A leading presidential candidate in Mexico suggested over the weekend that drug cartel kingpins should receive amnesty in an attempt to bring peace to the country, saying he wanted a dialogue to end the drug war that has cost the country around 200,000 lives over the last decade.
“If it is necessary,” said presidential hopeful Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador in the southern state of Guerrero, “we will talk about granting amnesty so long as the victims and their families are willing. We’ll propose it. I’m analyzing it. What I can say is that we will leave no issue without discussion if it has to do with peace and tranquility.”
The comments made from the presidential candidate caused condemnation from his opponents in the political and business classes, many of whom are unnerved by a surge in support for a populist left-wing candidate.
These comments also brought accusations of insensitivity, as drug cartels have been responsible for not only crimes against rivals, but horrific violence against innocent bystanders.
The state of Guerrero itself has been badly hit by a war for control of the opium industry. Lopez Obrador made the comments in a town where the violence is so severe that his political party, called Morena, has not been able to find a candidate for their own local race.
The proposal for amnesty also came as violence unleashed by a decade-old cartel crackdown that shows few signs of slowing down. Mexico registered its moth murderous month in recent history, with over 2,000 homicides recorded in October.
Supporters of the candidate wondered why the comments stirred such outrage in a country where politicians are widely seen as working closely and corruptly with narcos.
Some people argued that the proposal offered an alternative to the current government’s strategy, which has depended on deploying soldiers who have been accused of grave human rights violations.
The political maneuvering for the July 2018 presidential election but none of the parties have made curbing the violence a central part of their platform. Analysts say politicians see little profit in focusing on an issue with no easy solutions.
But the comments also prompted uneasy comparisons with the pacts formed by the ruling Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) with cartel bosses to curtail violence.
Lopez Obrador leads early polls with a recent survey in a newspaper having him 14 points ahead of the PRI candidate, the former finance minister Jose Antonio Meade.
When Enrique Pena Nieto took office five years ago, he promised to combat the crimes affecting ordinary people, but avoided talking about cartel killings and violence, instead preferring to talk up an agenda of economic reforms.
Others said the outrage against Lopez Obrador is misplaced, and that the comments did not reflect his platform.