MEXICO CITY (AP) — Days of widespread fires and shootings by drug cartels in four states last week have left Mexicans wondering why drug cartels exploded and what they want.
The attacks killed 11 people, including a child and four radio station employees who were shot at random on the streets of the border city of Ciudad Juárez, across from El Paso, Texas, on Thursday.
Two days earlier, more than two dozen convenience stores owned by a well-known national chain were set on fire in the northern state of Guanajuato. Cars and buses were seized and set on fire in the neighboring state of Jalisco. And two dozen vehicles were hijacked and torched in California border towns on Friday.
The federal government deployed soldiers and National Guard troops to quell residents’ fears, but the outbursts of violence raised questions about President Andrés Manuel López Obrador’s approach of putting all responsibility for security in the hands of the military rather than of civilian police forces.
Some were quick to dismiss the arson and shooting attacks as terrorism. But it is not clear what the goal was.
“I think the orders given to these gunmen were to cause chaos,” said Mexican security analyst Alejandro Hope. “Generates chaos, generates uncertainty, generates fear, shoots at everything that moves. That is something that generates terror.”
“Terrorism implies a political objective. I don’t know what the political goal is in this case,” Hope said.
López Obrador suggested on Monday that the attacks were part of a political conspiracy against him by opponents he describes as “conservatives” and said “there is not a big problem” with security.
“I don’t know if there was a connection, a hidden hand, if this had been set up,” he said. “What I do know is that our opponents, the corrupt conservatives, aid in black propaganda.”
Defense Secretary Luis Cresencio Sandoval later said the cartels had attacked because they were weakened. “They want to feel still strong and generate situations of violence where, by way of publicity, they send messages that they are still strong, when in fact progress has been made in eliminating the criminal structure,” he said.
Tijuana Mayor Montserrat Caballero sounded very different when she issued a rare public call Friday for the cartels to stop targeting innocent civilians.
“Today we are telling the organized crime groups that are committing these crimes, that Tijuana is going to stay open and take care of its citizens,” Caballero said in a video, “and we also ask them to settle their debts with those who do not they paid what they owed, not with working families and citizens.”
José Andrés Sumano Rodríguez, a professor and security specialist at the Colegio de la Frontera Norte in Matamoros, said the decision to attack civilians was considered. “They (the cartels) have learned that when they push on the side of generating terror and targeting civilians, it pays off,” he said. “It’s often much more effective to do this than to have a direct confrontation with the military, where they almost always lose.”
For security analyst David Saucedo, the attacks were “narcoterrorism,” and he said that the Jalisco New Generation Cartel was behind the violence in Guanajuato and Baja California.
Saucedo said there has been a change in Mexico’s drug policy since last year, when army troops sat on highway bases and simply watched as cartels battled for control of the western state of Michoacán. from Mexico, with drones, improvised explosive devices and landmines.
Saucedo said the change may have angered the cartels.
Mexico has made more attempts to capture drug lords, something López Obrador has previously said he was not interested in. Mexican marines captured fugitive drug lord Rafael Caro Quintero in July after years on the run for the 1985 murder of DEA agent Enrique “Kiki” Camarena. .
And lab seizures of methamphetamine and the synthetic opiate fentanyl in Mexico have risen sharply in recent months.
“There has been a change in strategy in the fight against drug cartels. Andrés Manuel (López Obrador) has been heavily criticized recently for his ‘hugs, not bullets’ strategy,” Saucedo said. “I think because of pressure from Joe Biden, he is changing that and agreeing to go after high-profile drug dealers.”
The spark that sparked chaos in Jalisco and Guanajuato last week was apparently a military attempt to capture a Jalisco cartel kingpin.
“The narcoterrorism of the Jalisco New Generation Cartel is a reaction to the president’s change in strategy,” said Saucedo. “If the Mexican president continues with this strategy of capturing high-ranking members of the Jalisco cartel, the Jalisco cartel will respond with acts of narco-terrorism in the states it controls as part of its vast empire.”
Sandoval, the secretary of defense, went to great lengths to ensure there was no change in strategy. “It’s not that we’re looking for the leader… it’s not that operations are focused on certain levels of the organization.”
There have been such terrorist acts before. In June of last year, a faction of the Gulf cartel entered the border city of Reynosa and killed 14 people whom authorities identified as “innocent citizens” as part of an attempt to overthrow a rival faction that controlled Reynosa.
The only good news, if any, is that Saucedo says Jalisco is generally about causing property damage rather than civilian deaths; he blamed the random killings in Ciudad Juárez on the Mexicles, a gang that works for the Sinaloa cartel.
“There are differences between the two types of narco-terrorism,” he said.
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 dismissed, there would be consultations with international experts, and a new security strategy would be worked on. but she does not expect any change from López Obrador, who is in denial.
“We have seen a total militarization of security and of the country, which is the last step,” he said. “If, having already reached the last rung in security, we have an increase in violence, in murders, in drug control, then where are we going?”
AP reporter Christopher Sherman contributed to this report.
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