Mexico moves a step closer to militarization with more than 2,000 new National Guards hitting the streets

The shootings and arsons set by drug cartels in four states over the course of several days last week have left Mexicans wondering why they did it and what the criminal gangs want. While the federal government, in an attempt to calm the collective panic, has reinforced the military and National Guard presence in the main area where the events took place.

The attacks caused the death of 11 people, including a child, a pregnant woman, and four employees of a radio station who were randomly shot on Thursday in the streets of Ciudad Juárez, bordering El Paso, Texas.

Two days earlier, more than two dozen stores of a well-known national retail chain were burned down in the state of Guanajuato. In the neighboring state of Jalisco, cars and buses were set on fire. And a score of vehicles were burned on Friday in cities along the California border.

The federal government deployed soldiers and elements of the National Guard to calm the fears of the population.

As of Wednesday, August 10, some 300 elements of the Army arrived in Uruapan, in Michoacán with the purpose, as reported, of reinforcing security and preserving public order in the state. That same day, some 500 more soldiers arrived in Irapuato, one of the currently most violent points in the state of Guanajuato, after the acts perpetrated by armed individuals who set fire to cars and establishments in different parts of the municipality.

A day later, on August 11, also after another day of violence, the arrival in Jalisco of 750 elements of the Sedena was reported, specifically to reinforce security work in the capital Guadalajara. “Its main mission is to strengthen the rule of law and the development of the daily activities of society, acting at all times with full respect for human rights,” explained an official statement.

On Friday, August 12, two aircraft from the Mexican Air Force arrived in Ciudad Juárez, Chihuahua, with 300 elements on board. The mission was the same: reinforce security after the violence experienced in recent days.

And in the same vein, on Saturday, August 13, the arrival of federal forces in Baja California was recorded, after the wave of violence that left more than twenty vehicles on fire and the confinement of the population throughout the weekend. Some 120 soldiers entered the city of Mexicali. While another 350 elements of the Army and the National Guard did the same in Tijuana.

In Guerrero, events with the same violent hue were also reported, which is why on Monday, August 15, another 300 soldiers arrived to be deployed throughout Acapulco and the Costa Chica of the state.

However, the outbreak of violence has not ceased to raise doubts about President Andrés Manuel López Obrador’s strategy of, precisely, placing all responsibility for public security in the hands of the military instead of the civilian police forces.

Consulted by the AP agency, security analyst David Saucedo pointed out that what happened in the past two days was because there had been a change in Mexico’s anti-drug policy since last year, when the soldiers stationed at checkpoints simply limited themselves to observing how the cartels fought for control of the western state of Michoacán with drones equipped with bombs, improvised explosive devices, and landmines.

Mexico has made more attempts to capture drug lords of late, something López Obrador previously said he was not interested in. Mexican Marines in July captured fugitive drug trafficker Rafael Caro Quintero, accused of the 1985 murder of DEA agent Enrique Camarena.

And lab seizures of methamphetamine and the synthetic opioid fentanyl have risen sharply in recent months. So Saucedo thinks the change may have angered the cartels. “There is a shift… in the strategy to combat the drug cartels. President Andrés Manuel, who has been heavily criticized for his strategy of hugs and not bullets recently, it seems to me that, due to pressure from President Joe Biden, he is changing and is finally giving in and accepting the capture of high-profile drug traffickers,” he said.

The spark that set off the chaos in Jalisco and Guanajuato last week was reportedly when the military stumbled upon a meeting involving a Jalisco cartel boss. Luis Crescencio Sandoval, the defense secretary, said the soldiers did not know and were only trying to intercept a cartel convoy. Sandoval also asserted that there has been no change in strategy.

On the other hand, Ana Vanessa Cárdenas, coordinator of the international relations program at the Anáhuac Mayab University in Mérida, said that with any other president, half of the security cabinet would have been removed, there would be consultations with international experts, and work would be on a new security strategy. But she does not expect any change from López Obrador, who, she considers her, does not want to acknowledge the situation.

“We see a total militarization of security and of the country, which is the last step; that’s what’s worrying,” she noted. “If already having the last step in security we have an increase in violence, in homicides, in drug control… then, where to?”.

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