Last week, journalist Hector de Mauleon published a column revealing alleged classified cables claiming the state of Tamaulipas’s governor-elect, Americo Villarreal, received up to $7 million from the Mexican gang Cartel del Noreste to finance his political campaign. To no one’s surprise, Villarreal is denying these allegations. However, accusations of cartel collusion are common in Mexican politics — and too frequently true to dismiss as conspiracy theories.
The illegal drug trade has stained Mexico’s history for a long time. Cartels have infiltrated all levels of government, law enforcement, corporations, trade, and beyond. Not only have cartels woven themselves into the government, but many government officials have burrowed their way into these cartels. With every new Mexican president, one thing is consistent: the never-ending parade of Cabinet members, military officers, and other high-ranking figures protecting and colluding with drug kingpins. This corruption has spread like a virus, even extending into the office of President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, commonly referred to as AMLO.
The intersection between Mexican criminal organizations and state power has deepened of late. Today, cartels control entire territories of Mexico. Estimates suggest 35% to 40% of Mexico is under direct cartel rule. Cartels function as quasi-governments while top Mexican officials look the other way. Cartels also offer massive bribes to law enforcement officers, who are corrupted into protecting their illicit activities. A captured New Generation Jalisco Cartel member claimed more than half of Jalisco’s municipal police are on the cartel’s payroll. According to Terry Cole, a former special agent with the Drug Enforcement Administration, “The Mexican drug cartels work hand-in-hand with corrupt government officials at high levels. Sometimes, it’s hard to tell who is who.”
In recent years, we have seen a cessation in Mexican cooperation with the United States in dealing with this problem. Although the Mexican government has a tainted history of dealing with drug gangs, the current presidency has reached new heights of complicity.
AMLO has a near-open policy of allowing, perhaps even participating in, the systemic complicity of state actors with drug trafficking organizations. He’s decided not to cooperate with the American DEA, suspending a counternarcotics unit responsible for tackling organized crime, stripping foreign agents of their diplomatic immunity, stopping the DEA from stationing a plane in the country, and more. Despite all these actions, President Joe Biden is completely tone-deaf to the evisceration of the U.S.-Mexico partnership, telling AMLO in a recent meeting that “despite the overhyped headlines, you and I have a strong and productive relationship and, I would argue, a partnership.”
Last month, Mexico saw a wave of violent attacks as some of Mexico’s most dangerous gangs burned cars, buses, and businesses, fired on troops, and shut down entire cities. The violence claimed 260 lives in four days. Mexico is more dangerous than ever. By some estimates, close to two-thirds of all Mexican murders are cartel-related, not to mention the countless reports of kidnappings, mutilations, rape, and extortion.
As cartels threaten citizens with blatant acts of violence, AMLO has embraced a policy of “hugs, not bullets,” insisting that combating criminals only creates more violence. Mexico has a president who not only refuses to condemn cartels publicly but also makes gestures of sympathy toward drug lords such as El Chapo, the former leader of the Sinaloa Cartel, who claims to have killed 2,000-3,000 people. Instead of denouncing El Chapo’s evil actions, AMLO decried his prison conditions as “inhumane,” promised his mother he’d help her visit him in prison, and finally released his son, kingpin Ovidio Guzman, from custody to “restore peace.” The local prison was also emptied, freeing hundreds of gang members.
The human tragedy in Mexico is enormous and spreading north of the border. This industrial-scale level of corruption and complicity with criminals is a direct threat to the U.S., especially Texas. A safe and thriving Mexico is in our best interest. We want our neighbors to be our allies in our fight against criminal organizations, and we hope that the Mexican state will stand up and defend its people instead of defending cartels.