Home Headlines Drug cartels are thriving in Mexico under the AMLO administration (Financial Times)

Drug cartels are thriving in Mexico under the AMLO administration (Financial Times)

by sanmigueltimes
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López Obrador said he would tackle gangs with ‘hugs not bullets’. Six years on, violence is worse than ever in Mexico.

When a group of strangers turned up uninvited at a Christmas party in a colonial-era courtyard in Salvatierra, central Mexico, last year, the assembled revellers asked them to leave.

Shortly afterwards, as the young partygoers danced to live music, the gatecrashers returned with gunmen and the order: “Kill them all.” Using automatic weapons, the assassins sprayed the revellers with 195 bullets as they attempted to flee, according to investigators. Eleven dead bodies were recovered from the bloodstained courtyard and 14 people were injured.

Even in a country weary of extreme violence, the massacre of unarmed partygoers in Guanajuato state had the power to shock. Despite national outrage, it took two months for the authorities to arrest anyone. When they did, they detained two people accused of firing the shots but not those who ordered the killing.

Organised crime and violence are hardly new to Mexico. The country’s first cocaine cartel formed in the early 1980s. A quarter of a century later, conservative President Felipe Calderón launched an all-out “war on drugs”, plunging the country into a bloodbath.

But Mexico’s organized crime problem has worsened dramatically during the five and a half years of populist leftwinger Andrés Manuel López Obrador’s presidency, security experts say and has become so serious that it threatens the country’s future. Polls show that security is a top voter concern ahead of the presidential election on June 2.

For more than a decade, the dominant drug groups have been fragmenting, generating a host of smaller splinter gangs who fight over turf. Today, the two largest and most powerful cartels, the Sinaloa cartel and the Jalisco New Generation cartel (CJNG), are jostling with smaller rivals such as the Viagras, the Squirrels and the Scorpions.

Many of the cartels have expanded into lucrative new businesses. In a 2024 report, the US Drug Enforcement Administration called the Sinaloa and Jalisco cartels “transnational criminal organisations” because they are “involved in arms trafficking, money laundering, migrant smuggling, sex trafficking, bribery, extortion, and a host of other crimes”. The cartels control more territory than ever before, about a third of the country according to one estimate from the US military.

“There’s been an exponential deterioration,” says Manuel Clouthier, a former state deputy and businessman in the northwestern state of Sinaloa, which is home to the eponymous drug cartel. “Mexico is becoming a failed state.”

As the cartels’ economic power has grown, so has their international reach. Mexico’s two top cartels now run a network of illegal activities stretching across South America that is challenging governments and alarming citizens. Battles between local affiliates of the CJNG and the Sinaloa cartel have turned previously peaceful Ecuador into one of the world’s most violent countries.

The cartels source chemicals needed to make synthetic drugs such as fentanyl from China and India and have strong connections to European mafia such as the Italian ’Ndrangheta, investigators say. Anne Milgram, head of the DEA, told a US Senate committee in February last year that “the Jalisco cartel influences associates, facilitators and brokers on every continent except Antarctica”.

In the US, Mexico’s deteriorating security and flourishing drug trade have become an election issue, with Republicans calling for a tougher line. Some in the party have gone as far as calling for US military forces to nab cartel leaders in Osama bin Laden-style commando operations.


San Miguel Times

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