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.
Mexican lawmakers are predicting legal cannabis by month's end, and portraying it as a key to de-escalating the endemic narco-violence. But national headlines are full of nightmarish cartel violence—making all too clear how big the challenge will be.
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.
Militant protests have swept through Honduras since the Oct. 18 conviction by a federal jury in New York of the brother of President Juan Orlando Hernández on narco-trafficking charges. Thousands have filled the streets of cities and towns across the Central American country to demand the resignation of Hernández. Protesters have repeatedly blocked traffic arteries, erecting barricades with stones and flaming tires. A police transport truck was set on fire in Tegucigalpa. Opposition leader Salvador Nasralla of the Anticorruption Party has thrown his support behind the protests and called on the security forces to stand down, invoking a "right to insurrection" in Article 3 of the Honduran constitution.
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.
Two months into his term, Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador declared an end to his country's "war on drugs," announcing that the army would no longer prioritize capturing cartel bosses. The new populist president made his declaration Jan. 30, at the end of his second month in office. He told gathered reporters at a press conference that the "guerra contra el narcotráfico," launched in 2006 by then-president Felipe Calderón, has come to and end. "Officially now, there is no war; we are going to prusue peace," he said.
Official figures reveal that narco-violence made 2017 the deadliest year in Mexico's modern history. The grim total surpassed that of 2011, when the militarized drug war of then-President Felipe Calderón led to 22,409 homicides. A total of 23,101 homicide investigations were opened in the first 11 months of 2017, according to figures published Dec. 22 by the Governance Ministry, which has been tracking the yearly kill count back to 1997.
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.