MS Risk Blog

Mexico Sees Resurgence in Gang Violence

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Mexico has seen a dramatic resurgence in gang violence since June 2023 despite the quiet of the last two months

Cartel violence in Mexico has shown a dramatic increase since mid-late June 2023 from the low numbers of reported crime in April and May 2023. The scale has also reached city-wide levels of violence that were seen in January 2023 following the escape of ‘El Chapo’s’ son. The violence has been widespread across the country. Many of the recent cartel attacks have targeted Mexican law enforcement, such as the abduction of fourteen state police officers in southern Mexico on Tuesday 27 June, a stark contrast from the more common rival gang violence or civilian targeted violence. There has been no confirmed reason for the targeting of law enforcement, however, the timing of the resurgence in cartel violence suggests that the increase is likely in response to the Mayor of the Mexican border city of Tijuana, Montserrat Caballero, deciding to live at an army base for her own safety on the 14 June after receiving threats made by drug cartels in the region. It is likely that the cartels became emboldened by this perceived retreat and increased their activities on both scale and against law enforcement. The violence has further demonstrated President Obrador’s lack of success in curbing cartel violence. Therefore, despite cartel violence having declined once again as of August 7 2023, further resurgence can be expected within the near future unless significant measures are taken against them.

The cartel violence has increased in both scale and target-scope. City-wide levels of cartel violence are not a new phenomenon and have been seen in the past. On January 6 2023, following Ovidio Guzman’s escape and subsequent recapture by Mexican military, Sinaloa’s state capital, Culiacan was filled with roadblocks and gunfire. City-wide violence most recently occurred on the 11 July when an unidentified drug cartel set off a series of explosives in Tlajomulco killing four officers and two civilians. This appears to be the first time a Mexican cartel has used improvised explosive devices (IEDs) to target and kill law enforcement personnel. This was the latest example of the increasing open, military-style challenge posed by drug cartels against law-enforcement. The targeting of law enforcement personnel has seen an increase across the last two months. One of the most open attacks against law enforcement personnel occurred on the 27 June when armed men abducted fourteen state police officers in southern Mexico on the highway between Ocozocoautla and Tuxtla Gutierrez. Fortunately, all officers kidnapped were released a few days following the kidnapping, however, the kidnapping of so many law enforcement officials in one attack was the first highly open challenge to law enforcement personnel that has occurred this year. The increase in targeting of law enforcement and timing of the attacks suggest that the cartels have gained increased confidence in targeting law enforcement.

The decision of Motserrat Caballero to live at an army base on the 14 June for her own safety after receiving threats is somewhat likely the reason for increased cartel activity against law enforcement as they have possibly perceived this as a retreat. The need to seek safety in such a manner coupled with the increase in cartel attacks on law enforcement, as well as their advancement in techniques (e.g. use of IEDs) has further exemplified President Obrador’s failure at tackling the cartels in Mexico. 2023 has seen a decrease in Obrador’s credibility and strength in tackling cartel violence. In March 2023 he denounced a US Republican-led push for military intervention against cartels in Mexico following a high profile abduction of U.S. citizens earlier that month. Furthermore, cartels were able to increase their influence during the immigration crisis throughout January-May 2023, providing smuggling services for $200 each. The continual failure of President Obrador and his government to curtail cartel activities has therefore likely attributed in increasing the targeting of law enforcement as they have had little repercussions in response to the attacks.