As Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador (AMLO) completes his first year in office, he has no national security strategy and the failures now reach beyond his nation’s borders.
Year 2019 marked many changes to Mexican law enforcement, like disbanding the Federal Police force and re-framing it as the National Guard. Time will tell if the moves are successful.
Mexico does, however, have a long history of rebranding troubled agencies so the larger law enforcement establishment can save face. The Federal Investigation Agency (AFI) created under President Vincente Fox in 2001 was replaced by the Federal Judicial Police. In 2008, President Felipe Calderon integrated the Federal Preventive Police and the Judicial Police into one organization. In 2012, President Pena Nieto created another force to combat the cartels known as the Gendarmerie. AMLO is continuing the traditional shell game.
While the Mexican security apparatus changes unit patches and uniforms, the cartels’ violent dynamics continue to escalate with new trade craft and designs for global expansion. For nearly a generation, these surface-level reforms amid ratcheting cartel violence barely made the “world” section of daily newspapers. Now, too many believe some cartels function as parallel regional governments like recently stated by the new U.S. Ambassador to Mexico. President Donald Trump’s public consideration of designating some cartel factions as Foreign Terrorist Organizations marked a potential tectonic shift in policy.
Along the campaign trail, AMLO criticized the militarized kingpin-hunting strategy of his predecessors. Many experts in Mexico and the U.S. who agreed with him had clearly lost pace with many cartels’ new tactics. True to his word, AMLO ended the policy and reshuffled the security programs.
The resurgence of mass migration, human smuggling, and human trafficking into the United States in early 2019 led to an international crisis at the U.S. border. Cartels in many regions operated with near impunity as hyper-violent turf struggles quickly spread across Mexico.
All other incidents were eclipsed in October when federal forces finally received approval to arrest Ovidio Guzman, El Chapo’s son and current leader of the Sinaloa Cartel. His men retaliated against Culiacan, Sinaloa, with a veritable army of gunmen in armored vehicles. Their military-grade weapons shut down the city, killed 13, and took numerous hostages (like military families) to leverage a release of the “Chapito.” AMLO buckled, providing a globally witnessed security failure.
In December, the U.S. State Department released travel advisories for the states of Colima, Guerrero, Michoacán, Sinaloa, and Tamaulipas as “Level 4” regions–meaning they are just as dangerous as Iraq and Afghanistan. Foggy Bottom further advised reconsidered travel plans to the states of Coahuila, Durango, Jalisco, Mexico, Morelos, Nayarit, Nuevo Leon, San Luis Potosi, Sonora, and Zacatecas. Cartel turf wars are hot in half of the country now.
Jaeson Jones is a retired Captain from the Texas Department of Public Safety’s Intelligence and Counterterrorism Division and a Breitbart Texas contributor. While on duty, he managed daily operations for the Texas Rangers Border Security Operations Center.