Mexico is losing the battle against drug-related violence

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Four years after being elected on a promise to fight organized crime with “hugs, not bullets”, Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador is now taking steps to increase the military’s role in public security. By doing so, he hopes to contain an upsurge in gang-related violence. But degrading the power of Mexico’s drug cartels will take more than just sending the military to the streets.

Clashes between armed gangs last month left more than 200 people dead and dozens of businesses destroyed, underscoring the deterioration of security under López Obrador. Although homicide rates have fallen since the start of the pandemic, much of Mexico remains extraordinarily violent. The country is home to the eight most dangerous cities in the world, according to a research group. “Disappearances” have exploded over the past decade. In 2021, nearly 45,000 Mexicans fled their homes for fear of violence, five times more than the previous year.

According to a US military estimate, up to a third of Mexico is “ungoverned space”, largely controlled by criminal organizations. López Obrador disputes that number — and yet, in almost every way, drug cartels have grown in number, power and wealth, spurred by the demand for illegal drugs in the United States. Mexico is the main source of illegal fentanyl being transported to the United States, with cartels increasingly manufacturing and distributing their own versions of the drug.

Although López Obrador has long been critical of the perceived excesses of Mexico’s war on drugs, his policies have not proven more effective. To fight corruption, in 2019 he replaced the federal police with a new 115,000-strong national guard, largely made up of former soldiers who lack experience in crime investigation and law enforcement. . Worse still, he has cut counter-narcotics cooperation with the United States, in retaliation for Washington’s efforts to prosecute senior Mexican officials suspected of colluding with the cartels. Among other things, the government imposed limits on the operations of US drug enforcement officers and disbanded an elite intelligence unit that worked closely with the United States to apprehend prominent kingpins.

Mexico’s failure to quell rising drug-related violence threatens civilians on both sides of the border. In recent weeks, Mexican lawmakers approved a request by López Obrador to hand over the national guard to the army and authorized the army to handle public security tasks until 2028. Although these measures are intended to reassure the public, they will not suffice. break the power of the cartels. The government must devote more resources and intelligence personnel to identifying and dismantling opioid production labs and building the capacity of customs officers and port security officials to interdict precursor materials used to manufacture synthetic drugs. . Mexico should also address its weak criminal justice system, which some say leaves more than 90% of crimes unpunished. This will require funding to recruit and equip the police, increased salaries for prosecutors and judges, and building law enforcement capacity to investigate and prosecute complex criminal cases.

More importantly, Mexico should reinvigorate security cooperation with the United States and ease restrictions on American counter-narcotics operations. The two countries should work together to root out all current and former officials who have encouraged the drug trade and hold them accountable. For its part, President Joe Biden’s administration should take more aggressive action to stop the flow of firearms from the United States to Mexico – by stepping up counter-trafficking operations and demanding that the order are improving their data collection on the sources of firearms seized in Mexico. Mexico. He is expected to work with Congress to increase funding for border security, critical to curbing the smuggling of fentanyl into the United States — much of which is carried by vehicles traveling through legal ports of entry. Reducing the demand for drugs in the United States through drug education and treatment programs — an admittedly time-consuming and costly undertaking — is also critical to saving lives in both countries.

The United States and Mexico have a common interest in combating drug trafficking and eliminating the impunity enjoyed by criminal networks. A security dialogue scheduled for Washington next month would be a good start. The renewed commitment of both governments is a necessary step to break the grip of the drug cartels and the suffering they inflict on innocent people.

More from Bloomberg Opinion:

• More soldiers won’t solve Mexico’s crime problem: Shannon O’Neil

• AMLO’s oil policy reveals its obsession with the past: Eduardo Porter

• Why Mexico could be the next Denmark: Tyler Cowen

The editors are members of the Bloomberg Opinion Editorial Board.

More stories like this are available at bloomberg.com/opinion

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