By RICARDO CASTILLO
Everyone in Mexico knows that drugs and violence go hand-in-hand. For the most part, the general public either hears about the latest “record” drug seizure (they get bigger all the time) or the surging number of gory gang-versus-gang executions, including beheadings, dismemberments and similar atrocities that would make the United States’ National Enquirer look like a Pollyanna publication.
But two news items that broke on Tuesday, Aug. 20, related to drugs and violence, albeit considerably different scope, went viral fast.
The first item was a report that said that Interior Secretary Olga Sánchez Cordero was allegedly negotiating “peace agreements” with organized crime gangs.
The second item was an article stating that a judge had issued a writ of habeas corpus – known as “amparo,” or protection against arrest by police in Mexico – to two persons for possession, transport and use of cocaine.
Since the events were unrelated, they have to be dealt with separately, as, in fact, they had nothing to do with one another.
In the case of the article about Sánchez Cordero, on Monday, Aug. 19, she delivered a speech during a gathering of the Alliance for an Open Governance that was aimed at certain drug-growing and processing regions in the states of Guerrero, Michoacán and Tamaulipas. In her speech, Sánchez Cordero said that efforts were being made to reach criminal groups that were combatting and murdering each other and who, apparently, no longer want the violence or the ever-increasing death toll it has produced. During that speech, Sánchez Cordero said that these groups want to move toward peace.
Unfortunately, the Mexican press — and definitely many columnists — in misinterpreted what Sánchez Cordero said and read between the lines that the administration is now negotiating with organized criminal gangs, echoing what Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO) promised during his election campaign trail, that he would not declare war on criminal leaders.
Immediately after her speech, Sánchez Cordero was stopped by reporters to clarify whether she or someone at the Interior Secretariat was negotiating peace terms with the organized criminal gangs, specifically in the state of Guerrero, where most of the illegal opium in the market is being grown and processed into “black tar” heroine that is exported to the United States.
“No,” she answered, “we’re just talking now. We’re having a dialogue with many groups and they have told us that they don’t want to continue living in this violence, that they want to lay down their guns and move toward peace.”
A few hours later, the press office at the Interior Secretariat issued a press release claiming that there had been a misunderstanding and that the secretary did not refer to negotiations with groups devoted to drug trafficking and other criminal activities, but to civilians who were victims and fed up with the violence the drug trade has brought with it.
On Wednesday, Aug. 21, during his morning press conference, AMLO was more specific, saying “we don’t have any talks or dealings with organized criminal groups, none at all.”
The groups the Interior Secretary referred to were the so-called “self-defense groups,” which have armed themselves to protect their homes and communities from the sheer violence of criminal gangs. AMLO said that “they are illegal and security can only be looked after by the state, and that’s why we have the National Guard,” which is just being implemented and for which results are not yet optimum.
Of course, some political pundits prefer to believe that AMLO’s administration is “negotiating” with gangs and spread the news as such, but it is not the official stance.
The second issue that grabbed headlines, the alleged permit to transport and use cocaine, is very close to fake news, though not quite, and is more about making noise on the part of Juan Francisco Torres Landa, president of the NGO called Mexico United Against Crime (MUCD, for Mexico Unido Contra la Delincuencia), who pioneered the idea of legalizing the use of marijuana with special permits and who “openly” questions drug prohibition laws.
After winning the marijuana case, Torres Landa, son of a former Mexico City mayor, opted for a similar litigation strategy concerning cocaine.
The steps were similar. First, two adults requested that the Federal Commission for the Protection Against Sanitary Risks (Cofepris) issue permits to carry and consume cocaine. Cofepris officials issued a plain answer of no. That was to be expected.
Then Torres Landa applied to a lower Mexico City court, which issued the two people a writ of habeas corpus amparo to do just that. With the amparo in hand, Torres Landa and the two persons requesting the permit returned to Cofepris, showing that the judge since last May “ordered” Cofepris to issue the permit “so this type of consumption can be carried out.”
Cofepris has appealed the judge’s amparo and the case is now being studied by a specialized collegiate tribunal, which is still undecided, but Torres Landa hopes they will reject it so he can take the issue all the way up to the Supreme Court. That’s his strategy.
MUCD and the Strategic Center of Social Impact (CEIS), along with the Mexican Society for Responsible Self and Tolerated Consumption (SMART), managed to get a history-making victory regarding marijuana at the Supreme Court back in November 2015. Other permits for marijuana use have since been issued.
Notwithstanding, Cofepris keeps a tight lid on the grass cookie jar, keeping marijuana as a banned substance, even though five permits have been issued by the Supreme Court.
But grass is not coke, and it is definitely going to be interesting to see what course this all takes.
So what do these two events have in common? Definitely, drug dealers would like to see these drugs legalized so that they could exercise their trade openly and legally, and, for now, it would seem that their biggest allies are nonprofit NGOs.
And let’s not leave aside the National Commission for Human Rights (CNDH), which has already been pegged by AMLO as one of the finest protector of criminals in Mexico, claiming their human rights have been violated.
In the end, it is all a legal issue, but the question is: What’s next? Heroin?