AMLO’s Guard Hunts Migrants for Trump instead of going after Cartels

Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador said in June that the 71,000 members of his newly founded national guard would bring peace to a nation terrorized by drug cartels. But when gunmen this week mowed down nine women and children on the border of Chihuahua and Sonora states, guard members took at least three hours to arrive.

AMLO’s signature security innovation, a camouflage-clad civilian police force with many members pulled from the military, has failed to stop a slaughter that has claimed close to 26,000 lives this year. In part that’s because a sizable part of the corps has been assigned to stop undocumented migrants targeted by U.S. President Donald Trump.

As of mid-October, 4,100 guard members were assigned to Sonora and Chihuahua, but many of them were sent to the U.S. border, leaving much cartel-dominated territory unprotected. That’s about two-thirds the number assigned to the southern states of Chiapas and Oaxaca, where the murder rate is below that of the two northern states and the national average.

Much of the national guard is now working to stop refugees from coming into Mexico from Honduras, El Salvador, and Guatemala as part of Lopez Obrador’s commitment to the American president.

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The number of people caught entering the U.S. has fallen by about two-thirds since then — though Mexican homicides are on pace for a fresh annual record. Flor Cuevas, a Chihuahua human-rights activist, said the focus on migrants rather than on drug traffickers is a “violation of human rights.”

“There’s an uptick in violence and insecurity,” she said Thursday. “Meanwhile, we see a lack of commitment or strategy where these federal troops are watching over migrants when we have this problem.”

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The National Guard was created this year through a constitutional amendment. It will get 56 billion pesos ($2.92 billion) in the government’s budget proposal for 2020, its first full year of operation.

“We’ve made a little progress,” AMLO said in a Thursday news conference. “We now have a national guard that wasn’t there before, there’s more presence and they’re adding more members. We’re going to continue moving forward. They’re also working, doing something very special and important, in matters of intelligence because it’s better to use intelligence well and not bet everything on force.”

The guard answers to the Ministry of Security and Citizen Protection, led by Alfonso Durazo, a politician who has worked for presidents from all three parties that have governed Mexico over the past century. The force itself is led by General Luis Rodriguez Bucio, who declined an interview request.

Mexico had planned to deploy the guard first to hot spots of cartel activity. That was before Trump in May threatened to levy tariffs due to a surge in migrants arriving at the U.S. border. Lopez Obrador’s government got Trump to cancel the duties in exchange for Mexico prioritizing the new national guard to help with migration operations. This summer in Juarez, where there are gaps in the border wall, guard troops stood in the brush every 500 meters or so, waiting patiently for migrants to happen by.

Meanwhile, cartel attacks have become ever more brazen. Last month, more than a dozen police officers were killed in the western state of Michoacan by men who rode in armored trucks. Days later, cartel members terrorized the city of Culiacan with heavy weaponry in broad daylight. Then came Monday’s slaughter in Sonora.

Children Alone

Gunmen, their motive unknown, ambushed members of the extended LeBaron family, dual U.S. and Mexican citizens who are descendants of a Mormon splinter group that has been in Mexico since the late 19th century.

The family was initially attacked at about 9:40 a.m. along a remote road. Gunmen came again at about 11 a.m., sending children fleeing into the desert, some hiding under brush. Six survived after spending hours alone. The dead include 8-month-old twins.

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People stand near a burned car where some of nine family members were killed in the Sonora mountains, Mexico, on Nov. 5.

The municipality where the attack occurred had only two police officers, according to 2017 data, and telecommunications equipment used to alert law-enforcement agencies apparently failed.

Officials said they learned of the attack about 2:30 p.m. Troops finally arrived about 6:15 p.m., having come from the border town of Agua Prieta. The cartel gunmen were long gone.

“A lot of these groups have really strengthened their control over certain regions and the border of Chihuahua and Sonora is completely lawless,” said Howard Campbell, a cultural anthropology professor at the University of Texas at El Paso, across the border from Juarez, which is Chihuahua’s biggest city and a hotbed of violence for a decade.

Jesus Ramirez, a spokesman for Lopez Obrador, said Wednesday that the deployment of guard units was scheduled before the tariff showdown with the U.S., and was based on violence levels. The force eventually will be deployed to almost twice as many regions as it is now, Ramirez said.

Mauricio Kuri Gonzalez, the head of the opposition National Action Party in the Senate, said that the guard’s failure to quell violence is a direct result of its focus on migration.

“The national guard wasn’t created to be Trump’s wall,” Kuri Gonzalez said in an interview Thursday. “It was to assure the security of our country and its citizens.”

But Carlos Salazar, the head of Mexico’s chamber of commerce, has said it’s too early to judge the guard’s full impact, given that it’s only four months old and will double to 140,000 members by the mid-point of Lopez Obrador’s term in 2021.

Pomp and Ceremony

The LeBaron massacre drew a tweeted call from Trump for the U.S. and Mexico to “wage WAR on the drug cartels and wipe them off the face of the earth.” That’s a far cry from Lopez Obrador’s campaign promise of a security strategy based on “hugs, not shots.” He has stressed creating job opportunities to give young Mexicans an alternative to a life of crime.

“This non-conflictive stance has only empowered and emboldened the drug cartels,” said Mike Vigil, former head of international operations at the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration. “Lopez Obrador created the national guard, and they are not providing security to the state, because Donald Trump has convinced Lopez Obrador to use them primarily for immigration purposes.”

Lopez Obrador invested significant political capital in the guard, making it a counterbalance to his broader program of nurturing the young. He attended an inaugural ceremony at a military-parade field in Mexico City in June, saluting 10,000 camouflaged troops to the blare of a bugle.

His decision to use the guard to stop migrants at the borders left high-violence regions vulnerable, said Gladys McCormick, an associate history professor at Syracuse University in New York.

“A lot of expectations were placed in the national guard,” she said in an e-mail. “It was short-sighted not to expect that the violence would have increased without any follow-up policy or plan in place.”

Source: bloomberg, notimex

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