It seems that President of Mexico Andrés Manuel López Obrador has already recognized the systemic failure of his ‘ Hugs not Bullets’ campaign that made international headlines and brought condemnation from security experts and Mexico’s deep-pocketed American backers. The question now remains how a government whose most notable international effort has been auctioning of its predecessor’s private jet will be able to correct the systemic damage it has already inflicted in its 2 years of power.
While it is clear that the escalation of the war on drugs by former President of Mexico Felipe Calderon and his predecessor Peña Nieto’s is not the solution, Obradors policy swung so far away from the past policy of escalation that the president created a situation that has necessitated escalation should cartels ever need to be controlled. While Obrador views military escalation in the war on drugs as a net loss, his ‘Hugs, not Bullets’ has been widely seen as unenforceable rhetoric and has certainly cost more lives than the plans of those he has criticized. The most remarkable of these changes was the removal of all military lead law enforcement units around the nation and the establishment of a single National Guard Force made up of many of the former officers and soldiers; along with the recently announced reintroduction of the Mexican Naval Infantry (marines) back onto the front lines of the war on drugs with the Wall Street Journal quoting a Senior Navy official as stating, “[w]e are operating again… The targets we need to go after have been defined.” The use of the marines is particularly important as it demonstrates the lack of confidence the United States has towards traditional Mexican law enforcement and its National Guard. The reintroduction of Marines after so long has yielded results in a flurry of high-profile arrests, including of the head of a Mexico City cartel and close relatives of two major drug lords
The consolidation of the Federal Police, Army Police and Naval Police into the National Guard has left many ex-officers in the cold with little financial support and years of extensive combat training. This is partially true of the federal and Navy policy. Dr Benitexz, a professor at the National University of Mexico, and an expert on Mexican security and defence issues states that “ [t]he Navy was excluded from the main efforts of the President in his new security strategy. Its most important members come from the Army.” Dr. Benitez-Manaut estimates that 80% of the National Guard came from the army police that was notorious for corruption and abuses of power.
Those Federal and Navy police that the National Guard left behind soon found themselves in high demand by the new generation of well paying militarised and franchised cartels that have sprung up in the last 3 years. Many ex-police were drawn to the more serious militarised Jalisco New Generation Cartel (CJNG), which unlike the glitzy gold AK life of El Chapo’s Sinaloa cartel has a much more regimented and hierarchical society. This has enabled the CJGN to go head to head with Mexican marines and their old colleagues in the National Guard much more successful than rival cartels while paying significantly better than the state ever could. This transition from the police to cartel Sicarios (hitmen) has seen a net gain for the cartels as videos and testimony on social media, as shown by DEMOLER, have shown a marked increase in power projection and combat ability than had previously escaped Sicarios. This includes the use of roadblocks and heavily armed and armoured vehicles as well as the assembly of IEDs and VBIDE’s in dedicated factories.
Due to all of these factors, it does not seem that the Mexican people will be experiencing the peace that they are entitled to anytime soon. The increase in well-trained and equipped fighters on both sides predicates a distasteful escalation of violence with little recourse for dialogue or peace negotiation amongst the cartels and the Mexican government.