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While organized crime leads Mexico to its deadliest year, communities surrounded by cartel activity continue to be severely affected. A Mormon colony, whose settlement in Northern Mexico dates back to the early 1900s, suffered tragic losses on Monday when heavily armed gunmen fired about 200 bullets at families travelling along the border. The victims include two mothers, six children and another relative of the LeBaron family, who surviving family members say may have been a target rather than civilians caught in the crossfire.
In a report by CBS News, the LeBaron family has had conflicts with Mexican cartels in the past, however, the ambush was unprecedented. Although this execution tactic reflects the familiar violence organized crime groups commit, LeBaron family members say that including women and children in retaliation efforts is gruesome even for the cartels involved. Julian LeBaron, a relative to the LeBaron family, said on Mexico’s Radio Formula that “to open fire in broad daylight on women and children? This crime has no name.”
Organized crime has been continuously rising with homicides rates in 2018 increasing for the fourth consecutive year, according to an annual report published by Justice in Mexico, an organization dedicated to collecting and sharing information on government and crime activity in Mexico. The report titled Organized Crime and Violence in Mexico states that 2018 “saw record violence with 28,816 homicide cases and 33,341 victims reported by the Mexican National Security System (Sistema Nacional de Seguridad Pública, SNSP).” The past few years in particular have been the most dangerous in terms of cartel activity.
Justice in Mexico cited several possible factors as to why homicide and general crime rates have been consistently high. These factors include the arrest of Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman, newly appointed Mexican President Lopez Obrador, and tensions between the United States and Mexico. The report also claims that counter-drug efforts made by both the U.S. and Mexico that include targeting leaders and dismantling leadership structures within organized crime groups may have also lead to further conflict.
According to the Washington Post, a son of “El Chapo” Guzman was detained but then released shortly after his arrest triggered violent retaliation by cartel gunman in the city of Culiacan. Cartels reacted similarly to “El Chapo’s” arrest, however, targeting him was an effort to disturb functionality among organized crime groups and to disrupt drug-trafficking. President Obrador has since abandoned this strategy and continues to purpose nonviolent efforts.
President Obrador’s platform against organized crime has been based on establishing peace and attempting to perform nonviolent acts as efforts against the violence that ensues. President Trump tweeted that the United States will support Mexico, however, he purposed to “wage WAR on the drug cartels and wipe them off the face of the earth,” using rhetoric that opposes President Obrador’s campaign for peace. According to the Washington Post, Mexico’s president told journalists that “we don’t think that by opening fire, massacring, using force, blood and fire, we will resolve this problem.” His tactics include forming a National Guard of 20,000 troops as an effort to improve security and providing scholarships to millions of young people in order to derail any involvement in organized crime.
Along with reasons as to why crime has climbed in record numbers, the Organized Crime and Violence in Mexico report outlined suggestions has to how those numbers can lower. The organization recommends avoiding similar tactics used by past governments and targeting “criminal actors at all levels; not just those at the top, and not just those on the street.” The report also suggests that financial assistance from not only U.S. and Mexican governments but also private organizations and non-profits is needed in order to properly execute the elimination of organized crime. More in-depth criminal investigations against drug kingpins as well as corrupt politicians is also necessary.
One of the few remaining points the report made was to provide better protection for politicians working against organized crime as well as for journalists reporting on cartel activity. The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) documented that as of March 2019 approximately 48 journalists were killed over the past few decades, most of whom were specifically targeted. In 2018 alone, four journalists were killed in Mexico. The CPJ listed Mexico as the fourth most dangerous place for journalists, tying with the United States.
Although President Obrador’s tactics may not be working immediately, they may result in positive long-term effects. At least, his unique efforts are an attempt to resolve conflict without purposefully committing more acts of physical violence and adding to Mexico’s rising death toll. President Trump declared that if Mexico is in need of help in combating cartel violence, “… the United States stands ready, willing & able to get involved and do the job quickly and effectively.” One nonviolent tactic that the U.S. can employ is to support not only Mexico’s government with its efforts against organized crime but also to support Mexico’s people who seek safer livelihoods by attempting to cross the border.