Mexico City (CNSNews.com) – On the heels of his election victory, Mexico’s leftist president-elect Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador says he will keep troops in the streets to fight crime but also plans to pursue controversial amnesty legislation, in a bid to reduce violence in the country.
In a round of television interviews, Alfonso Durazo, Obrador’s security chief nominee, said the new administration will widen the battle against growing crime in Mexico, first by attacking corruption in the government.
Organized crime operates “hand-in-hand with government protection,” Durazo told the Televisa network last week. “We have to widen the approach to include the root cause. To continue to attack crime with force and the police has proven it doesn’t work.”
Fighting corruption in government will be the first step in the new administration’s fight against organized crime, widespread impunity, growing violence and the drug cartels that operate throughout Mexico.
“A criminal can only get away unpunished if there is corruption in the government,” he said.
The new administration’s plan also calls for training local police, interviewing victims of crime and consulting with citizens nationally to build public consensus on how to reduce crime and violence.
Budget savings will be created to improve police salaries at the local and municipal levels since “that is where the majority of the crime happens.”
Both President Enrique Peña Nieto, a centrist who leaves office at the end of November, and his conservative predecessor Felipe Calderon, deployed troops nationally to fight the drug cartels.
The use of troops has drawn criticism from citizen and international groups who say the military has committed human rights abuses.
The new administration, however, has no immediate plans to return the military to barracks, Durazo told Televisa and Ciudad TV.
Local police must first be strengthened and the effort to revamp and professionalize local law enforcement institutions won’t happen “overnight,” he said.
A Lopez Obrador campaign pledge to offer amnesty as a way of reducing violence and the involvement of young people in organized crime is set to go forward.
Durazo said the new administration will seek congressional approval for a new amnesty law.
The offer of amnesty will not apply to kidnapping, disappearances, homicide or human rights abuses, however. Mexico is prohibited from offering amnesty for those crimes under international agreements it has signed, according to Olga Sanchez Cordero, Lopez Obrador’s pick for the powerful position of interior minister.
In a video interview with Bloomberg’s Financiero, she said that decriminalizing marijuana and the production of poppies for medical opioid use would be prioritized.
“I am convinced this needs to be looked at,” in order to bring peace to the country, Sanchez said.
Citizen groups involved in fighting crime and corruption in Mexico are critical of the plans.
The strengthening and professionalizing of local police before removing troops from the street has been tried before and continues to simply “react” to the problem, according to the national crime watch group, Observatorio Nacional Ciudadano.
“Amnesty is not a security proposal, it is a justice proposal,” director Francisco Rivas told CNSNews.com. “It doesn’t speak about the problem of crime.”
The president-elect has said he will retain the power to appoint the national attorney general, but Rivas said that would undermine the independence of the judiciary. “If he names him, there is a lack of independence,” he commented.
Constitutional reforms calling for an entirely revamped justice department were passed in 2013, but have yet to be implemented.
Attempts to professionalize local police forces will also be undermined if Lopez Obrador makes good on promises to reduce the salaries of public servants, Rivas said.
The new president will enter office with one of the largest mandates in recent history, but any effort to stamp out corruption at the local level will be an uphill battle.
Bureaucracy at the state and local level provides “multiple avenues for corrupt behavior, some of which the central government in Mexico City cannot detect or easily eliminate,” said the international risk consultancy Stratfor, in a report examining the president-elect’s anti-corruption plans.