Failed Mission To Capture El Chapo's Son Raises Questions About Security In Mexico

The failure of the operation to capture a son of Joaquín “el Chapo” Guzmán, followed by days of changing explanations by the government, has exposed not so much that Mexico has a failed security strategy, but in reality none, according to experts

So far, President Andrés Manuel López Obrador and his security cabinet have defined their strategy focusing on what is not – according to experts – saying that Mexico is no longer waging a war on drugs or seeking to capture or kill drug lords , as previous governments did.

However, those words apparently contradict the failed mission of October 17 to capture Ovid Guzman, a character from the Sinaloa cartel, in Culiacán, a city that controls that organization, which looked like a war zone that day.

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When asked to define his strategy to curb the high homicide rate and drug cartels responsible for numerous deaths, López Obrador responds with philosophical ideas rather than strategies, and often mentions a variety of social programs.

The president said Thursday that his government will not be forced to declare a war on drug trafficking, and said his strategy has a different approach.

"Nothing has harmed Mexico more than the dishonesty of the rulers," said the president, who attributed corruption, insecurity, violence and drug trafficking in the country.

López Obrador seemed to blame all of the events in Culiacán except for the drug traffickers, and even lashed out at the press, which he said has incurred "yellowness."

"This is to pacify the country by convincing, persuading, without violence, offering well-being, alternative options, improving living conditions, working conditions, strengthening values," he said.

When he was a presidential candidate, López Obrador synthesized these goals with the catchy phrase of "hugs, not bullets."

But now that he is mandatory, Mexico is heading to close the year with more than 32,000 homicides, and citizens witnessed the death of 13 people in the streets of Culiacán, where a special anti-narcotics army unit captured and then let Ovid go Guzman to avoid a greater bloodbath.

"You can no longer continue this peace and love strategy with criminals and say there is no war," said Raúl Benítez, security expert and professor at the National Autonomous University of Mexico. "The criminals are declaring war on the government and the country, the citizenship, the population."

López Obrador also faced questions about an atypically public disagreement within the Mexican armed forces on Thursday. A Mexican newspaper published this week a speech by General Carlos Gaytán to other military officers after the crisis in Culiacán, which followed a series of attacks by criminal groups against the security forces.

The withdrawal of soldiers from armed cartel members reinforced the impression that the government has long abandoned effective control of cities, towns and entire regions before drug trafficking groups.

"We are worried about Mexico today," Gaytán said. "We feel aggrieved as Mexicans and offended as soldiers."

López Obrador set aside concerns about a division within the armed forces, which he has favored with greater responsibilities and resources.

"I don't have the least distrust of the army," said the president. "On the contrary, I count on support, with the loyalty of the army."

Experts say that the increase in the number of homicides and the inability of the government to spread a coherent security strategy do not paint an optimistic outlook for the remaining five years of López Obrador in the presidency. To date, the president has blamed his predecessors for inherited problems, although at some point the voters will no longer accept that position.

"How to connect this 'humanist' and 'progressive' vision of the president and his government with an undeniable reality and an undeniable need to contain the violence of both drug trafficking groups and ordinary criminal violence," said Erubiel Tirado, program coordinator of national security, democracy and human rights at the Universidad Iberoamericana, in Mexico City.

The most visible element of a security strategy in the López Obrador government, although not a strategy in itself, was the creation of the National Guard. It is assumed that the new force would cover the void created by the dissolution of corrupt police forces and overcome by the underworld in the country, and would also serve to some extent to reduce the use of soldiers in police work.

However, a large part of the guard was immediately channeled to police actions against immigrants due to United States demands.

“They are not a professionalized police force, trained to carry out investigation, surveillance, intelligence, and that have special teams to carry out arrest operations in a better way, not through confrontation in the streets,” said Tony Payán, director of the Center for the United States and Mexico at the Baker Institute for Public Policy at Rice University in Houston.

It is also unknown how the National Guard will fit into the social programs that López Obrador says will attack the causes of crime in Mexico at the root.

"There does not seem to be any kind of holistic or integrated thinking about how to link violence prevention programs, which the government mentions so much, with the real fight against organized crime," said Duncan Wood, director of the Mexico Institute of the Wilson Center.

López Obrador talks little about strengthening Mexico's justice system, a crucial component to contain security problems in the country.

The lack of a clear strategy not only worries Mexicans, but also their northern neighbors.

In October, Payán met with staff of the US embassy in Mexico City, who expressed concern.

“They said clearly that they are waiting for the government (of López Obrador) to have a clear strategy and tell them what they intend to do and how to do it,” said Payán.

The United States has had various levels of cooperation with previous governments in Mexico in the fight against drug trafficking, but has had difficulty finding the channels of that cooperation in the López Obrador government.

"From my conversations it seems to me that the López Obrador government considers these US agencies as part of a war against drug trafficking that he wishes to leave behind," said Payan.

In the case of Ovidio Guzmán, the United States has requested his capture for extradition purposes.

López Obrador, in response to conjecture that the US government had urged Mexico to carry out the operation, said on Thursday that "we do not receive orders from Washington."

Wood, of the Wilson Center, doubted that this is the last time that Mexico pursues a drug trafficker in the López Obrador government, because the United States will not cease its demands.

"There was a huge disappointment among the people in Congress and the State Department, and the intelligence services for the mishandling of the operation in Culiacán," said Wood.

“Now, the question is, the next time they capture a high value target, what will they do if they face the same situation? Are they going to back down or are they going to play it? ”He asked.

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