CULIACÁN, Mexico — Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador became Mexico's first leftist president in 70 years when he took the oath of office on Saturday, but he's taking over at a troubled time. With more than 31 thousand homicides, last year was Mexico’s most violent year ever — and this year looks like it will be worse.
The violence stems from the country's 12-year-old war on drug cartels, who despite the efforts of successive administrations, have continued to make drugs and smuggle them into the U.S at an alarming rate. At one of the two thousand meth labs in Culiacan — nicknamed "offices" by the cartels — a cook who asked to be identified as Charlie told VICE News that trafficking is on the rise because "there's cash to be made." And they operate without fear of the law, because the cartels have members of the municipal police on their payroll.
Comandante Alfa, as he asked VICE News to call him, is a deputy police chief in a town on one of the main drug corridors in northern Mexico. Because of the high-reaching corruption, he said when drugs are shipped through their territory, officers are "forced to turn a blind eye and pretend it didn't happen."
"It's beyond redemption" he said.
Former Mexican presidents have vehemently denied any involvement in the drug trade. But Lopez Obrador's popularity at the polls was in part due to his campaign promise to bring a fresh approach to Mexico's corruption and drug problems. He vowed, for example, to legalize marijuana and offer amnesty to low-level offenders.
But on his first day in office, he reverted to his predecessors’ strategy of throwing the military at the cartels.
For the smugglers on the U.S.-Mexico border, though, it doesn't really matter who's in power in Mexico City. Jorge, who carries crystal meth and cocaine into the US as many as fifteen times a day, said nothing will change with the new government.
"Every official has their price," he said.
This segment originally aired December 3, 2018 on VICE News Tonight on HBO.