AMLO, as Mexican President-elect Andrés Manuel López Obrador is universally known, faces a dilemma. The American-imposed drug war has plunged his country into violence and corruption. The situation is intolerable, yet any attempt to break the chain means a confrontation with the United States that could prove even worse.
It’s a deadlock that only a Mexican Robespierre could break—and AMLO, a mild-mannered center-leftist, is no L’Incorruptible. His country’s plight is so extreme, its future so bleak under current policies, that the only way out is to confront the drug war head-on. Bold action is needed. AMLO has fought for years against the Mexican oligarchy, so he’s clearly got staying power. But despite his reported desire to “open up the debate” about legalization, it’s not clear he’s got what it takes to fight an even bigger battle over U.S.-imposed drug policies.
So what will he do: surrender to U.S. dictates, or strike out in a radical new direction? After decades of mounting bloodshed, there’s no middle ground.
This is not an impasse that Mexico created, but one that external forces have imposed. Americans have long gobbled up drugs that Mexican labor supplied. The pattern goes back to 1906 when Chinese immigrants uprooted by the San Francisco earthquake moved to Juarez, a sister city of El Paso, and used their new location to market opium throughout the American Southwest.
Spillover was limited as long as dealers obeyed certain rules. “Drug dealers behaved discreetly,” historian George W. Grayson notes, “showed deference to public figures, spurned […]