Mexico President Rejects U.S. Pressure, Adopts 'Mexico First' Anti-Cartel Policy

A bold stance by Mexico's leader ignites widespread debate.

by Nouman Rasool
Mexico President Rejects U.S. Pressure, Adopts 'Mexico First' Anti-Cartel Policy
© Manuel Velasquez/Getty Images

In a resolute statement on Friday, Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador firmly declared that Mexico will not combat drug cartels under the directive of the United States, marking the most explicit articulation of his stance against direct confrontation with these criminal organizations.

Over his tenure, López Obrador has consistently promoted a "hugs, not bullets" strategy, advocating for addressing the root causes of cartel violence such as poverty and lack of opportunities, rather than meeting force with force.

During his daily news briefing, the president asserted his commitment to a "Mexico First" policy, emphasizing national sovereignty over foreign interests. "We are not going to act as policemen for any foreign government," López Obrador proclaimed, underscoring the prioritization of Mexico's domestic affairs over external pressures.

This declaration comes amid a longstanding debate over the role of drug trafficking within Mexico and its impact on the United States, with López Obrador suggesting that narcotics issues primarily concern the U.S., not Mexico.

Despite this, the president expressed a willingness to collaborate on drug interdiction efforts, particularly in combating the fentanyl crisis—a synthetic opioid responsible for tens of thousands of deaths annually in the U.S.

López Obrador highlighted the humanitarian aspect of this cooperation, acknowledging the tragic loss of young American lives to drug overdoses. López Obrador's policies reflect a perspective that harks back to the 1970s, a time when the issue of drug trafficking was largely viewed as an American problem, with little consideration for its effects on Mexico.

Security analyst David Saucedo pointed out that while Mexico's domestic drug consumption is increasing, it remains relatively low. However, drug cartels have been instrumental in providing employment and fostering social mobility in areas neglected by the government, complicating the fight against narcotics.

Controversial Peace Strategy

The president's reluctance to demonize cartels has extended to discouraging military engagement and even proposing peace negotiations through religious leaders. López Obrador's unique approach has sparked controversy, especially his comments downplaying cartel violence, which have been met with criticism from those living under the shadow of organized crime.

Despite detaining a few high-profile cartel members, the Mexican government's stance appears increasingly disconnected from the harsh realities of cartel operations, which extend beyond drug trafficking to encompass extortion, business takeovers, and territorial control.

This complex scenario raises doubts about the feasibility of peaceful coexistence with such groups. López Obrador's "Mexico First" policy is also seen as an effort to curb domestic violence. While he credits his administration with a significant reduction in homicides, this decline began before his tenure, raising questions about the effectiveness of his approach.

However, recent statistics do indicate a notable decrease in killings, suggesting some impact of his policies on national security. The U.S. Embassy in Mexico did not comment on the president's remarks but acknowledged ongoing cooperation in tackling drug-related challenges.

This relationship, marked by coordination and mutual assistance, highlights the delicate balance between sovereignty and international collaboration in addressing the drug crisis.