Crime & Justice

Mexico drug-war deaths soar amid pandemic

By Marti Quintana

Mexico City, Apr 21 (efe-epa).- An estimated 3,000 people were killed in drug-related violence last month in Mexico as the government’s efforts to mitigate the spread of the novel coronavirus, including the partial closure of its border with the United States, severely affected the cartels’ supply chains and profits.

That figure marks the highest number of homicides attributed to the drug war during the tenure of current President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, who took office in December 2018.

Juan Carlos Montero, a professor in the School of Social Sciences and Government at the Monterrey Institute of Technology and Higher Education, said the high death toll is due to the fact gangs are currently unable to smuggle narcotics to the US, cannot obtain the precursor chemicals from China they need to manufacture synthetic drugs and are even finding it difficult to deal their product on a small scale in local markets.

“There’s an all-out battle for territory because profits have dried up,” the public safety expert told Efe.

Among a slew of violent episodes in March, authorities in the northern border state of Chihuahua said at least 19 people were killed on April 4 in an armed clash between rival gangs in a rural area and seven individuals were slain during the apparent robbery of a commercial establishment in Reynoso, a city in the northeastern border state of Tamaulipas.

On Monday, drug-related violence left 114 dead, according to official figures.

“In the context of the epidemic, violence is not a priority as far as public opinion goes. But it’s true that March was the second most violent month since 1997,” when records began to be kept, Javier Oliva, a professor in the School of Political and Social Sciences of Mexico City-based National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM), told Efe.

Lopez Obrador’s government is carrying out a two-pronged drug-war strategy that involves deploying the armed forces and a recently created National Guard force in a bid to subdue the cartels and addressing the root causes of the violence through additional economic aid and education spending.

The results, however, have been underwhelming thus far.

“The federal government hasn’t adjusted the strategy that it’s had from the beginning and which has not had an impact in combating the criminals … Today we’re seeing open war against the cartels,” Montero said.

Although there had been a slight downward trend in drug-related violence since December, the March figure calls into question the government’s claim that a turning point had been reached.

Experts also say the National Guard, a force mainly made up of former army soldiers whose ranks are expected to grow to nearly 100,000 this year, has been spread too thin due to its deployment to prevent migrants from crossing the country’s southern border (at the insistence of the United States) and, more recently, to protect hospitals and health care workers from potential attacks during the health crisis.

“There’s been a significant drop in (the security forces’) operating capacity,” Oliva said.

Lopez Obrador, who came to power on a pledge to battle corruption and inequality, said Tuesday that materialism and individualism are the root causes of the drug-related carnage.

“Here’s the formula: if there’s no corruption, there’s no poverty. And if there’s no poverty, there’s no crime and there’s no violence,” he said at his daily press conference at the National Palace. EFE


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