Author Topic: Mexico  (Read 376412 times)




Crafty_Dog

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GPF: Zapatistas extend authority in Chiapas
« Reply #603 on: August 21, 2019, 12:25:35 PM »
Competing for control in Mexico. The Zapatista Army of National Liberation, a Mexican militia that controls large swaths of territory in Chiapas state, claimed that it extended its authority to 11 more zones in Chiapas, giving it a total of 43 areas of control. Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador responded cautiously, saying the expansion was welcome so long as it was not violent. Domestic security is still a challenge for Mexico, as self-defense groups like the Zapatistas have created obstacles to restoring order in certain parts of the country. Chiapas is also a key part of the route for migrants heading north from Guatemala, and maintaining control of the area is critical to controlling the flow of migrants.





Crafty_Dog

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Stratfor: Nuevo Laredo
« Reply #608 on: September 09, 2019, 10:34:24 AM »


    Violence between the Cartel del Noreste and state police has been surging in the Mexican border city of Nuevo Laredo in Tamaulipas state over the past two weeks.
    In response to these losses, CDN has threatened those that do business with security forces, prompting many gasoline stations to refuse to sell fuel to the authorities.
    Given running gunbattles involving automatic weapons and grenades, attacks on security forces and threats against businesses, those with interests in Nuevo Laredo should be on heightened alert until the wave of brutality subsides.

Editor's Note: ­This security-focused assessment is one of many such analyses found at Stratfor Threat Lens, a unique protective intelligence product designed with corporate security leaders in mind. Threat Lens enables industry professionals and organizations to anticipate, identify, measure and mitigate emerging threats to people, assets and intellectual property the world over. Threat Lens is the only unified solution that analyzes and forecasts security risk from a holistic perspective, bringing all the most relevant global insights into a single, interactive threat dashboard.


Violence between the Cartel del Noreste (CDN) and state police has been surging in the Mexican border city of Nuevo Laredo in Tamaulipas state over the past two weeks. The incidents began Aug. 22, when officers with the Center for Analysis, Information and Studies of Tamaulipas (CAIET) erected a pop-up checkpoint just outside Nuevo Laredo on Federal Highway 2, which leads to Piedras Negras up the Rio Grande in Coahuila state. A convoy of heavily armed CDN gunmen with the cartel's "Tropa del Infierno" (Spanish for "Soldiers of Hell") enforcer unit attacked the checkpoint and wounded two police officers. They attacked the officers again as they took their wounded to the hospital, injuring a third officer.

The Big Picture


Since 2013, Mexico's cartels began a long process of balkanization, or splintering. Many organizations, such as the Gulf cartel, imploded and fragmented into several smaller, often competing factions. One of the three main clusters of smaller groups we track by geography centers on Tamaulipas state.



See Security Challenges in Latin America

On Aug. 23, Tropa del Infierno gunmen attacked the Santa Teresa Hotel in Nuevo Laredo, where CAIET officers were staying, killing one officer and wounding two others. On Aug. 27, 11 members of the enforcer unit were killed — four in an attack on a police station and seven in an attempted ambush on a CAIET patrol. On Aug. 28, family members of the CDN gunmen protested outside the Santa Teresa Hotel and threatened to burn vehicles in the parking lot. This incident shows the CDN's deep roots in the Nuevo Laredo community.

On Aug. 31, CAIET arrested four members of the CDN Tropa 202 enforcer unit in Ciudad Mier after a running gunbattle. Several others escaped into the countryside. On Sept. 2, four CDN gunmen were detained at a roadblock on the outskirts of Nuevo Laredo, and on Sept. 5, eight members of the Tropa del Infierno were killed in a firefight with CAIET officers; the dead included three female gunmen.

With the running gunbattles, those with interests in Nuevo Laredo should be on heightened alert until this wave of brutality subsides.

 

In response to these losses, CDN has openly threatened businesses that support the CAIET and the military in Nuevo Laredo. It specifically warned gasoline stations that sell fuel to security forces. According to media company Televisa, stations have refused to sell fuel to the authorities since Sept. 2. Televisa broadcast a conversation between a Tamaulipas state official and a gas station owner in which the owner refused to sell fuel even if additional security was provided for his station. This has forced the authorities to ship in fuel.


The CDN is a remnant of the Los Zetas cartel that is led by Juan Gerardo Trevino Chavez, also known as El Huevo; he is a member of the Trevino smuggling clan, which has a long history in Nuevo Laredo — and in the Los Zetas cartel. His uncles, Miguel Angel Trevino Morales, aka Z-40, and Omar Trevino Morales, aka Z-42, were both former leaders of Los Zetas. The Trevinos are old-school Nuevo Laredo smugglers and criminals with deep ties to the community.

Conflict between the CDN and government forces isn't a new phenomenon. In the summer of 2018, violence between the two sides also surged after the ambush and assassination of the director of a prison in Nuevo Laredo. With the running gunbattles involving automatic weapons and grenades, attacks on security forces and threats against businesses, those with interests in Nuevo Laredo should be on heightened alert until this wave of brutality subsides.

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Stratfor: The Case for a Counter Insurgency Approach to Mexico's Cartel Wars
« Reply #609 on: October 02, 2019, 12:21:14 AM »
on security
The Case for a Counterinsurgency Approach to Mexico's Cartel Wars
Scott Stewart
Scott Stewart
VP of Tactical Analysis, Stratfor
9 MINS READOct 1, 2019 | 10:00 GMT
Favio Gomez, brother of Servando Gomez, also known as
(MANUEL VELASQUEZ/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)

Favio Gomez, brother of Servando Gomez, also known as "La Tuta," is transported in Mexico City on Feb. 27, 2015, after his capture. Counterinsurgency tactics, rather than counterterrorism measures, might bring Mexico more success in battling its cartels.
Highlights

    Mexico has not designated its cartels as terrorist organizations, but it uses many counterterrorism tools and tactics to fight them.
    Such an approach has weakened many cartels, causing several to implode, but it has done little to enhance the government's legitimacy or address the issues that foster the rise of such groups.
    Because cartels have grown strong due to corruption, incompetent governance, economic malaise, impunity and the absence of the rule of law, Mexico might require a holistic counterinsurgency approach that goes beyond military means to remedy the underlying issues that facilitate such criminality.

 

Just last week, I was chatting with someone on Twitter who stated his belief that Mexican drug cartels should be classified as "terrorists" because of their actions. It's an idea, however, that I have long opposed: Cartels' gratuitous violence notwithstanding, their actions do not really fit the definition of terrorism, which many broadly define as political violence directed toward civilians. To my mind, Mexican cartels have simply not yet emulated Colombia's Pablo Escobar and his Medellin Cartel sicarios and engaged in political violence.

The Big Picture

Geographic proximity to the United States has been both a blessing and a curse for Mexico. Easy access to the giant U.S. market and free trade agreements have fostered more manufacturing activity, jobs and foreign investment in the country. At the same time, Mexico's proximity to illicit U.S. markets has resulted in the rapid growth of extremely violent criminal enterprises. Crime and violence are taking a huge toll on citizens and placing heavy fetters on the Mexican economy. There are many profound factors underlying the rise of the powerful organized crime groups, which are responsible for the majority of Mexico's violence. But until Mexico can address these issues, its government will be unable to kill its way out of this situation, causing the people and the economy to suffer.

See The Importance of Mexico

Still, it dawned on me that — definitions aside — the Mexican government and its U.S. ally have pursued the "war" on cartels using many of the same tools that we normally associate with the "global war on terror." Mexican special operations forces routinely raid hideouts to capture or kill cartel leaders, as well as employ sophisticated intelligence tools to track or hack cartel communications devices and networks. In one February 2017 incident, Mexican marines poured fire from a helicopter armed with a minigun into a house in Tepic, Nayarit, killing a Beltran Leyva Organization leader and 11 of his henchmen. Widely circulated videos of the incident resembled something one would expect to see in an operation targeting the Islamic State rather than an anti-crime operation in the capital of a Mexican state. 

I certainly don't fault the Mexican military for using military force against the cartels. Since the 1990s, the cartels have employed former soldiers armed with military-grade weapons in their enforcer units. But as we've seen in recent years, the military-based counterterrorism approach to combatting the cartels is not working. The government has captured or killed a long list of cartel leaders but failed to curb cartel violence. Indeed, 2019 is on track to be the most violent year ever in Mexico. Clearly, the Mexican government can't capture or kill its way out of its cartel problem. Instead, the road to solving the country's profound problems might lie along a different, more holistic, tack: a counterinsurgency model. Thinking of the cartels as criminal insurgents provides a valid blueprint for understanding the problem — as well as a road map for addressing it. 
 
Mexico's Cartels Stage an Insurgency

The idea that Mexican cartels are criminal insurgents is not a revelation. In fact, Stratfor contributor John P. Sullivan and Robert J. Bunker published an anthology in 2012 on the topic of Mexico's criminal insurgency for Small Wars Journal. As it is, the U.S. military defines insurgency as "the organized use of subversion and violence to seize, nullify, or challenge political control of a region," in its counterinsurgency doctrinal document, Joint Publication 3-24. And while Mexican cartels may not be seeking to establish an alternative government like a typical political insurgency, they are seeking to nullify or challenge the political control of territory to further their criminal operations.

Insurgents thrive in insecure areas that lack capable, credible governance. There are historical, geographic and political factors that have challenged Mexico City's ability to govern and control parts of the country. Indeed, banditry, smuggling and other criminal activity have historically plagued ungoverned places such as the sparsely populated deserts and mountains of the country's north.

In some ways, it is only when it comes to end goals that the Islamic State and Mexican cartels differ: Whereas the jihadist group wants to control territory for political power, cartels wish to do so for profit.

Geography and terrain are important factors that enable an insurgency, and it is no coincidence that most successful insurgencies take advantage of rough terrain, such as mountains and deserts, to wage their operations. But even more important than the physical terrain is the human terrain, as insurgents who enjoy the support of the population tend to thrive, relying on locals for shelter, material support, recruits and even intelligence. Chinese communist leader Mao Zedong noted that favorable human terrain allows a guerrilla fighter "to move among the people as a fish moves in the sea," and leftist and jihadist theorists alike have stressed the need to obtain local backing in their insurgencies. The cartels use a complicated combination of largesse and fear to ensure the population stays on their side. Indeed, Mexico's Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman Loera did not become a revered and respected cultural icon by mistake, but rather as the result of a carefully cultivated campaign. In the end, mere popular support couldn't protect Guzman from the massive international effort to capture him, but it certainly complicated authorities' efforts to locate him, allowing the cartel boss to remain freer for much longer than he would have otherwise.

In places like Iraq and Syria, the Islamic State has conducted operations to destabilize areas in which it wants to operate by conducting targeted assassinations and engaging in efforts to influence or sway local leaders to its side. By offering "plata o plomo" (silver or lead), Mexican cartels operate in much the same way, seeking to tip the local population to their side, maintain their favorable standing or, at the very least, obtain locals' fearful acquiescence by demonstrating the government's powerlessness. In some ways, it is only when it comes to end goals that the Islamic State and Mexican cartels differ: Whereas the jihadist group wants to control territory for political power, cartels wish to do so for profit. 

Taking a Holistic Approach

As history has repeatedly demonstrated — including recent history in the war against jihadism — counterinsurgency is difficult. This is especially so when locals view the forces conducting the counterinsurgency as outsiders. For insular communities in the Mexican mountains, federal troops are nearly as foreign as U.S. troops in Afghanistan. At its heart, counterinsurgency is really more an art than a science, meaning it requires a great deal of foresight, patience and cultural understanding. Unlike the current counterterrorism approach, a counterinsurgency approach would go beyond mere military force to utilize all the tools of the national, state and local governments, including their political, economic, educational, health, legal and developmental resources. Getting all of Mexico's conflicting political parties and state and local governments on board would present a challenge, but perhaps only measures that erode cartels' support base will cut such enterprises down to size. 

As I have noted in the past, there is little difference in the geographic factors that influence the north and south banks of the Rio Grande. The vast majority of the drugs that flow north out of Tamaulipas pass through the Texas Rio Grande Valley, while most of the money that flows south ends up back in Tamaulipas. Indeed, the same criminal cartels that operate in Tamaulipas also operate in Texas, but there are worlds of difference in terms of how these groups operate depending on whether they're on the U.S. or Mexican side of the line. As has become abundantly clear, they are far more aggressive and violent in Mexico than they are in the United States. It all goes to show that corruption, incompetent governance, economic malaise, impunity and the absence of the rule of law have allowed cartels to thrive and engage in wanton violence in Mexico. In essence, these are the same factors that have permitted groups such as the Islamic State West African Province to spread in Nigeria, Jamaat Nusrat al-Islam wal-Muslimin in northern Mali and other insurgent groups elsewhere.

This graph shows murder rates by year in Mexico.

Mexican governments have repeatedly tried to address the cartel problem through an institutional approach, focusing merely on reforming corrupt police agencies. The government of current President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador is taking a similar path, creating a new Mexican National Guard and reviving the Secretariat of Public Security that his predecessor, Enrique Pena Nieto, abolished. These new institutions, however, have done little to reduce the violence wracking Mexico because they are not holistic and cannot address the underlying issues facilitating the criminal insurgencies. Lopez Obrador the candidate noted that corruption was the No. 1 problem facing Mexico, but Lopez Obrador the president has succeeded in doing very little about the issue.

To be successful, a counterinsurgency campaign must weaken the insurgent forces while building the government's legitimacy. Mexico's counterterrorism approach against the cartels has weakened many of the groups, causing several to implode, but it has done little to stem corruption or enhance the government's legitimacy. This, in turn, has allowed criminals to take advantage of the vacuum of authority and governance.

Joint Publication 3-24 notes that "the [host nation] government generally needs some level of legitimacy among the population to retain the confidence of the populace and an acknowledgment of governing power." The Mexican government has not been able to build legitimacy in the eyes of the population, which has very little confidence in central authorities' ability to govern. Until Mexico City can begin to make progress on the ground in governing, battling corruption, ending impunity and winning the trust and confidence of the local population, cartels will continue to thrive — no matter how many criminal leaders the military kills or how many new security institutions the state drafts into the fight.   




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« Last Edit: October 19, 2019, 07:26:16 AM by Crafty_Dog »

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WSJ on Culiacan
« Reply #614 on: October 19, 2019, 09:00:01 PM »



Mexican Cartel Rules City After Gunbattle
Operation to free Ovidio Guzmán was unprecedented in scope and sophistication
A policeman walks past a burnt vehicle after heavily armed gunmen waged a battle against Mexican security forces in Culiacán. Photo: Alfredo Estrella/Agence France-Presse/Getty Images
By David Luhnow,
José de Cordoba and
Santiago Pérez
Updated Oct. 18, 2019 7:04 pm ET

MEXICO CITY—A son of the infamous Mexican drug lord Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán is captured. Cartel gunmen respond with a vicious attack on soldiers and civilians across a major Mexican city, leaving at least eight people dead and 16 wounded. The government gives in and releases the son, a top figure in the cartel.

One of the most violent and harrowing days in Mexico’s long fight against drug cartels unfolded late Thursday as members of the Sinaloa cartel wreaked havoc across Culiacán, a modern, middle-class city of around 800,000 residents, in response to what appeared to be a botched attempt to arrest Ovidio Guzmán.

Heavily-armed gunmen riding in convoys engaged in more than 70 separate firefights with Mexican security forces, set fires to vehicles, shot at government offices and engineered a jailbreak that freed 55 prisoners, with six recaptured, officials said. By nightfall, it was clear that the cartel was in charge of the city.

Mexican cartels have a history of blocking streets with burned-out cars to protect their bosses and of going on rampages when their leaders are captured by authorities. But Thursday’s events were unprecedented in their scope and sophistication, showing that the Sinaloa cartel is alive and well despite the absence of its legendary leader, who is now serving a life prison sentence.

The incident stunned many in Mexico and raised pressure on President Andrés Manuel López Obrador to make headway against the country’s relentless cartel-fueled violence. On Friday, he defended the decision to release the younger Mr. Guzmán.

“The situation became very difficult. Many citizens were at risk,” the president said at his daily news conference. “I agreed with that.”

Cartel gunmen had also kidnapped eight army soldiers and an officer, said Mexico’s Defense Minister Luis Cresencio Sandoval. They were released after the drug lord was freed.

Schools remained closed in Culiacán on Friday, as did many businesses.

Mr. Guzmán, who is only in his late 20s, has emerged as a top figure in the cartel along with his brothers Iván Archivaldo and Jesús Alfredo following the arrest and extradition of their father in 2017.

The incident was the third major gun battle of the week. On Monday, at least 13 state police in Michoacán state were massacred by suspected gunmen from the country’s powerful Jalisco cartel. A day later, one soldier and 14 alleged cartel gunmen died in a shootout in southern Guerrero state.

The violence, along with widespread extortion of businesses by organized crime, is one factor in Mexico’s economic stagnation. The economy has failed to grow so far this year. A survey by Mexico’s central bank found that violence and political uncertainty are the top two obstacles to economic growth cited by economists.

The administration’s backing down to the cartel’s offensive was sharply criticized by many ordinary Mexicans and security analysts, who challenged Mr. López Obrador’s policy of using force only as a last resort in an attempt to pacify one of the world’s most violent nations. He has called the policy “hugs, not bullets,” promising to focus on attacking poverty rather than cartels.

Murders in Mexico are on pace for a record-high 37,000 this year, according to the country’s national statistics agency. The U.S., which has nearly three times Mexico’s population, has about 15,000 murders a year, according to data from the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

Security analysts said the Culiacán incident was a public-relations disaster for the government, which looked weak in the face of cartel firepower.

“Lopez Obrador was confident his call for peace and love—and not going after narcos—would lower violence,” said Raúl Benitez, an analyst at the Autonomous University of Mexico. Instead, he said the president has given free rein to gangs. “It shows the peace-and-love strategy is not working.”

Adding to the sense of impunity, a lawyer representing the Guzmán family held a press conference in Mexico City on Friday to thank Mr. López Obrador for freeing Mr. Guzmán.

“The calculus the president made was that a single Mexican life is worth more than all the violence that was, as they say in music, reaching a crescendo,” attorney Juan Pablo Badillo said, adding that “we have no idea what would have happened” if the drug lord hadn’t been released.

Mr. Sandoval said Friday that a unit of Mexico’s National Guard had located Ovidio Guzmán, but acted hastily and arrived at a safe house without a warrant. While they were waiting for it, cartel gunmen allegedly opened fire. Security forces captured Mr. Guzmán, officials said, but then found themselves surrounded by cartel gunmen who arrived as backup.

Within minutes of Mr. Guzmán’s capture, hundreds of cartel gunmen sprang into action. Convoys of SUVs and pickups filled the city streets. Gunmen wore bulletproof vests and toted assault rifles, and at least two had machine guns, including an intimidating Browning M2 set up on the back of a light truck, according to security experts who analyzed video footage of the events.

Gunmen also began firing on army barracks where the family members of soldiers lived, Mr. Sandoval said. One unconfirmed report said gang members had hijacked loaded fuel trucks and parked them near the barracks, threatening to blow them up.

“The criminal organization’s ability to call on its members and power of response was underestimated,” said Mr. Sandoval.
Mexican soldiers patrol near the government palace in Culiacán on Friday. Photo: alfredo estrella/Agence France-Presse/Getty Images

Mobsters sprayed bullets in front of key government buildings and gas stations, torching cars and sending plumes of smoke over the Culiacán skyline. It gave the impression of a civil war, sparking panic among the population, said Eduardo Guerrero, a former top Mexican security official.

Between 100 and 150 gunmen surrounded the area near the house where Mr. Guzmán was hiding out, outnumbering some 70 to 80 troops. Another 150 or 200 cartel members were deployed in various parts of the city to create havoc, Mr. Guerrero estimates.

Another armed commando staged a parallel raid, taking advantage of the chaos spreading across Culiacán to free more than 50 cartel members from a nearby prison. Security guards offered no resistance.

“They were more powerful and showed tactical supremacy. The government didn’t expect a reaction in such scale,” said Guillermo Valdés, Mexico’s former intelligence chief. “As soon as some 300 hit men came out, there was no capacity to counter them.”

Mexico’s powerful drug cartels are likely to take note of the Sinaloa cartel’s use of military power and tactics in freeing Mr. Guzmán, and emulate it, said Mike Vigil, a former head of international operations for the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, who has also served in Mexico.

“Releasing Ovidio sends a vivid message to criminal cartels that if a group’s leader is captured, all you have to do is go into a town, commit wholesale violence, and the government will release him,” he said.
Residents were forced to flee for cover as armed gunmen and federal police clashed on the streets of Culiacán Thursday. Photo: str/EPA/Shutterstock

Mr. López Obrador campaigned on ending Mexico’s drug war. Since 2006, as cartels gained increasing power, successive presidents have used the armed forces to kill or capture cartel leaders and break up powerful gangs.

The strategy reduced the clout of the largest cartels, but it also led to growing criminal violence as cartels splintered into rival gangs and fought each other for control of drug-trafficking routes and territory. Hundreds of thousands have died in the carnage.

Mr. López Obrador said his government would no longer focus on capturing cartel leaders but work on alleviating poverty. “What happened yesterday was lamentable, but in no way does it mean our strategy has failed,” he told reporters during his morning news conference.

The government of President Andrés Manuel López Obrador has worked on alleviating poverty in order to prevent young people from joining gangs. Photo: daniel ricardez/EPA/Shutterstock

The president is also relying on the force of his personality to tamp down crime, calling on gang members to think of their mothers.

“We’re calling on criminals to tone it down, that we all start to behave better. To hell with criminals. Fuchi, guacala,” he said, using colloquial terms that mean “gross, yuck.”

Thursday, as word of the battles in Culiacán spread on social media, the phrase #Fuchi/guacala was trending on Twitter.

—Anthony Harrup and Robbie Whelan contributed to this article.

Write to David Luhnow at david.luhnow@wsj.com, José de Cordoba at jose.decordoba@wsj.com and Santiago Pérez at santiago.perez@wsj.com

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Narcos declarado terroristas?
« Reply #621 on: November 29, 2019, 11:31:45 AM »
HIGHLIGHTS

The long and complex relationship between the United States and Mexico has left the Mexicans far more sensitive to what they perceive as U.S. infringement on their sovereignty.

Many Mexicans view U.S. President Donald Trump's actions as offensive, patronizing and motivated by his 2020 election ambitions.

Merely labeling a few of the larger groups such as the Cartel de Jalisco Nueva Generacion and the Sinaloa cartel as terrorist organizations will not be helpful in meaningfully countering all the smaller groups.

Editor's Note: ­This security-focused assessment is one of many such analyses found at Stratfor Threat Lens, a unique protective intelligence product designed with corporate security leaders in mind. Threat Lens enables industry professionals and organizations to anticipate, identify, measure and mitigate emerging threats to people, assets and intellectual property the world over. Threat Lens is the only unified solution that analyzes and forecasts security risk from a holistic perspective, bringing all the most relevant global insights into a single, interactive threat dashboard.

In a radio interview that aired on Nov. 26, U.S. President Donald Trump told former Fox News host Bill O'Reilly that he intends to designate Mexican cartels as international terrorist entities because of their role in human and drug trafficking. The statement was met with widespread condemnation in Mexico, where both the government of President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador and the public are seriously opposed to the move. Mexican Foreign Secretary Marcelo Ebrard said in a Nov. 25 interview on the proposal that he didn't expect the United States to follow through on the idea.

The situation in Mexico is quite different from that in Colombia during the early 1990s when Pablo Escobar and the Medellin cartel were designated as narcoterrorists. Both the Colombian government and population supported the designation and the U.S. assistance. However, the long and complex relationship between the United States and Mexico has left the Mexicans far more sensitive to what they perceive as U.S. infringement on their sovereignty. Many Mexicans viewed Trump's threat to send U.S. troops to Mexico in the wake of the Nov. 4 LeBaron slayings as offensive, patronizing and motivated by his 2020 election ambitions. Any decision to designate the Mexican cartels as international terrorist organizations is seen in much the same light.

The harsh reality is that economics dictate that the flow of contraband across the U.S.-Mexico border — drugs going north and cash and guns flowing south — will never end as long as there is a huge market in the United States for illegal drugs.

From a practical perspective, the U.S. government has long been involved in supporting Mexico's military efforts against the cartels, and it has provided training, equipment, assistance and intelligence. The relationship is particularly close with the Mexican marines, who are involved in most operations targeting high-value cartel figures. The Mexicans have been able to either capture or kill a long list of major cartel figures. Such operations do weaken and fragment the cartels, but they do very little to address the underlying problems — corruption, impunity and a vacuum of authority — that allow them to operate the way they do in Mexico.

The harsh reality is that economics dictate that the flow of contraband across the U.S.-Mexico border — drugs going north and cash and guns flowing south — will never end as long as there is a huge market in the United States for illegal drugs. At the same time, it is important to recognize that the same cartels operate on both sides of the border, but they are far more restrained in the United States. Therefore, if Mexico can make progress in addressing corruption and related problems, it can regain the trust of the public and take steps to constrain the cartels so they behave as they do in the United States. Obviously, given the violent behavior of the cartels, the government of Mexico must continue to use military force against them so it will be able to address these underlying weaknesses. However, force alone will not be able to combat those problems.

Finally, there is a real practical difficulty in designating Mexican cartels as international terrorist organizations. The cartel landscape is far different from what it was 20 years ago, and there are an array of distinct and independent groups. For example, the Gulf cartel has completely imploded and turned into a host of smaller local criminal groups, including Los Zetas, which has splintered into at least a half-dozen competing factions. Merely labeling a few of the larger groups such as the Cartel de Jalisco Nueva Generacion and the Sinaloa cartel as terrorist organizations will not be helpful in meaningfully countering all the smaller groups.

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WSJ on AMLO
« Reply #623 on: December 07, 2019, 01:04:23 PM »
Mexico’s Polarizing President Presides Over Rising Violence, Flailing Economy
President Andrés Manuel López Obrador remains popular despite cartel crime and weak growth
Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador greets supporters in the southern state of Oaxaca. PRESS OFFICE

David Luhnow and José de Córdoba
Dec. 7, 2019 12:15 am ET

MEXICO CITY—On Dec. 1, tens of thousands of people gathered in Mexico City’s gritty central square to celebrate Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador’s first year in office. His supporters chanted “It’s an honor to support Obrador.”

A few blocks away, thousands of protesters marched along the city’s elegant Reforma boulevard to rail against the president. Their chant was different: “It’s a horror to support Obrador.”

Since taking power, the silver-haired populist has polarized Mexico more than any president in recent memory. A majority see him as their first honest leader in decades, a man of the people and champion of the forgotten poor. For a growing minority, the president is a dangerous authoritarian who is consolidating power and failing to address the country’s basic problems like out-of-control crime and weak economic growth.

Stalling Out
Annual change in GDP
Source: International Monetary Fund
Note: 2019 data are estimates.
%
Mexico
U.S.
2009
’10
’11
’12
’13
’14
’15
’16
’17
’18
’19
-6
-4
-2
0
2
4
6
His first year wasn’t an optimistic harbinger of his remaining five years in power. Mexico’s economy hasn’t grown at all this year, its worst performance in a decade. Even as the U.S. economy chugs along, Mexican businesses have slowed investment, spooked by the president’s governing style and economic decisions like suspending the country’s historic opening to private investment in the energy industry. At the same time, the window may be closing for ratification of a renegotiated free-trade pact among Mexico, the U.S. and Canada.

Crime has hit record highs, with murders climbing another 2.2% during the first 10 months of the year compared with last year’s record tally of 36,685 slayings. More than ever, parts of Mexico appear ungovernable as powerful crime syndicates take on the government. In October, the Sinaloa cartel overran the northern city of Culiacán in a successful attempt to force the army to liberate a captured drug lord.

President Trump had been expected to designate Mexico’s drug cartels as foreign terrorist organizations, putting them on a par with groups like Islamic State and al Qaeda. On Friday night, he said he would “temporarily hold off” on that move at the request of Mr. López Obrador.

Mr. Trump, in tweets, said the two nations would “step up our joint efforts to deal decisively with these vicious and ever-growing organizations!” He said “all necessary work” had been completed to designate the cartels as terrorist organizations.

A series of recent clashes between cartel gunmen and security forces as well as massacres of civilians in Mexico has captured global attention. Last month, presumed gunmen from a cartel killed three mothers and six of their children, all U.S. citizens living in a fundamentalist Mormon community in the northern state of Chihuahua.


Men carry the remains of Dawna Ray Langford and her sons Trevor and Rogan, who were killed by unknown assailants in November. PHOTO: CARLOS JASSO/REUTERS
Rafael Chávez, a burly construction worker who runs a business remodeling homes, voted for Mr. López Obrador last year on the politician’s promises he would “transform” the country. But a sharp slowdown in construction has forced Mr. Chávez to cut the size of his crews to 12 from an average of 30.

“I had the hope he was going to be able to conjure a change,” says Mr. Chávez. But with crime growing and a weak economy, he says, it seems “everything is falling apart.”

Since taking power, the man who once said “to hell with your institutions” has become the most powerful president in decades, with a big majority in both chambers of congress. He has attacked many of the country’s fragile institutions like courts, the central bank, and regulators as part of a “mafia of power” against him. And his party is now trying to oust the non-partisan head of the agency that oversees elections in time for the 2022 midterms.

“It’s not yellow flashing lights—they are glowing red,” says Enrique Krauze, one of the country’s leading historians. Mr. López Obrador’s government appears to be “on the road to becoming a populist dictatorship.”

Despite the shaky first year, the veteran politician and baseball fan remains Mexico’s most popular leader in decades, with different recent polls showing an approval rating between 60% and 70%. Those are enviable numbers at a time when some leaders in Latin America have approval ratings in the single digits and others face violent street protests.

“It’s a paradox,” says Héctor Aguilar Camín, a leading Mexican writer. “It’s a president who has high credibility and very poor results.”

The answer may lie in Mr. López Obrador’s masterful use of political symbols. He slashed his own salary and that of top bureaucrats, arguing that Mexico can’t have a rich government and poor citizens. The savings have gone partly to fund an expansion in cash transfer programs for the elderly, middle-school students and others.

The austerity is a welcome change in a country where many former presidents retired as multimillionaires. Enrique Peña Nieto, Mr. López Obrador’s predecessor, left office hounded by scandal and a record low 16% approval. The former president appears regularly in the pages of Mexico’s top society magazines, jet-setting on holidays around Europe with his new 31-year-old girlfriend, a model. Mr. Peña Nieto has long denied wrongdoing.


President López Obrador talks to a fellow passenger during a commercial flight in in Mexico in February. PHOTO: ALFREDO ESTRELLA/AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE/GETTY IMAGES
Mr. López Obrador is the symbolic opposite. He put the country’s version of Air Force One, a Boeing 787, on the auction block and flies economy class, delighting fellow travelers. He disbanded the 8,000-strong elite presidential guard, saying the people would protect him. And he turned the sprawling and secretive presidential compound into a tourist attraction visited by millions. Rather than rest and play golf on the weekends, he visits the country’s poorest corners.

“This is one of the best things that has happened in all of my life,” said Omar Escovedo, 59, a retired state worker, during a recent visit by the president to the mostly indigenous hamlet of Amanalco near the capital. Over the past decade, the politician visited every county in Mexico—all 2,457.

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He has also proved adept at communication. In a country where presidents hardly ever held news conferences, he holds one nearly every morning that is carried live on radio, television and the internet to millions of his supporters.

There, Mr. López Obrador hammers home his vision of a country cleaved in two. His opponents are traitorous “conservatives”—a term from Mexico’s 19th century civil wars—and modern-day “neoliberals.” To him, these Mexicans are corrupt, beholden to foreign interests, and wealthy. Mr. López Obrador has even resurrected a 19th century word, “fifí,” meaning Frenchified and effete, to describe them.

On the other side are Mr. López Obrador and his supporters. These are the inheritors of Mexico’s 19th-century patriots and revolutionaries who seek to extinguish corruption and, through the hand of the state, produce well-being for all, especially the poor and the nation’s indigenous people.

“If you oppose López Obrador, then you are a traitor, corrupt, a coup monger,” says José Crespo, a political analyst at Mexico City’s CIDE university. “It’s a Manichaean use of history where on one side are the good Mexicans and on the other the very bad Mexicans.”

Crime is perhaps the president’s biggest vulnerability. A majority of Mexicans give him negative marks on crime, which they say is the country’s most pressing problem. A December poll by newspaper Reforma found 65% of Mexicans believe organized crime is stronger than the Mexican government. Just 29% said the government is stronger.


Soldiers stand guard in Villa Unión, a Mexican town near the border with the U.S., after a shootout with suspected cartel gunmen earlier this month. PHOTO: JULIO CESAR AGUILAR/AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE/GETTY IMAGES
The crime wave has also hit Mexico City, which until recently had been relatively shielded from the carnage in the countryside. More than eight in 10 city residents say crime is their biggest problem, polls show. Just south of Mexico City, Catholic churches in parts of Morelos state have suspended Mass during evenings because parishioners are too frightened to attend, according to Ramón Castro, the bishop of Cuernavaca.

From the day he took power, the president declared an end to the country’s war on drugs, saying “you can’t fight fire with fire.” Mexico’s U.S.-trained Naval Marines, the force that killed or captured most top cartel leaders in the past decade, including Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán, has been sidelined, say Naval officers. No major cartel figure has been arrested or killed this year.

The president disbanded the 40,000 strong Federal Police, built up under the previous two administrations in a bid to create a capable police force to pursue organized crime. In its place is a new National Guard, drawn mostly from the ranks of army and naval police. The Guard has 70,000 members and will grow to 140,000, the government says.

Critics say the Guard is a work in progress with no clear mission. So far, it has been deployed to stop Central American migrants from reaching the U.S., patrol Mexico City’s subway system, fight gasoline theft and deal with high-profile incidents such as massacres by organized crime. “It’s been a very reactive force, scattered, without a clear vision,” says Eduardo Guerrero, a Mexico City-based security analyst.

Deadly Trend
Homicides in Mexico
Source: Mexico's National Statistics Institute
2010
’12
’14
’16
’18
0
10,000
20,000
30,000
40,000
Analysts say that while Mexico has mostly relied on the armed forces to control organized crime, it has for years neglected a long-term fix: building professional police forces, especially at state and local levels, that can actually solve crimes like murder. Less than 13% of violent crimes end up with a suspect appearing before a judge, compared with 80% in the U.S., according to Alejandro Hope, a security analyst and former member of Mexico’s intelligence agency.

By dismantling the Federal Police, the president went back to square one in creating a trained federal force. His government has also cut federal funding to train state and local police forces, according to government budget data.

Aside from the National Guard, the president is betting that reducing poverty will reduce crime. Some 800,000 youth have signed up to an apprentice program called “Youth Building a Future” that gives them a monthly stipend in exchange for learning a trade, a process that Mr. López Obrador hopes will keep them from becoming cannon fodder for gangs.

The president is also relying on the force of his personality to tamp down crime, calling on gang members to think of their mothers. “We’re calling on criminals to tone it down, that we all start to behave better. To hell with criminals. Fuchi, guácala,” he said, using colloquial terms that mean “gross, yuck.”

Last week, a small army of gunmen in a convoy of about 50 armored trucks, some mounted with .50 caliber rifles, attacked a small town in Coahuila, less than 40 miles from the Texas border, shooting up the town hall. At least 23 people, 17 of them presumed cartel members, were killed in a two-day running battle between security forces and gunmen, who wore helmets and military fatigues, and drove trucks emblazoned with the insignia of their self-styled “Northeast Cartel.”

On the economy, the outlook appears grim. Economists forecast just 1.2% growth next year—well below the president’s promises of 4% average annual growth and 6% growth by the end of his term.

Lack of Confidence
Mexico's gross fixed investment index
Source: Mexico's National Statistics Institute
Total
Construction
2016
’17
’18
’19
85
90
95
100
105
110
115
120
ConstructionxSept. 2019x93.4
Investment in machinery, equipment and construction fell 6.8% in September compared with a year ago, and is down 4.8% in the first nine months of this year, Mexico’s statistics agency said Friday.

Many blame the stagnation on the president’s decisions like canceling Mexico City’s partially built new airport, the country’s largest public-works project. Mr. López Obrador spiked the project after some $5 billion had already been spent, saying it was too extravagant. His finance minister later quit, saying economic decisions were being made on the basis of ideology.

The nationalist also reversed or suspended the economic overhauls—from ensuring public school teachers are tested for competence to opening the energy sector to private investment—carried out by Mr. Peña Nieto. Even auctions to attract private investment in renewable energies like wind farms have been scrapped.

Mexico’s stagnation marks the first time in two decades that Mexico’s economic cycle has diverged from the U.S., its northern neighbor and destination for 85% of its manufactured exports.

To spark economic growth, the president is betting on the resurrection of debt-ridden state oil firm Pemex, injecting it with new money and forcing it to build an $8 billion new refinery in his home state of Tabasco. But the oil industry accounts for under 4% of Mexico’s economic output.

His government closed down ProMexico, the country’s overseas investment offices. While he is supportive of the renegotiated free-trade deal with the U.S., he has yet to visit a single modern factory.


A refinery belonging to Pemex, the Mexican state oil firm. PHOTO: DANIEL BECERRIL/REUTERS
In July, on a visit to the countryside, he extolled the virtues of a primitive sugar-cane grinder powered by one mangy horse in a video he posted on his Twitter account which went viral. “This is an authentic people’s economy,” he said as the horse went around in a circle, grinding out the cane juice. “This is the economy we are promoting,” he said.

His austerity drive, while good for public finances, has forced thousands of top technocrats out of institutions like the central bank and finance ministry by slashing wages and cutting benefits like private health insurance.

“I’ve seen a year of destruction of institutions, of projects, of talents, of human capital,” says Valeria Moy, the director of “How are we doing, Mexico?” a Mexico City-based think tank. “This year, nothing has been built, and much has been destroyed.”

Write to David Luhnow at david.luhnow@wsj.com and José de Córdoba at jose.decordoba@wsj.com

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