Corruption by Customs Officials Facilitating Cross-Border Criminal Activity

04/26/21 (written by rramos) – A growing number of customs officials in various parts of Mexico have come under investigation for alleged acts of corruption that purportedly enabled criminal networks to operate across the U.S.-Mexico border. 

Animal Político reported on April 13 that the federal Attorney General’s Office (Fiscalía General de la República, FGR) was investigating ten officials of the General Customs Administration (Administración General de Aduanas, AGA) who oversaw several ports of entry along Mexico’s northern border with the United States. This came after the Financial Intelligence Unit (Unidad de Inteligencia Financiera, UIF), the anti-money laundering office within the federal finance ministry (Secretaría de Hacienda y Crédito Público, SHCP), detected numerous irregularities in the financial records of 29 AGA employees. As a result, all 29 officials were removed from their positions and ten were formally referred by the UIF to the FGR for further criminal investigation.

Specifically, the ten former customs officials are alleged to have accepted bribes in exchange for allowing contraband to pass uninterrupted through the border inspection sites under their supervision. The contraband that was illegally permitted to enter Mexico from the United States included firearms, gasoline, and drugs. According to investigators, ill-gotten proceeds from the alleged bribes were then laundered through a variety of complex methods, ranging from suspicious real estate transactions to the use of front companies.  

There are possible indications that corruption in Mexico’s customs service may be increasing. According to La Jornada, a total of 90 civil servants in the Tax Administration Service (Servicio de Administración Tributaria, SAT), the AGA’s parent agency, were referred to prosecutors for alleged corruption in 2020. This represents a nearly two-fold increase from 2019, when 46 SAT officials were formally denounced for possible corruption. Most of the SAT employees who faced criminal investigations in 2020 worked specifically for the AGA and were accused of receiving bribes related to the passage of contraband through Mexican customs.

Photo: El Sol de Tijuana.

Border Hot Spots

Investigations by the FGR and UIF have zoomed in on pervasive corruption in customs operations in two major border states: Baja California and Tamaulipas. Due to their geographic location, both states are of great strategic importance for criminal actors seeking to operate in both Mexico and the United States.

In Baja California, former administrators of customs inspection facilities in the border cities of Tijuana, Mexicali, and Tecate are accused of permitting the entry of illegally imported vehicles, some of which are believed to have contained firearms destined for recipients located in Mexico. Meanwhile in Tamaulipas, federal investigators believe high-level customs officials at border crossings in Nuevo Laredo, Reynosa, and Matamoros have received bribes in exchange for allowing trailer trucks to bring gasoline, diesel, and other fuels from the U.S. state of Texas to be illegally re-sold at low prices in Mexico. In one specific case, a March 2021 FGR report highlighted the critical role played by customs personnel in Tamaulipas in a sprawling conspiracy that allowed considerable amounts of fuel to be smuggled into Mexico without payment of import duties. Across all instances, UIF detection of suspicious financial activities was vital in identifying potentially corrupt officials that facilitated the illicit movement of goods across the international border. 

Impact on Crime and the Rule of Law

Corruption among customs authorities has significant implications for security and the rule of law in Mexico. Santiago Nieto Castillo, the UIF’s current director, told Animal Político that malfeasance among customs officials and the resulting “porous nature of our borders” (author’s own translation) heightened Mexico’s vulnerability to transnational security threats, particularly those related to illicit trafficking.

A prominent example of how customs corruption can exacerbate security challenges in Mexico has been the continuous southbound flow of firearms coming from the United States. A significant portion of firearms that are illegally imported from the U.S. end up in the possession of criminal groups in Mexico. Officials from the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) told the Washington Post that roughly 70% of firearms found at crime scenes in Mexico can ultimately be traced back to the United States. According to National Public Security System (Sistema Nacional de Seguridad Pública, SNSP) data cited by the Washington Post, this increase in the number of U.S. firearms in Mexico has coincided with a rise in homicides in Mexico that are committed with a firearm. Although Mexican officials have consistently pointed out the need for U.S. authorities to more strictly regulate the export of arms, interdiction of illegal weapons shipments at Mexican ports of entry remains severely hampered due to pervasive corruption among customs personnel. 

The apparent increase in cross-border fuel trafficking is also of particular concern. At a recent event at the Nuevo Laredo border crossing, new AGA Administrator Horacio Duarte Olivares underscored the need to combat fuel smuggling across the U.S.-Mexico border as part of President Andrés Manuel López Obrador’s broader emphasis on tackling government corruption. Duarte Olivares claimed that corruption in the customs service has allowed “millions of liters of fuel, of hydrocarbons” (author’s own translation) to illegally enter the country, resulting in substantial revenue losses for the Mexican government and legitimate businesses.

Customs Corruption Spurring Further Militarization

As a result of the growing number of reports of corruption among customs officials, the López Obrador administration announced on April 21 that the Mexican Army (Secretaría de Defensa Nacional, SEDENA) would assume control of 14 customs facilities in Tamaulipas and Nuevo León, with the long-term goal of establishing a military presence in all customs offices along the northern border with the United States. Defense Secretary Luis Cresencio Sandoval explained the move was intended to prevent U.S. firearms from flowing to organized crime groups. According to Milenio, military officials who were recently assigned to lead customs operations in Nuevo Laredo were also given the additional task of impeding illicit fuel smuggling across the border. 

Expanding the responsibilities of the military has been a defining feature of President López Obrador’s approach to security policy. However, just as prior militarized strategies have been largely unable to solve Mexico’s complex public security challenges, it is not guaranteed that increasing the military’s role in customs operations will eradicate corruption at the country’s borders and ports of entry. 

Sources

Gallegos, Zorayda. “Las aduanas y puertos mexicanos: la vía libre del crimen organizado.” El País. August 10, 2020. 

Sieff, Kevin & Miroff, Nick. “Los fusiles de francotirador que fluyen hacia los cárteles mexicanos revelan una década de fracaso estadounidense.” Washington Post. November 19, 2020.

Linthicum, Kate & McDonell, Patrick J. “Mexico’s military gains power as president turns from critic to partner.” Los Angeles Times. November 21, 2020. 

“SAT limpia de corrupción la casa; envía a 90 al MP.” El Universal. February 5, 2021.  

Rodríguez, Israel. “Se duplica cifra de funcionarios corruptos del SAT denunciados.” La Jornada. February 8, 2021.  

Rodríguez, Israel. “Aduanas continuarán con el combate al tráfico de combustibles.” La Jornada. March 1, 2021. 

“Mandos con perfiles militares toman control de aduana de Nuevo Laredo.” Milenio. March 2, 2021. 

Rivadeneyra, Gerardo. “Denuncian a empresa presuntamente involucrada en el contrabando de combustible.” Vanguardia. March 3, 2021. 

Maldonado, Mario. “Limpia en aduanas y denuncias de corrupción.” El Universal. March 10, 2021. 

Ángel, Arturo, Raziel, Zedryk, & Sandoval, Francisco. “10 oficiales de comercio de aduanas designados en este gobierno son indagados por lavado, narco y contrabando.” Animal Político. April 13, 2021. 

Hernández, Diego Joaquín. “Purga en Aduanas; pegan a círculo del exsubsecretario Peralta.” La Silla Rota. April 13, 2021.   

Ángel, Arturo, Raziel, Zedryk, & Sandoval, Francisco. “Presuntos sobornos por más de mil millones, empresas fantasma y nexos con el narco: la corrupción en aduanas.” Animal Político. April 14, 2021. 

Álvarez, Carlos. “UIF denuncia corrupción en aduanas de Tijuana, Mexicali y Tecate; empresas “fantasma”, sobornos y nexos con narco.” Zeta Tijuana. April 15, 2021. 

Domínguez, Pedro. “Sedena toma control de aduanas en frontera norte para frenar tráfico de armas.” Milenio. April 21, 2021. 

13 Edomex Officers Killed in Ambush

04/01/21 (written by scortez) – On March 18, 13 police officers were gunned down by suspected drug gang members in the State of México (Estado de México, Edomex). The assault took place in a mountainous region of the state along a road where the convoy was attacked on both sides. According to Milenio, the victims include eight officers from the Secretary of Security for the State of México (Secretaría de Seguridad del Estado de México) and five investigative police from the State’s Attorney General’s Office (Procuraduría General del Estado, PGJE).

Heavily investigators at the scene of the ambush in Coatepec, Harinas, Mexico. Photo by: Jose Aguilar/ Reuters.

Three suspects have been charged and 25 other suspects have been detained for their involvement in the ambush. Those arrested have linked the organized crime group La Familia Michoacana to the attack. Authorities have since offered rewards for information on those responsible. Reuters reports that authorities have yet to release many details on the ambush, but an officer at the scene said it was likely an act of retaliation by a criminal group. Rodrigo Martínez-Celis, Security Secretary for the State of México, said, “This aggression is an affront to the Mexican state, and we will respond with total force and with the backing of the law,” (“Esta agresión es una afrenta contra el Estado mexicano, y responderemos con toda la fuerza y con el respaldo de la ley…”). Echoing the sentiments of local officials, President Andrés Manual López Obrador, known as AMLO, vowed to bring the perpetrators to justice. The Mexican government also deployed the Marines, Army, and National Guard to the area for added security.

AMLO’s Security Dilemma

The attack poses a dilemma for AMLO who promised during his presidential campaign to curb the nationwide violence, yet has chosen to avoid directly confronting the cartels. Meanwhile, homicides rates remain high and security forces continue to be killed. According to Justice in Mexico’s Memoria, 414 members of police institutions were killed in 2019. This is the deadliest assault since the 2019 killing of 14 police officers in the state of Michoacán. This event raises serious concerns that the government is not supporting local operations and has left many officers ill-equipped to respond to the elevated number of security threats in the state. A police officer indicated that the security situation in Edomex, the most populated state in the country, has been in decline for the past decade. In the first five months of 2020, there have been 1,059 reported homicides in the state, which can be attributed to the growing presence of different organized crime groups. Animal Político reports that as of 2020, there are 26 criminal groups conducting operations in the state. AMLO who has relied heavily on the military apparatus to handle cartel violence faces the difficulty of meeting the growing demand for support in the state that continues to face a surge of violence. 

Alejandro Hope, a security analyst based in Mexico City, said, “The feeling that’s left is that it’s possible to attack an agent of the state without consequences.” His comments dig into a deeper consequence of AMLO’s pacifist approach, which is the rise of impunity — an issue that has long plagued Mexico. Mexico is notorious for its rampant levels of impunity throughout the country and the so-called cifra negra — or crimes that are unreported and/or unresolved. So far this year, Causa En Común reports that 86 agents have been murdered across the country. In 2020, the organization reported that 524 police officers were killed. During that year, Edomex and Veracruz recorded the highest numbers at 39 each. 

These numbers raise concerns on the capacity of the government to provide adequate resources for police officers to protect themselves and tackle the criminal groups in the area. It is clear that this ambush is a major setback for AMLO’s campaign promise to lower the temperature on cartel violence across Mexico. It is certain that the country will continue to wait for those campaign promises to become a reality. 

Sources

Malkin, Elizabeth. “14 Police Officers Killed in an Ambush in Mexico.” New York Times. October 14, 2019. 

Raziel, Zedryk. “26 grupos criminales operan en Edomex; Cártel Jalisco y la Familia Michoacana disputan la entidad.” Animal Político. September 24, 2020. 

Causa En Común. “Policías asesinados en 2020.” Animal Político. January 21, 2021. 

Esposito, Anthony. “’They finished them off’: Mexican town rocked by ambush that killed 13 cops.” Reuters. March 18, 2021. 

Rodríguez, Mario. “Asesinan a 13 policías en emboscada en Edomex; “agresión es una afrenta”: Fiscalía.” Milenio. March 18, 2021. 

Semple, Kirk. “13 Law Enforcement Officers Killed in Mexico Ambush.” New York Times. March 18, 2021. 

Pradilla, Alberto. “Autoridades vinculan a la Familia Michoacana con el asesinato de 13 policías en el Edomex.” Animal Político. March 19, 2021.

“Mexico charges 3, detains 25 in ambush killing of 13 police.” Associated Press. March 24, 2021.

Conversations between Mexico and the United States Signal Changes on Cooperation

Photos: Cuartoscuro and AFP

03/18/21 (written by scortez) – On March 1, Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador, nicknamed AMLO, met virtually with U.S. President Joe Biden to discuss cooperation on several key issues. Among them was immigration, which along with drug trafficking, AMLO had also discussed the day prior to with U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken. These conversations highlight a greater move by both administrations to cooperate on such pressing issues. 

A Gradual Shift Away From Trump-Era Policies

The bilateral meeting represents a shift in cooperation between the two countries around the issue of immigration. The Biden Administration has already made several key changes in the United States’ approach to immigration since taking office in January 2021. For example, after the meeting between AMLO and President Biden, the United States committed $4 billion in aid to development projects in Central America to quell the overwhelming migration flow that is impacting both countries. In February, the Biden Administration also ended the Trump-era policy of “Remain in Mexico” and restored the asylum system process that had existed for decades. At the U.S. border asylum seekers are now beginning to be processed and admitted into the country after waiting in Mexico. Previously, human rights groups had criticized the “Remain in Mexico” as subjecting asylum seekers to further brutality as they waited for entrance into the United States. The Biden Administration is also supporting a bill that will grant temporary legal status to 11 million undocumented immigrants already living in the United States. The proposal would provide a pathway to citizenship to recipients of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) as well as other temporary programs. As well as, restoring and expanding programs for refugee and asylum seekers that the Trump Administration effectively tried to prevent from entering. 

On the other hand, as reported by the New York Times, the Biden Administration has kept other Trump policies that empower the U.S. Customs and Border Patrol agents to rapidly expel new arrivals at the borders. Additionally, the U.S. Congress weighed in when it drafted a letter urging the Biden Administration to take on a bilateral agenda that focused on the protection of migrants, citizen security, and human rights. The letter reintroduces the conditions that asylum seekers hope to escape abhorrent conditions only to face new difficulties awaiting the status of their application. Recently, Human Rights Watch released a report chronicling the experience of asylum seekers left abandoned in Mexico who have become victims of extortion and kidnappings by Mexican authorities and criminal groups. The HRW report states that under the Remain in Mexico policy, there have been 1,100 reported cases of murder, rape, kidnapping, torture, and assault of asylum seekers while waiting at the border. Elected officials and advocacy groups like Human Rights Watch continue to put pressure on the Biden Administration to improve the conditions for migrants along the Southern Border.

Officials Reexamine Cooperation on Narcotrafficking

Most recently, officials from both countries discussed key aspects of their cooperation on narcotrafficking. Mexico has already enacted changes to the cooperation with the United States on counternarcotics by revoking the diplomatic immunity of Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) agents after it was discovered that they were using shared intelligence to arrest Ex-Defense Minister Salvador Cienfuegos without alerting Mexican officials. This event was seen by both sides as hampering their cooperation efforts on the ever urgent issue. 

As Bloomberg reports, the senior director of the Western Hemisphere on the National Security Council, Juan González, commented in early March on a call between officials regarding the tactics used to combat organized crime groups. González noted that in recent years, the tactics employed have not produced the results that both sides were seeking. He urged for new tactics to be adopted González did not specify which tactics in question, but he did add that aspects of the bilateral Merida Initiative do not adequately address other issues, like money laundering, cracking down on the production and distribution of precursor chemicals, and China’s role in fentanyl through Mexico. What more, Mexican officials have been pushing to include tactics to quell arms trafficking from the United States, which has played an important role in fueling the unprecedented levels of violence in Mexico. 

In 2020, the United Nations released a report that showed the unprecedented number of arms being trafficked from the United States to Mexico. According to the report, at the U.S.-Mexico border, traffickers pushed through small arms in fewer quantities, which account for 60 to 70 percent of all arms seized in 2016-17. This is in contrast to the worldwide flow of arms trafficking which was at a higher number of quantities in that same year. It is suspected that this form of “ant-trafficking” is a method to avoid seizures at the border. Under the current initiative, there is no coordination to counter this method of trafficking across the border into Mexico. To read more on the U.N.’s report, click here

These conversations mark a shift in direction from previous years for bilateral cooperation on the most urgent issues facing the two countries. AMLO and Biden have both agreed that the overwhelming number of migrants at the border needs to be controlled. While the conversations have yet to materialize into tangible bilateral agreements, they foreshadow a different direction the two countries will take on mitigating migration and narcotrafficking. 

Sources

“Global Study on Firearms Trafficking in 2020.” United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime. 2020. 

“Like I’m Drowning.” Human Rights Watch. January 6,2021. 

Shear, Michael D. “Biden to Announce Broad Plan to Reverse Trump Immigration Plan.” New York Times. February 18, 2021. 

Spagat, Elliot. “US unwinds Trump policy making asylum-seekers wait in Mexico.” Associated Press. February 19, 2021. 

Stevenson, Mark. “Biden tries to reset relationship with Mexican president.”Washington Post. March 1, 2021. 

Haldenwang, Max De. “U.S. Tells Mexico Drug War’s Failure Requires New Strategy.” Bloomberg. March 3, 2021. 

“Congresistas de EU piden a Blinken trabajar con México atención a migrantes.” Animal Político. March 4, 2021. 

Kanno-Youngs, Zolan. “Biden Seeks Help on Border From Mexican President.” New York Times. March 4, 2021. 

“Migrantes solicitantes de asilo en EU son abandonados en México y sufren violaciones de sus derechos.” Animal Político. March 5, 2021. 

Defining the Candidacy of Félix Salgado Macedonio

Source: El Economista

03/09/21 (written by tmcginnis) – Félix Salgado Macedonio, former senator and now a registered candidate for the governorship of Guerrero for the 2021 state elections, faces multiple allegations of sexual assault, including two accusations of rape. Belonging to the ruling party MORENA (National Regeneration Movement), Reforma reports that Salgado Macedonio has received nearly unwavering support from President Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO) prior to the party withdrawing his name. AMLO believes that it is up to the authorities and “the people” to resolve this matter, without the influence of politiqueros– political hacks and maneuverings. However, as noted by El País, President López Obrador is increasingly alone in that defense. Though MORENA eventually moved to pull Salgado Macedonio’s candidacy around February 27, the party is hardly able to truly impose itself on a candidate who has the support of the president. As a consequence, on March 4, the Electoral Institute of the state of Guerrero reversed the decision of MORENA and made his candidacy official. Thus, given the back and forth nature of defining Salgado Macedonio’s candidacy, it remains critically important to evaluate the mounting pressures from opposition parties, civil society campaigns, and even internal party divisions that led to the aforementioned decisions.

Government Response

According to La Jornada, at one of his traditional morning press conferences held in early February, President López Obrador reiterated his prior position on the matter, stating that the allegations and mounting oppositional pressures against Salgado Macedonio are products of the electoral season. In early January, he expressed that “when there are elections or [political] competition, it’s about discrediting the opponent in one way or another” (author’s translation). Resorting to previously observed strategies, AMLO has blamed the opposition and denounced “political lynchings,” as well as what he perceives as malicious media campaigns. According to the relevant minutes of a February 18 press conference compiled by El Universal, in response to questions regarding the reactions of various feminist groups and sectors that have denounced the candidacy, AMLO responded by arguing that those groups have the right to demonstrate and express themselves, just as the voters in Guerrero who support Salgado Macedonio have their right to elect him as their representative. He continued, defending the decisions made by the polls and the people of Guerrero. “First you have to trust the people, the people are the ones who decide” (author’s translation).

AMLO’s support should come as no surprise when considering possible motivations. For example, the president’s ability to govern comfortably hinges on the June 6 election, given that the entire Chamber of Deputies, 30 of the 32 state congresses, 15 governorates, and thousands of local offices will be renewed. 

However, though AMLO endorses Salgado Macedonio’s candidacy, he faces divisions on the matter within his own party. For example, among the most vocal, Olga Sánchez Cordero, the Secretary of the Interior and the first woman to hold the aforementioned position, stated that the respect for a woman’s right to live a life free of violence remains a critical precondition for political candidacy. Moreover, according to Animal Político, she sustained that political parties remain responsible for evaluating whether prospective candidates are qualified and comply with the established 3 out of 3 (3 de 3) rule regarding gender-based violence: candidates have not been sentenced for 1) familial violence, 2) sexual violence, or 3) non-compliance with the payment of alimony. Approved by the National Electoral Institute (Instituto Nacional Electoral) in late 2020, this initiative is supposed to protect women and ensure that positions of power are not held by abusers and violators. However, as elucidated by the case of Salgado Macedonio, many of the complaints have been ignored or not prioritized in a timely manner.

Additionally, according to El Universal, Senator Germán Martínez asked that Salgado Macedonio resign on his own volition and submit himself for investigation, arguing that this predicament should not fall on the National Regeneration Movement as a whole. “You don’t deserve it [the candidacy], women don’t deserve it, Guerrero doesn’t deserve it” (author’s translation). 

In a significant show of internal party division, El País reports that over 100 deputies from the National Regeneration Movement signed a joint letter addressed to party leadership to withdraw the candidacy of Salgado Macedonio. Subsequently, this letter was ratified by an additional 100 party affiliates and supporters of President López Obrador.

Civil Society Response

Source: El Universal

According to Reforma, many prominent actresses, writers, and activists took to social media to spearhead online campaigns against President López Obrador’s endorsement of Salgado Macedonio. As noted by MSN, tens of thousands of women, either through means of protest or social media, demanded that the president “rompa el pacto” — break the “pacto machista” or sexist pact that permits this level of impunity for male authorities. Activists even transformed the meaning of AMLO’s response — “ya chole” (translated as “enough” or “give me a break”) — which he used when continuously questioned about Salgado Macedonio’s candidacy, into a trending hashtag to express both disgust and dissatisfaction with misogyny, femicide, and indifference toward female voices. 

Source: Mexico News Daily

Why Salgado Macedonio does not have a sentence 

Mario Delgado, the National Regeneration Movement’s formal leader, defends Salgado’s candidacy on the grounds that he has not yet been convicted of any crime and therefore maintains his right to participate in electoral contests. With this in mind, the fact that Salgado Macedonio does not presently have a sentence raises several important points and inquiries about the effectiveness of Mexico’s current criminal justice system. Paola Zavala Saeb, a human rights lawyer and political analyst, makes several significant observations about the aforementioned issue, a few of which will be discussed here. 

Citing findings from a 2019 México Evalúa report, Saeb states that Guerrero represents one of the worst states with respect to confidence in criminal authorities. Furthermore, victims prefer not to report out of fear and Salgado Macedonio’s high-profile status compounds this issue even more. If victims do overcome their fears and proceed with filing a report, Guerrero lacks adequate legal representation. In fact, according to México Evalúa, there is only one legal representative for every 98 victims. Additionally, in Guerrero, only 1.6% of investigations pursued by the public prosecutor’s office lead to prosecution before a judge. Furthermore, nationwide, as detailed by Animal Político, between 2015 and 2018, as little as 5% of cases involving rape and sexual abuse received formal sentences, with only a fifth of complaints officially sent to the courts.

With the aforementioned challenges, it remains to be seen whether the accusations against Salgado Macedonio will be taken seriously and the protests of women heeded with equal weight. 

Sources

Angel, Arturo. “En cinco años, solo 5 de cada 100 denuncias por abuso sexual y violación terminaron en sentencia.” Animal Político. February 4, 2021.

Areta, Itxaro. “Sánchez Cordero dice que no violentar a las mujeres es condición necesaria para ser candidato.” Animal Político. February 18, 2021. 

Barragán, Almudena. “Más de 100 diputadas de Morena exigen que se retire la candidatura de Salgado Macedonio tras las acusaciones de violación.” El País. January 12, 2021. 

El Universal. “‘Félix, rompe el pacto’, pide Germán Martínez a Salgado Macedonio.” El Universal. February 18, 2021. 

El Universal. “La mañanera de AMLO, 18 de febrero, minuto a minuto.” El Universal. February 18, 2021. 

Manetto, Francesco. “El ‘caso Salgado Macedonio’ abre un frente en Morena ante las elecciones de junio.” El País. February 21, 2021. 

Martínez, Fabiola and Roberto Garduño. “Pueblo y autoridades deben definir candidatura de Salgado Macedonio: AMLO.” La Jornada. February 17, 2021. 

México Evalúa. “Hallazgos 2019: Seguimiento y evaluación del sistema de justicia penal en México.” México Evalúa. 2020. 

Peterson Farah, Diego. “#YaChole y el pacto.” MSN Noticias. February 20, 2021. 

Raziel, Zedryk. “Candidatura de Salgado divide a Morena y genera sospechas de encubrimiento.” Animal Político. February 17, 2021. 

Reforma Staff. “Las mujeres que acusan a Félix Salgado de violación.” Reforma. February 2021. 

Yucatan Times. “Morena ‘pulls’ Félix Salgado Macedonio’s candidacy after allegations of rape and sexual abuse.” Yucatan Times. February 27, 2021. 

Zavala Saeb, Paola. “7 razones por las que Salgado Macedonio no tiene sentencia.” Animal Político. February 3, 2021

Two Years of AMLO in Office: A Brief Look at his Security Strategy

02/01/2021 (written by emarinoni) – It has been just over two years since Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador, commonly known as AMLO, took office in December 2018. This provides an opportune moment to reflect on the impact and effectiveness of his security strategy–a strategy that promised to be a key focus during his administration.

On December 1, 2020, President Andrés Manuel López Obrador celebrated two years since he took office, completing one-third of his mandate. Photo: Expansión Política.

Presidential Campaign

Since his early days on the campaign trail, President López Obrador (2018-2024) proposed a security strategy based on four key pillars. This includes the creation of economic and social opportunities for youth; an amnesty law for specific crimes under specific conditions; the lifting of the ban on illicit drugs, together with the rebuilding of resources for social reintegration and detoxification programs; and finally, the promotion of sanctions for non-compliance with recommendations of the National Human Rights Commission (Comisión Nacional de Derechos Humanos, CNDH). In addition, AMLO’s administration rooted its security strategy in a policy based on the slogan “hugs not bullets” (abrazos no balazos), moving away from the strategy of the militarization of public security and the focus on killing cartel leaders. This represented a pivot from previous administrations’ approaches, including those of former Presidents Felipe Calderón (2006-2012) and Enrique Peña Nieto (2012-2018).

First Years of Government

During the first two years of the López Obrador administration, several reforms were implemented in support of the strategies AMLO proposed during his presidential bid.

Budget Reforms for Social Programs

In the budgets for 2019-2021, a significant amount of money was earmarked for social programs. By the close of FY2021, AMLO is expecting to have reached 2.3 million young adults aged 18 to 29 who will benefit from social programs. Three of the most noteworthy social programs aimed at job creation among youth are Sowing Life (Sembrando Vida), the Benito Juárez Scholarships (Becas de Benito Juárez), and Youth Building the Future (Jóvenes Construyendo el Futuro), all of which launched in 2019.

According to El Economista, in FY2021, the Sowing Life program’s budget increased 15.1% compared to FY2020. The budget of the Benito Juárez Scholarships also increased by 65,333 million pesos (almost $3 million USD) compared to a 17,280-million pesos increase (almost $800,000 USD) in 2019. The Youth Building the Future program, however, experienced a 17.5% decrease in its budget from FY2019. Since that program was launched in AMLO’s first year, it has seen an overall budget reduction of 40%. Nevertheless, its budget and the program’s overall impact still rank it among the most influential youth development programs AMLO has put forward.

Legal Policies

In addition to the budget reforms, a second important piece of legislation put forth by the López Administration came in April 2020 when the Senate adopted the Amnesty Act (Ley de Amnistía). This law establishes the acquittal of secondary offenses that do not include murder, kidnapping, or the use of a firearm. These include abortion (both the individual seeking an abortion and the medical practitioners), possession and transportation of narcotics, and crimes committed by members of indigenous peoples who have not been guaranteed due process.

In November 2020 the Mexican Senate also approved the legalization of marijuana for recreational, medical, scientific, industrial, and medical use. It is a step forward in the policy of legalizing light drugs in the country. The new law regulates and legalizes the use of marijuana in private homes when there are no minors, establishes that individuals may possess no more than 28 grams, and allows for up to eight marijuana plants to be cultivated at an individual’s home.

Security Strategy

Despite the progress made with the budget reforms, Amnesty Law, and the law on marijuana use, the López Obrador administration did break from its proposed security strategy when it approved and initiated the use of the National Guard (Guardia Nacional). In June 2019, the first contingent of Mexico’s National Guard was deployed. In addition to the gradual increase in government spending on public security, militarized forces have also been assigned a growing number of security tasks. This culminated in May 2020 when AMLO announced the extension of armed forces’ involvement in public security affairs until March 2024, a controversial decision that drew condemnation from human rights and civil society groups alike.

First Results and Indicators

The main indicators that monitor the state of public security in Mexico worsened in the first two years of President López Obrador’s government. According to the Executive Secretary of the National System of Public Security (Secretariado Ejecutivo del Sistema Nacional de Seguridad Pública, SESNSP), from 2017 to 2019, intentional homicides jumped from 28,870 in 2017 to 33,742 in 2018 when AMLO took office in December. This rose to 34,588 in 2019, but appears to have leveled off in 2020, which recorded 34,515 homicides according to SESNSP’s most recent data released in January 2021. 

In addition to homicides, the INEGI national security perception index also recorded an increase in the level of insecurity perceived by citizens between 2017 and 2018, jumping from 74.3 to 79.4 in a single year. In 2019, this value leveled off at 78.9–just slightly below that of 2018. According to data from the World Justice Project, Mexico’s position in terms of its rule of law has worsened in recent years; in 2019, it ranked 99 out of 126 countries–down two places from its 2018 rank of 97. In 2020, it fell even further to 104 out of 128 countries.

In addition to empirical data recorded over the first two years of AMLO’s term, several key events occurred that challenged the effectiveness of AMLO’s security strategy. These included the arrest and subsequent release of the son of notorious kingpin Joaquín Guzmán, El Chapo, on October 17, 2019. His son, Ovidio Guzmán, was released from government custody after a violent and dramatic battle broke out between the Sinaloa Cartel and security officials in the streets of Culiacán, Sinaloa. This was followed just weeks after by a massacre that raised bilateral tension when a local Mormon family with dual citizenship was ambushed by affiliates of an organized crime group. The attack on November 4, 2019, took place in northeastern Sonora along the U.S.-Mexico border with Arizona. Most recently, in June of 2020, Mexican officials confronted a failed attempt by members of organized crime to kill Omar García Harbuch, Mexico City’s  Secretary of Public Security. Experts say these events underscore Mexico’s ongoing, and in many ways, worsening, security crisis.

Conclusions

Mexico is facing a serious security crisis characterized by high levels of violence, much of which is caused by organized crime. Although empirical data do not indicate a substantial improvement in the security situation in Mexico, the observed violence has no singular cause, which makes it a fluid process with no easy solution. Still, based on the approach of the past two years, it is likely that the López Obrador administration will continue to implement a security strategy based on militarization, centralization of security operations, and social support programs.

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Velázquez, Marisol. “Presupuesto 2021: Bienestar (programas sociales, salud, adultos mayores).” El Economista. September 8, 2020.

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