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Mexico's eruption of cartel violence linked to political shift

By HENG WEILI in New York | China Daily Global | Updated: 2022-08-16 10:25

Candles and flowers are seen where unknown assailants killed employees of a radio station, including an announcer while they were outside, according to local media, in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, August 13, 2022. [Photo/Agencies]

The recent burst of violence in Mexico close to US territory is seen by some political experts as the result of drug cartels lashing out due to increased military pressure.

Eleven people were killed in recent attacks, including a young boy and four radio station employees who were randomly shot on the streets of Ciudad Juarez — across the border from El Paso, Texas — on Thursday.

Two days earlier, more than two dozen convenience stores owned by a well-known national chain were set ablaze in the northern state of Guanajuato.

The federal government deployed soldiers and National Guard troops, but the violence raised questions about Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador's approach of putting all responsibility for security in the hands of the military rather than civilian police forces.

"I want to tell the people of Mexico to be calm, that there is governance, there is stability," López Obrador said during an address Monday from the National Palace in Mexico City.

He suggested that the attacks were part of a political conspiracy against him by opponents he described as "conservatives" and he claimed "there is no big problem" with security.

Obrador also has begun exploring ways to sidestep congress and give formal control of the National Guard to the army.

That has raised concerns because he had won approval for creating the force in 2019 by pledging that it would be under nominal civilian control and that the army would be off the streets by 2024.

Defense Secretary Luis Cresencio Sandoval said that the cartels had reacted violently because they've been weakened.

"They want to still feel like they're strong and they generate violent situations where by way of publicity they send messages that they are still strong, when in reality there has been progress in eliminating the criminal structure," he said.

Over the weekend, US government employees in Tijuana, Mexico, across the border from San Ysidro, in San Diego, California, were told to shelter in place. Tijuana is Mexico's second-most populous city and a major manufacturing center.

"The US Consulate General Tijuana is aware of reports of multiple vehicle fires, roadblocks and heavy police activity in Tijuana, Mexicali, Rosarito, Ensenada and Tecate," the consulate said. "US government employees have been instructed to shelter in place until further notice."

During the first nine months of fiscal year 2022 (October through June), US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) agencies in San Diego and Imperial counties in California seized 5,091 pounds of fentanyl, amounting to about 60 percent of the 8,425 pounds of fentanyl seized around the entire US.

Seizures of fentanyl in San Diego are up by 323 percent in the last three years, from 1,599 pounds in fiscal year 2019 to 6,767 in fiscal year 2021, according to the CBP.

More fentanyl is being seized along the California-Mexico border than at any of the more than 300 ports of entry in the US.

David Saucedo, a security analyst, said the attacks were "narcoterrorism", and that the Jalisco New Generation Cartel was behind the violence in Guanajuato and Baja California.

Three drug cartels are reported to be the main instigators of violence in the border state of Baja California, with a list of 115 alleged cartel members believed to be involved recently released by Mexico's military.

The army revealed that the fugitives are part of the Jalisco New Generation Cartel, the Sinaloa Cartel and the Tijuana Cartel.

Saucedo said the policy change may have angered the cartels.

"There has been a change in the strategy in fighting drug cartels. Andrés Manuel (López Obrador) has been very much criticized recently for his ‘hugs, not bullets' strategy," Saucedo said.

The violence in Jalisco and Guanajuato last week was apparently the result of a military attempt to capture a boss from the Jalisco cartel.

"The narcoterrorism of the Jalisco New Generation Cartel is a reaction to the president's change in strategy," Saucedo said. "If the Mexican president continues with this strategy of capturing high-ranking members of the Jalisco cartel, the Jalisco cartel is going to respond with acts of narcoterrorism in the states it controls as part of its vast empire."

Sandoval, the defense secretary, said there was no change in strategy. "It's not that we're looking for the leader ... it's not that operations are centered on certain levels of the organization."

José Andrés Sumano Rodríguez, a professor and security specialist at the Northern Border College in Matamoros, said the cartel's decision to target civilians was a strategic one. "Often it is much more effective to do this than have direct confrontation with the armed forces, where they are almost always going to lose," he said.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

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