing the very policies that are causing drug violence in Mexico to escalate. In addition to not doing much to curb the massive U.S. drug consumption that feeds the drug trafficking business, Trump’s failure to ban semi-automatic weapons has resulted in the widespread smuggling of such arms to Mexico’s drug cartels.

About 70 percent of the more than 15,000 weapons seized each year by Mexican authorities can be traced to the United States, according to the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.

Mexico has been asking Washington for decades to curb weapons smuggling along the border. But never in recent times has there been a U.S. president who has been closer to the National Rifle Association — and more reluctant to stop the sale of weapons of war at U.S. gun shops — than Trump.

To stop the ongoing rise of drug violence in Mexico, López Obrador should shelve his ineffective “hugs, not bullets” policy and fight the drug bosses head on. And Trump should increase funding for drug-prevention programs in the United States, ban the sale of semi-automatic weapons and take stronger measures to fight U.S. arms smuggling to Mexico’s drug cartels.

Otherwise, the violence will continue to escalate, and thousands more will die on both sides of the border.

Don’t miss the “Oppenheimer Presenta” TV show at 8 p.m. E.T. Sunday on CNN en Español. Twitter: @oppenheimera

andres oppenheimer.jpg