Mexico's President Lopez Obrador met with Trump at the White House this month to inaugurate the new trade treaty that replaces NAFTA. Embarrassingly, the meeting was punctuated by horrific new outbursts of narco-violence in Mexico. And the country's promised cannabis legalization—mandated by the high court and looked to as a de-escalation of the dystopian drug war—is stalled by a paralyzed Congress.
There is a discomforting sense that Mexico is perpetually on the eve of cannabis legalization, as the country's Congress wins a six-month extension from the Supreme Court to pass a law freeing the herb. But foreign capital is already eyeing Mexico's emergent legal cannabis sector—even amid a terrifying escalation in the bloody cartel wars.
Despite his boast to have "ended" the drug war and pledge to explore cannabis legalization, Mexico's new populist president is seeking to create a special anti-drug "National Guard" drawing from the military and police forces. This plan is moving rapidly ahead—and the military is still being sent against campesino cannabis growers and small traffickers.
Joaquín "El Chapo" Guzmán, infamous kingpin of Mexico's Sinaloa Cartel, was unanimously found guilty on all 10 counts against him by a federal jury in Brooklyn, New York, on Feb. 12. He was convicted of overseeing an international criminal conspiracy to import tons of cocaine, heroin, methamphetamine and marijuana into the United States over a 20-year period, and laundering the billions of dollars in proceeds.
Residents of Ciudad Guzmán, in Mexico's west-central state of Jalisco, took to the streets June 5 to demand the withdrawal of military troops from the municipality—and the reappearance alive of two local youths. Mexican naval troops were ordered to the town, also known as Zapotlan el Grande, to fight the New Generation cartel, but were accused by locals of "disappearing" the two young residents—one just 17 years old. In both cases, witnesses claim the young men were detained by the Navy and were never seen again. Navy troops fired shots in the air after the rally turned violent, with protesters throwing rocks and bottles—possibly due to infiltration by provocateurs. At least three were reported wounded.
Brazilian federal police on Dec. 28 announced the arrest of José González Valencia, one of the top leaders of the Jalisco New Generation Cartel (CJNG)—the criminal machine that in recent years has risen to challenge the Sinaloa Cartel for control of Mexico's narco trade. Valencia, known as "Chepa" or "El Camarón" (The Shrimp), was arrested at Aquiraz, a resort near the coastal city of Fortaleza, where he was spending the Christmas holidays with his family. Authorities said Valencia had been living in Bolivia for two years after fleeing Mexico, and had entered Brazil as a tourist on a Bolivian passport.
Yet another Mexican journalist was slain Aug. 22, as the cartels continue to exact vengeance on any who would dare to report on their reign of terror and corruption across much of the country. Cándido "Papuche" Ríos, who covered the nota roja (crime and police beat) for local newspaper Diario de Acayucan, was gunned down by unknown assailants along with two other men in the town of Hueyapan de Ocampo, Veracruz state. One of the other two men, with whom Ríos was talking outside a gas station, was a former municipal official.
More than 250 human skulls were unearthed from a mass grave outside Mexico's port city of Veracruz, state prosecutor Jorge Winckler announced March 14. Winckler said the remains are of cartel victims, slain some years earlier. While details on how this latest find came to light were not forthcoming, the survivors' group Colectivo Solecito has been carrying out its own search for "narco-graves" in Veracruz state, hoping to discover the remains of disappeared loved ones. Last year, the collective discovered some 30 clandestine graves, but this would be the biggest such gruesome discovery yet.