It’s impossible to ignore the historically high level of violence in Mexico, the southern neighbor with whom we share the largest border, trade alliance, and heritage.
For years, cartels in Mexico have engaged in mass killings, kidnappings, decapitations, rapes, and torture—nothing new. What’s concerning is the Mexican government’s involvement, now enabling drug gangs to operate and move into American communities.
The surge of crime entering the United States is brought to you by the Biden administration. As Mexican cartels expand their operations, influence, and violence into the U.S. through our porous border, President Biden is cozying up to Mexico’s corrupt leader and patting himself on the back for the “strong and productive relationship” they’ve cultivated.
The lines between Mexican cartels, government, law enforcement and beyond are blurred in Mexico, and cartel access to military and political power has left the country with the highest level of violence in decades.
On Tuesday, President Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO) announced the resignation of the prosecutor leading the Attorney General’s Office investigation into the unsolved 2014 abduction of 43 students in southern Mexico.
The resignation of Omar Gómez Trejo came only one day after the families of the missing students marched on Mexico City’s main boulevard, demanding answers on the eight-year anniversary of their disappearances, and only one month after he made strides in finding out who’s really responsible for the mystery, long believed to implicate police and military collusion with drug traffickers.
On Sept. 26, 2014, 43 students of the Ayotzinapa Teachers’ College disappeared in the state of Guerrero. They were last seen being forced into police vehicles after security forces opened fire at them. The next morning, their classmates went to bail them out, but the police claimed they had no knowledge of the students’ whereabouts.
A few months after the incident, then-President Peña Nieto closed the case saying gang members confessed to killing the students, and burned their bodies in a garbage dump after being directed to do so by police. The government investigation—promoted as “the historic truth” —concluded the students were taken into custody and handed over to the local “Guerreros Unidos” drug gang to be killed.
There were several irregularities with this theory, which unleashed a storm of protests against politicians, police, and military for being involved with drug-trafficking gangs and participating in a coverup. Therefore, not long after he came to power, AMLO reopened the case and appointed Omar Gómez Trejo to head the probe.
The role of the army in the students’ disappearance has long been a source of tension, with the grieving families demanding for years that the soldiers be investigated and that their own experts be allowed to search the army base in Iguala.
The Interdisciplinary Group of Independent Experts—known as GIEI and sponsored by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights—said at a Sept. 29 press conference that the military had refused to open all of its intelligence files, despite orders from López Obrador. It also highlighted text messages intercepted in the United States, showing contact between soldiers and drug members.
Many have long accused Mexican authorities of complicity in the students’ disappearance. “The military participated,” said Maria Martinez Zeferino, the mother of one of the disappeared students. Clemente Rodríguez, father of one of only three students whose remains have been identified, said “It was the state, the three levels of government participated.” Anabel Hernandez, an investigative journalist, also believes it’s all part of a huge government operation. “The problem is public officials that were implicated [in the cover-ups] are still working in the government,” says Hernandez.
But the reason behind the students’ abduction remains a subject of debate.
One month ago, Gómez Trejo secured 83 arrest warrants for suspects allegedly involved in the disappearances, including one for a retired army general. Unfortunately, the Attorney General’s Office persuaded a judge to vacate 21 of the arrest warrants; 16 meant for military officials, without explanation.
Gómez Trejo’s resignation is a tough blow after eight years of a messy investigation with no answers. AMLO claims he’s committed to justice, but there’s been no trial or conviction, and now cases are being dropped against prime suspects.
A recent report from a government truth commission stated that federal and state officials were aware of the kidnappings and did nothing. The report accused the military and police of later participating in a coverup, stating that the 27th Infantry Battalion of the Mexican Army was directly involved in the kidnapping and murder. The commission alleged that an army colonel ordered the murder of 6 of the 43 students. Earlier this week, documents also leaked to the press describing grisly details about how a criminal group tried to get rid of the students’ bodies, suggesting troops helped hide some of their remains.
It’s no secret that Mexican local police officers and members of the military are frequently linked with organized crime. However, this mass kidnapping speaks volumes on the extent of collusion between criminal organizations, local governments, and police agencies.
Cartels offer enormous bribes to police officers to protect their illegal activities. A captured gang member once claimed more than half of Jalisco’s municipal police is on their payroll. According to Terry Cole, a former Special Agent with the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), “The Mexican drug cartels work hand-in-hand with corrupt government officials at high levels. Sometimes, it’s hard to tell who is who.” Mexicans call it “plata o plomo” – which translates to “silver or lead” and means “take the bribe or suffer the consequences”.
In May, the number of missing people across Mexico exceeded 100,0000—many of whom are victims of drug-related violence. The number of missing is now 105,879, with many believing the true number is much higher. The situation is so severe and the government response so weak that families of the missing form their own search parties, which scour the countryside, looking for clues on their missing loved ones.
The Mexican drug trade continues to evolve in strength and sophistication, and Mexico is seeing rising levels of violence while AMLO continues to embrace a policy of “hugs, not bullets,” against criminal groups. Although the U.S. has invested money and manpower to help the Mexican government fight cartels and eliminate the drug trade, AMLO’s administration has shown no interest in cooperating, leading to a uniquely dangerous era in Mexico. It unfortunately follows a pattern in Mexico of leaders at all levels of government failing to prioritize public security, despite a spiraling death toll over the past 15 years.
Read more about this issue at “Abrazos No Balazos? The Mexican State-Cartel Nexus”, Texas Public Policy Foundation’s recently published research paper.