MS Risk Blog

Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador’s new security strategy and its impact on the Jalisco New Generation Cartel

Posted on in Uncategorized title_rule

As Mexico’s new President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, often called AMLO, seems very optimistic over his new security strategy, set to initiate in January 2019, violence in the country has soared to unprecedented highs. The increase is mostly concentrated around the western states, and, most recently, in Jalisco it has been especially severe. One of the reasons for this hike is The Jalisco New Generation Cartel (CJNG). Based in Jalisco state, they were founded around 2010 and has since then expanded rapidly. CJNG is believed to be operating in 22 states in Mexico, and the cartel is likely set to continue growing. Although they are challenged by the new government and AMLO’s security plan, it is unlikely that it will have any impact on the cartel in the short to mid-term.

Cartel rivalry and drug-related crime are two key drivers behind the violence in Mexico.

Violence in Mexico has seen an increase in the recent years. Since the previous President Felipe Calderon in 2006 initiated his aggressive campaign against drugs, putting in military force against the cartels, an estimated 80,000-100,000 people have been killed. The power vacuum following the arrest of “El Chapo” in 2016, one of the most notorious drug lords in Mexico, has sparked an increase in the violence. This is very prevalent in the state of Jalisco, with 1,800 homicides in 2018 as of 12 December. Since 2013, the state capital Guadalajara has seen a 240 % increase in homicides. The CJNG, having its base in the state, is assumed to be the perpetrator of many of the incidents.

Although CJNG is not the only, or even the biggest, cartel in Mexico, it is arguably the most aggressive and expansive. Where several other cartels have suffered fragmentation and disintegration and thus weakening, CJNG are utilizing this and expanding its power reach. CJNG has been described by US authorities as one of the worlds “most prolific and violent drug trafficking organizations”. The cartel has, however, suffered some setbacks with several leaders either killed or arrested, and internal disputes have been reported. But they still appear strong, and are continually challenging the Sinaloa cartel, which is considered by many to be the biggest cartel. Although the Sinaloa cartel seems somewhat resilient in the face of the fall of their alleged leader “El Chapo”, they appear to be weakening in general. Further, the CJNG are reportedly exceptionally ruthless. In April 2018, they killed three students and dissolved them in acid. They have ambushed and killed dozens of police officers in Jalisco, and government sources claim that they have highly sophisticated weaponry, as shown on 1 May 2015 when the group used an RPG rocket launcher to shoot down a Mexican military helicopter. All things considered, the CJNG is probable to be one of the biggest threats to Mexico’s security currently and is thus a target for AMLO’s new security strategy.

Mexico’s new President has pledged a new peace and security plan that promises to fight the violence and crime in the country. The eight-action, holistic plan endeavors to eradicate corruption, guarantee jobs, health, education and well-being, promote human rights, promote ethical regeneration of society, reformulate the fight on drugs and start the peace process, endorse recovery and a public security plan. AMLO has described the plan as being 80% directed towards the root cause of the violence, rather than direct confrontations. The actions laid out in the plan is likely to, to some degree, affect the CJNG and other cartels. However, the question is to what extent.

By working to improve social factors such as jobs, health and education, AMLO wants to get to the root causes behind the violence in Mexico. As an example, one planned measure is to create an extensive scholarship programme to stop the 7 million youths who are not currently in education, employment or training from being recruited to cartels. Its projected impact is unclear. A study conducted on the CJNG showed that one way they recruit is through trickery, hiring people for jobs that are ostensibly legal that later revealed to be illegal. A criminal gang, thought to be CJNG, was in 2016 using flyers that under a fake company name advertised job opportunities as “bodyguards” or “security guards”, offering high wages and a chance for advancement. When later the job is exposed to be fake, the person hired is forced to work for the cartel. Fake job ads on Facebook has also been revealed. It appears reasonable to consider that a lack of jobs and education are main drivers behind recruitment to cartels, however, there seem to be no consensus or reliable evidence that supports this notion. AMLO’s social reforms, if successful, is likely to bring more stability and economic growth to the country in the long term, but its impact on the cartels’ ability to recruit in the short to mid-term is questionable.

By ending the widespread corruption, one of AMLO’s main promises, the government and justice apparatus is likely to be much more able to combat the cartels. However, it is highly unlikely that he will succeed entirely. In Mexico, corruption is very deep-rooted and historically, emphasis has been put on political stability and economic growth before fighting corruption. Even though AMLO is politically strong, having won a congressional majority, he will face severe challenge in trying to eradicate corruption, especially on the lower level. However, targeted anti-graft drives on a federal level has a good likelihood of success. CJNG employs the famed “plata o plomo” strategy, silver or lead, to force government officials on the lower level to enable their activities. According to Jalisco’s State Attorney General Eduardo Almaguer, CJNG has corrupted 20% of the municipal police force, and intimated 70% of the police force to not act against them. A captured CJNG member has alleged that half of the Guadalajara police is on their payroll, paying each between 1,000 to 50,000 pesos per month. Putting a stop to the corruption on this municipal and state level would seriously hinder the progress of the CJNG, however, AMLO’s is unlikely to succeed in doing that. Therefore, his pledge to wholly end corruption is probable to be rather toothless against CJNG in the short term.

AMLO aims to create a new, 50,000-man strong national guard, composed of police and military personnel, to fight the cartels. This proposition stands somewhat in contrast with his alleged “soft” approach, fighting poverty and inequality to fight violence. Previous statements, mainly during his campaigning, from AMLO has purveyed a will to dial back the “war on drugs” in favor of other approaches. This seem to be a U-turn of policies. Human rights organisations have criticised the proposed national guard, claiming that it is just a continuation of the existing “war on drugs”-policy from 2006. As the previous 12 years of militarized opposition against the cartels have shown, the cartels seem to be able to survive under that kind of pressure. Notably, CJNG was created and has been able to expand under such circumstances. On the other hand, a removal of the militarized opposition in the troubled areas could give the cartels room to grow, making the dire situation even worse. It is doubtful that this new conception of the previous policy will have a major impact on CJNG’s existence, however, it might be the best choice for AMLO’s government in the short term.

The future of US cooperation in the cartel issue is unclear. Historically, Mexico and the US has had close cooperation against the drug trafficking, and in August 2018 a new cooperation strategy was announced, displaying intentions of continued cooperation amid tensions between the countries. One of the strategies was to target the cartels financial infrastructure, something AMLO’s new head of the Finance Ministry’s financial intelligence unit, Santiago Nieto, enacted early December, filing complaints against suspected CJNG-affiliated businesses and people, to be investigated. Despite an uncertainty regarding the relationship between US President Donald Trump and AMLO, conflicts on the presidential level are not likely to destabilize the cooperation on the operational level. However, if tensions would lead to a subsequent breakdown in communications or cooperation, that is highly likely to have an adverse effect on the operational level cooperation. For CJNG’s part, the involvement of US law enforcement in Mexico’s fight against the cartels spell continued trouble. If the cooperation between the countries deepens, more resources are likely employed against the cartels, possibly resulting in seriously slowing the rampage of the CJNG.

AMLO’s plan might, despite all its flaws, be what Mexico needs in order to mitigate the violence. It has sparked an optimism that could drive changes in the longer term. However, the plan sometimes appears to be disengaged from reality. Violence is soaring, and the rampage of the CJNG is set to continue. As they are by many considered the most notorious and violent cartel, stemming their progress is paramount to the security situation in Mexico. By endeavoring to stop corruption, employ social reforms and continue militarized pressure, AMLO hopes to stop not only CJNG, but to curtail violence in general in the country. Several actions outlined in the plan are likely to have a positive effect on the violence in Mexico, but some parts will probably be very hard to implement. Therefore, the plan has to be altered and adjusted in order to secure some success. It might be better considered the strategy as a statement of intent rather than a roadmap.