Analyst: Lopez Obrador trying to show drug cartels not in control of Mexico

Border Report

Tour of gang battleground states meant to reassure residents and investors, but defeating cartels requires counter-insurgency tactics

Mexico’s President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador arrives for his daily, morning news conference at the presidential palace, Palacio Nacional, in Mexico City, Monday, July 13, 2020. (AP Photo/Marco Ugarte)

EL PASO, Texas (Border Report) — Facing heat over increasingly bold acts of narco-violence, the president of Mexico is set to begin a tour of states being disputed by the drug cartels.

His first stop on Wednesday is Guanajuato state, where gunmen on July 1 murdered 27 recovering drug addicts in Irapuato. There, Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador will talk with Gov. Diego Sinhue about crime and tour a gasoline refinery in Salamanca — where a criminal group last month abandoned an explosives-laden car after being spotted by the army.

The president on Thursday will be in Jalisco, the home of the drug cartel believed responsible for the June 26 assassination attempt on Mexico City police Chief Omar García Harfuch. He’s to meet with Gov. Enrique Alfaro and then inspect the new National Guard headquarters in Tlaquepaque, according to a schedule released by his office to Mexican media.

Police stand guard at a crime scene where the chief of police was attacked by gunmen in the early morning hours, in Mexico City, Friday, June 26, 2020. Heavily armed gunmen attacked and wounded Omar Garcia Harfuch in a brazen operation that left an unspecified number of dead, Mayor Claudia Sheinbaum said Friday. (AP Photo/Rebecca Blackwell)

On Friday he visits Colima, where Jalisco cartel hitmen recently killed a federal judge and a state lawmaker. He’s also visiting the port of Manzanillo, where drug experts say precursor drugs for fentanyl and methamphetamine routinely come in from Asia.

Lopez Obrador on Monday said he wanted to show support for local public safety officials.

But asked why the president of Mexico suddenly decided to tour cartel battleground states, a U.S. security expert said it’s to show that drug traffickers do not control the country.

“It’s about politics but it’s also to make a statement,” said Scott Stewart, vice president of TorchStone Global, a Maryland-based private security firm. “He’s trying to provide leadership, trying to show the Mexican people that he’s not afraid of going to these places. […] He’s also trying to tell people, ‘hey, this is Mexico, not Syria, you can still do business here.'”

According to Stewart, Mexico is facing a full-blown criminal insurgency that urgently requires a response. To get there, he first needs to see eye-to-eye with governors from other political parties. Then he needs to fight the cartels much like the U.S. Army would fight insurgents, regaining and holding territory, then pumping social resources.

“It’s hard to tackle that unless all levels of government are working together, not at cross-purposes. […] It’s no different from the U.S., where, say, the governor of New York and the president spar about COVID,” Stewart said. “It’s the same dynamics, but in Mexico, it’s much more serious. The only way they are going to solve this problem is by working together.”

Some in the U.S. might think defeating the cartels is as easy as finding its leaders and going after them. But analysts say even that is complicated.

“The cartels are not going to pick a direct fight with the army unless they have to. They attack when they have superiority and surprise. […] It’s like putting your finger in a puddle of mercury. They’ll scatter, they’ll retreat and come back when (the army) is gone,” Stewart said.

And then there’s the corruption issue. If the president can’t get local leaders on board, criminals will continue to enjoy impunity. Elected officials from Juarez to Guanajuato have publicly complained about capturing criminals and then seeing them released by a judge or benefiting from a botched prosecution.

“At the heart of this whole idea is getting rid of the corruption. You can basically kill with impunity and that’s tied to corruption. Those two goals go hand-in-glove,” Stewart said of enforcing laws and eliminating corruption.

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