Despite his boast to have "ended" the drug war and pledge to explore cannabis legalization, Mexico's new populist president is seeking to create a special anti-drug "National Guard" drawing from the military and police forces. This plan is moving rapidly ahead—and the military is still being sent against campesino cannabis growers and small traffickers.
Joaquín "El Chapo" Guzmán, infamous kingpin of Mexico's Sinaloa Cartel, was unanimously found guilty on all 10 counts against him by a federal jury in Brooklyn, New York, on Feb. 12. He was convicted of overseeing an international criminal conspiracy to import tons of cocaine, heroin, methamphetamine and marijuana into the United States over a 20-year period, and laundering the billions of dollars in proceeds.
An indigenous environmental activist was killed in Mexico's south-central state of Morelos on Feb. 20—three days ahead of a planned referendum on an energy development project that he opposed. Samir Flores Soberanes was a leader of the local Peoples in Defense of Land and Water Front (FPDTA) and community radio station Amilzinko. He was slain by unknown gunmen in an attack at his home in the village of Amilcingo, Temoac municipality. He was a longtime figure in local opposition to the planned Huexca power plant and associated natural-gas pipeline, pushed by the government under the Morelos Integral Project (PIM).
Two months into his term, Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador declared an end to his country's "war on drugs," announcing that the army would no longer prioritize capturing cartel bosses. The new populist president made his declaration Jan. 30, at the end of his second month in office. He told gathered reporters at a press conference that the "guerra contra el narcotráfico," launched in 2006 by then-president Felipe Calderón, has come to and end. "Officially now, there is no war; we are going to prusue peace," he said.
World oil prices remain depressed, now hovering at around $60 per barrel, although they did experience an uptick this month, probably driven by the escalating crisis in Venezuela and fears of a US-China trade war. (Xinhua, Jan. 27; OilPrice, Jan. 18) Yet this month also saw Zimbabwe explode into angry protests over fuel prices. A three-day nationwide strike was declared by the trade unions, and the government responded with bullets and a total Internet shut-down. At least 12 were killed and hundreds arbitrarily arrested. The unrest was sparked when the government doubled fuel prices, making gasoline sold in Zimbabwe the most expensive in the world. President Emmerson Mnangagwa said the price rise was aimed at tackling shortages caused by an increase in fuel use and "rampant" illegal trading. (FT, Jan. 18; Amnesty International, Jan. 15; BBC News, OilPrice, Jan. 14)
Speaking at a ceremony marking the 25th anniversary of their New Year's Day 1994 uprising in Mexico's southern state of Chiapas, leaders of the Zapatista rebels pledged their opposition to Mexico's new left-populist president, Andrés Manuel López Obrador. Anger was particularly directed at the planned "Maya Train" project, which would link the tourist resort of Cancún on the Caribbean coast with the Palenque archeological site in Chiapas, spearheading a new thrust of tourism mega-development. At the New Year's Eve ceremony, held at the rebel-controlled settlement of La Realidad and dubbed the "Meeting of the Networks of Resistance and Rebellion," thousands of supporters from across Mexico gathered to watch Zapatista troops march in formation—although wielding symbolic bastónes (staffs) rather than rifles.
Mexico’s highest court ruled Nov. 15 that the recently enacted "military policing" law is unconstitutional. Mexico passed the controversial Internal Security Law in December 2017, establishing a legal framework for employing the national army and navy in place of civilian police forces in order to combat increasing violence in the country. Legislators argued that many of the local police forces had become corrupted by drug cartels and that drastic measures were required. The bill drew widespread criticism from a wide variety of sources, including human rights groups and the UN.
Julián Carrillo Martínez, a Tarahumara indigenous leader at the community of Coloradas de la Virgen, Guadalupe y Calvo municipality, in northern Mexico's Chihuahua state, was assassinated by unknown assailants Oct. 24, according to local advocacy group Alianza Sierra Madre. Carrillo Martínez was leading an effort by Coloradas de la Virgen to recover usurped traditional lands, with a case pending before the Agrarian Tribunal for the local district 5. Community residents were also petitioning Mexico's Secretariat of the Environment and Natural Resources (SEMARNAT) to halt logging operations in forested areas of the disputed lands. (La Jornada, Amnesty International, Oct. 25) Several community residents have been assassinated in Coloradas de la Virgen since the community began its land recovery effort.