Eduardo Guerrero: “The Mexican narco is not weakened, it is stronger than ever”
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In less than a week, the Mexican narco set fire to five states in the country. Cars and buses on fire to block roads, stores covered in lead in the name of the Jalisco cartel, businesses attacked with Molotov cocktails with employees inside, customers of a pizzeria riddled with bullets at their doors, entire cities frightened because the terror of violence was touching new his land. While the government of President Andrés Manuel López Obrador tried to calm the public by claiming that what happened was nothing more than a response from a drug trafficker “weakened” by his policies, suspicions grew that something like this could happen again at any time. place. Four days after the declaration of the authorities, the narco in Colima repeated the attacks. And some experts doubted the official explanation.
The security analyst and director of Lantia, one of the most important consultancies on issues of violence, Eduardo Guerrero, agrees that the coordinated attacks of organized crime are a response to the Government’s fight against crime. Also, the macabre consequence of a criminal map pulverized by hundreds of smaller organizations with the ability to sow chaos in any corner. But he clarifies: “The narco is not weakened. He is stronger than ever.”
Ask. Is there any explanation why organized crime has risen up in this way against the population?
Response. The reactions we have had in the current situation have two springs. The first is that there has been a wave of high-profile arrests, both of cartels with national power [cartel Jalisco Nueva Generación y Sinaloa], as well as local cells that are generating serious problems within these organizations, due to issues of new leadership. And, on the other hand, there is a phenomenon of splits, especially within the Jalisco cartel, in Michoacán and the center of the country. It seems that the cells he commands are not obeying the orders of the dome. And for Jalisco it is very important to maintain discipline and punish disobedience.
On the first point, they know very well that this type of attack generates a lot of fear in the population and puts pressure to create disagreement with their rulers, who range from the mayor, to the governor, to the president himself. They do it with the intention of generating damage to the popularity of public authorities. What we have seen these days has revealed the type of government strategy that announces “hugs, not bullets.” From what we see, this does not mean that they have not touched the criminal groups, but rather that they do not want direct confrontations that lead to massacres, with massive extrajudicial executions. But the government is very active on the issue of arrests, pressure from the United States government has also had an influence, emphatic in weakening Jalisco and Sinaloa, whom it blames for fentanyl trafficking that has killed thousands in their country.
P. What is new about what we observe today with what has happened years before, with previous governments?
R. The Mexican drug trafficker, especially the one from the north of the country and the center, is a drug trafficker who always reacts very violently when he feels threatened. We have seen it before. The novelty is that they were simultaneous actions in several important cities, which reveals a good capacity for coordination within the organizations and the desire to display their strength to pressure the Government against criminal arrests.
The big difference with what happened with Felipe Calderón [de 2006 a 2012], is that when high-profile arrests were made then, the homicide rates skyrocketed and in that region there were many dead for weeks. Now we are seeing a downward trend, it is completely different. You cannot blame the government for arrests that generate local violence, because in 24 states the figures are going down, including Jalisco, Baja California and Chihuahua.
Although the arrests have given good results, there is another worrying phenomenon that has become an option to reduce violence, but that has perverse effects. And it is to ensure that there are criminal monopolies in some municipalities or states. For example, in Durango there is a hegemony of power of the Sinaloa cartel and crimes are low, there are almost no homicides or robberies, but there is the collection of fees, extortion. The same thing happens in Sinaloa, where we also saw how cheekily the cartel intervened in the election of the last governor.
Coordinated work is done by the authorities to agree with certain groups and avoid their struggles, thus gradually expanding the power of a single group. In Lantia we had a list of candidates for mayor in the last elections with alleged criminal ties, there were between 30 and 40 candidates. Half of them won the election and are now mayors. The capos win the elections and this has led to the construction of local crime monopolies that pacify the area, but pervert democracy and the operation of security agencies. Drug interference has gone unpunished, we have no news of persecution or investigation. Not even in a case as cynical as Sinaloa.
P. What we have seen in Ciudad Juárez is that groups that are not so large have enough firepower to besiege a city. Has the power of local gangs increased?
R. The Government’s policy of non-direct confrontation led to the withdrawal of the Army in certain rural and suburban areas. In these regions, the presence of organizations that already existed has expanded, as well as the emergence of new cells. At the beginning of the administration we had 250 local cells and now we have 350 records. And these cells have impressive firepower, for example La Empresa, which terrorizes people in the State of Mexico and Guerrero, attacked a mayor of Pilcaya with 50-caliber Barrett rifles. A very expensive and difficult weapon to obtain and it seems that they They have dozens of them. Like this group there are many more. This expansion of the criminal presence is very alarming because it goes hand in hand with an issue of territorial control, at least intermittently, especially at night. They take over stretches of highway, and also intensify work to collect fees in industrial and commercial corridors. In the case of Juárez, Los Mexicles [los que provocaron la violencia reciente] It is a gang with many years of history, which is binational, many are Americans and Mexicans, supported by the Sinaloa cartel that is now fighting with La Línea. They have a great ability to generate disturbances and rule several prisons.
P. What role do the two great drug cartels, Jalisco and Sinaloa, play in the current criminal map?
R. The cartels must be conceived more and more as coalitions of criminal cells. More than the idea that we have that they are very hierarchical organizations, with central command, there is more and more a phenomenon of decentralization and they are large coalitions. I would bet that, of the riots we have seen these days, the vast majority of them were instructed or had the consent of one of the two large cartels, because they bring together the vast majority of local cells.
The Mexican criminal market has an oligopolistic character, where the large cells absorb the small ones and the small ones look for a way to become independent. And in this constant struggle, the big cartels co-opt a number of cells and others succeed in independence, such as Los Viagras, Los Zetas Vieja Escuela or the Caborca cartel.
Even so, I consider that there has been a consolidation in the presence of both organizations. The Sinaloa and Jalisco cartel are in all the states of the country and in the most profitable criminal businesses, both drug trafficking and extortion. They have entered new markets, such as theft in freight transport, trucks or railways, and in gas. Fuel theft has risen again in states like Puebla or Hidalgo.
P. And with recent events, what do you think is the underlying message that criminals are sending to the government and society?
R. The message is not only to the federal government but to the state ones. It is that they can quickly make their social environment rarefied, they can generate many disturbances that cause discontent and fear in the population. And that they can also do it simultaneously, which confuses and disorients the authorities. This, in general, can have an impact on the approval rates of mayors, governors or the president himself, if an atmosphere of conflict and instability becomes general in the country.
P. Has there been talk of narco-terrorism, what risks does this debate imply?
R. It is a complex issue because it includes many legal connotations, both nationally and internationally. In fact, the United States Congress has repeatedly threatened the Mexican government to classify Mexican criminal organizations as terrorists and that would have far-reaching implications for the country that could even affect trade relations between Mexico and the United States.
I completely agree that what we have seen are terrorist tactics, and that they are also carried out with their armed forces as hit men with a military character. That is why we need a better armed, militarized Guard that confronts these groups that can commit these barbaric acts at any time.
P. The Government has explained that the latest attacks are the desperate response of a “weakened narco”, do you agree?
R. The Mexican narco is not weakened, it is stronger than ever. In fact, the two largest criminal organizations, the Jalisco and Sinaloa cartels, are more than consolidated. Rather, what the reactions reflect is an irritation on the part of the criminal commanders but, above all, a warning to the Government that if it continues a policy of systematic arrests towards high-profile criminal commanders, they have the capacity to create chaos, anywhere in the country, especially in rural and suburban Mexico.
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