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Several violent incidents in Mexico point to a worrying trend

Tono listen arrive Mexican government, crime is on the decline. “Mexico is a tranquil, peaceful country where violence is limited to very few areas,” President Andrés Manuel López Obrador declared earlier this year. Since he took power in late 2018, officials have boasted of a decline in murders and kidnappings.

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That claim looked flimsy in August when violence erupted in four of Mexico’s 32 states, killing at least 260 people. In Ciudad Juárez, a brawl between two gangs in the prison spread to the city. In Tijuana, Guanajuato and Jalisco, gangs torched cars and stores, possibly in retaliation for an attempted arrest of a leader of the Jalisco New Generation Cartel, known by its Spanish initials , cjng.

Mexico has long been a violent place. Its location between coca plantations in Colombia, Peru and Bolivia and drug consumers in the United States makes it a natural hub for crime. The flow of guns from its northern neighbor is not helping. An estimated 200,000 firearms are illegally imported into the country each year.

The events of the past month were not anomalous. Recent statistics have been dismal. From 2020 to 2021, murders may drop by 3.4%. But other crimes involving homicide are on the rise.

Between 2006 and 2012, an average of 8 people “disappeared” (many of them presumably murdered) every day. It’s now averaging 25 a day. Mexico’s murder rate is 28 per 100,000 people. That’s four times the murder rate in the United States. Polls show Mexicans care more about violence than anything else. The Institute for Economics and Peace think tank estimates the cost of violence in Mexico in 2021 at 4.9 Mexican pesos ($243 billion), about one-fifth of Mexico’s cost. gross domestic product.

Part of the reason for such violence is that the number of gangs responsible for most murders has more than doubled in the decade to 2020. There are now 205, according to the International Crisis Group, a think tank. Their sphere of influence has expanded to various cities. They are also more powerful and confident. cjng Advanced military equipment was on display, including armored vehicles and drones. Gangs are no longer just drug dealers. They traffic people, steal oil, and control the avocado, tortilla, and chicken markets in some states.

Mr. López Obrador describes his approach as “abrazos no balazos’ (hugs not bullets). His bet is that generous cash handouts, such as a monthly payment of 5,258 pesos to underprivileged teenagers participating in an apprenticeship program, will reduce crime. Beyond that, his policies are contradictory and often invalid.

First, he tends to place all the blame on the previous president. In one sense, he was right: A policy of rooting out drug lords, begun by Felipe Calderón during his presidency from 2006 to 2012, split the gangs. But security expert Evan Ellis said that for all the mistakes of past governments, at least they had a strategy. By the end of Mr. Calderon’s six-year term, the murder rate had fallen from 24 per 100,000 people in 2011 to 22 in 2012. This continued until Enrique Peña Nieto’s tenure, dropping to 17 per 100,000 in 2014, before rising again.

Mr López Obrador took office and disbanded the federal police, arguing it was corrupt, and created a new agency called the National Guard. It is mostly made up of soldiers and Marines who have little training in civil law and order and lack police investigative and forensic knowledge. As a result, it’s rather ineffective. It has more than 100,000 members and made more than 8,000 arrests last year. That compares with 22,000 arrests in 2018 by the federal police, which had a maximum of 38,000 officers. Francisco Rivas of the National Citizens Observatory claimed that no one had been convicted of murder in Mr López Obrador’s first 18 months in office. non-governmental organization. (No public data has been released to support this claim.)

Even though the president talked about hugs, not bullets, he increased the number of soldiers taking to the streets. The average number deployed so far during his term is 73,347, compared with 53,000 under his predecessor and 48,500 under Calderón. On August 8, he announced that he would issue a decree bringing the National Guard under military control. But in the meantime, the president has ordered security forces to take a hands-off approach when dealing with criminals.

Mr López Obrador has cut budgets for internal security and justice. However, Mexico spends only 0.63% gross domestic product In terms of safety, the lowest OECD, a club made up mostly of wealthy nations. Under López Obrador, military spending rose to 104 billion pesos, nearly double what it was a decade ago. But that doesn’t reflect a growing interest in public security: Mr López Obrador has given the military increasing tasks, including building airports and banks. Attorneys general at the federal and state levels have been asked to do most of the investigation, and their budgets have been slashed.

The president’s stubborn nationalism could also make matters worse. In 2020, Congress passed a law requiring foreign agents to share all intelligence with Mexican officials.This law is likely to DEAthe U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency, has made it difficult to operate because foreign governments cannot be sure that their Mexican counterparts will not pass information on to the gangs themselves (which in a few cases appears to have happened).

Corruption is a concern because municipal police are underpaid. Many work for gangs. Estimates using data collected by Mexico’s statistical agency show that 86 percent of reported crimes go unsolved. “It tells people that they can do whatever they want,” said Common Cause’s María Elena Morera. non-governmental organization.

The high-profile arrests over the past six months may herald a change in the president’s approach. El Huevo, a suspected drug lord, was arrested in northeastern Mexico in March. July, Rafael Caro Quintero, charged with murder DEA The secret agent, and the terrifying inspiration for the Netflix series “Narcos: Mexico,” has been captured. More ringleaders have also been extradited to the United States. “The Mexican army is now doing surgical strikes, not blind strikes,” said Eduardo Guerrero of Lantia Intelligence, a crime tracker. A law that went into effect in the United States on Aug. 24 aimed at cracking down on unregulated private gun sales could also help reduce the number of U.S. firearms being shipped south of the border.

But even if he wanted to take a tougher line on crime, Mr. López Obrador would find it tricky. El Chapo, the former leader of the Sinaloa Cartel, bowed to pressure in 2019 after the armed forces captured the son of the former Sinaloa Cartel leader, reducing his authority to make arrests. Mr López Obrador ordered his release hours after gang members rioted in Culiacan, in northwestern Mexico, in retaliation. Mr Guerrero believes the latest violence is designed to send a similar message to the government, causing it to back down.

Rampant violence doesn’t have to be the norm. The northern state of Nuevo Leon managed to reduce crime between 2012 and 2021 as the state’s wealthier citizens helped fund a security plan that included firing corrupt police and building a new, well-paid police force. Troops to replace street soldiers. It also cooperates with its two neighbors on security.

Crime in Mexico City was also brought under control. The local mayor, Claudia Sheinbaum, a close ally of the president, raised police pay and improved street lighting. Murders in the capital fell by 34% between 2018 and 2021. Ms Sheinbaum has often been touted as a potential successor to Mr López Obrador when he leaves office in 2024. But by then, the violence in Mexico could be worse.

correct (September 2, 2022): An earlier version of this article incorrectly attributed the drop in crime between 2020 and 2021 to covid-19 restrictions. sorry.

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