There was a different kind of caravan marching through Mexico this week. The Caravan for Truth, Justice, and Peace began in the south of Mexico and marched for four days toward the capital in hopes of meeting with President Andrés Manuel López Obrador. The purpose of the march was to bring attention to the violence experienced by many Mexicans at the hands of drug cartels.
Left-wing President Obrador came into office just over a year ago promising a new approach to gang violence, but his “hugs not bullets” focus on root causes has been a disaster. Last year there were more than 35,000 murders in Mexico, the highest level ever recorded. This march was a response to that and a demand for more focus on solving some of these crimes and arresting those responsible.
Members of a Mormon community with dual Mexican-US citizenship played a public role in the march. Last year, a caravan of vehicles belonging to the group was ambushed on the road, apparently by drug cartels who thought it belonged to a rival cartel. Three women and six children were killed in the attack. Members of the family encouraged participants in the peace march to remove one shoe to symbolically remember a 10-year old survivor of the attack who walked six miles to find help with only one shoe.
Mexico’s president declined to meet with the marchers when they reached Mexico City. As you’ll see in this Al Jazeera clip, he said he didn’t want to make a “show” of responding to them.
This is our report from the march for peace. After hearing these horrific stories from pretty vulnerable people, it just makes it even more inexplicable how dozens of AMLO supporters could have later shouted against them in Mexico City zocalo.#CaminataPorLaPaz #AMLO pic.twitter.com/8NF42gr5QE
— John Holman (@johnholman100) January 27, 2020
The marchers decided to settle for leaving a letter for Obrador at the National Palace but when they got there they were confronted by a large group of his supporters who yelled at the marchers to “Get out!”
Llegando al Zócalo la #CaminataPorLaPaz nos recibe un grupo pro #Amlo gritando “fuera Sicilia” .
Me parte el corazón ver a los que antes caminábamos juntos por la justicia y la paz, hoy divididos y polarizados. pic.twitter.com/a7NIPZHR5Q
— Paola Zavala Saeb (@PaolaSaeb) January 26, 2020
Some of the president’s supporters were chanting “It’s an honor to be with Obrador”:
En confrontación con la #CaminataPorLaPaz acudieron al Zócalo seguidores de AMLO gritando: “Obrador”, “es un honor estar con Obrador”, “chayoteros” y “vendepatrias”,
¿Tanta es la polarización que hoy ya no provoca cohesión y solidaridad indiscutible?
— Carlos Ponce (@CarlosPonceMart) January 27, 2020
As Jazz wrote earlier today, progressives in this country are outraged that President Obrador has been doing a pretty good job as Trump’s border wall by blocking the arrival of new Central American caravans at Mexico’s southern border. Meanwhile, leftists in Mexico are defending Obrador against marchers who want to see a decrease in the sky high crime rate in their own country. It really takes some nerve to get in the faces of people whose family members were murdered and tell them they’re lucky to have the great leadership they do.
Obrador is making an effort at the border because Trump has threatened tariffs if he doesn’t. But the problem of violent crime in Mexico is not a new one. Mexicans knew about Obrador’s “hugs not bullets” approach and still voted for him. Apparently the theory is that fighting back against the cartels only creates a cycle of violence. But it turns out that surrendering to the cartels only emboldens them. One cartels recently forced police to surrender El Chapo’s son after he was arrested and then assassinated one of the policemen involved in his arrest in broad daylight. If the hope was that the cartels would suddenly beat their swords into plowshares once the government backed off, it isn’t working out so far.
Obrador’s approach to cartel violence has been a spectacular failure. But apparently his supporters are willing to tell victims of the violence to shut up and ‘get out’ no matter how bad it gets.