Alert from an organized crime expert

Sergio Aguayo has been investigating violence and organized crime in Mexico for 50 years. He is a university professor, writer, journalist and human rights activist. His work has been recognized with numerous awards. He currently leads a team of 20 researchers at Mexico College, a public university in the capital.

Silvia Heras: First it was Colombia, then Mexico, and now Ecuador has become a logistics platform for major drug cartels. To what extent have they spread their power over the world?

Sergio Aguayo: If you believe the US Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA), last year it submitted a report confirming that the two largest Mexican cartels, Sinaloa and Jalisco Nueva Generation, have about 40,000 men stationed in 50 countries around the world, including Spain. I have warned my Spanish friends: I realize that this phenomenon is widespread and that Spain has a different geopolitics but it is also a gateway to a large number of products and people.

SH: It has been nearly 20 years since former Mexican President Felipe Calderon declared the war on drugs, and violence in Mexico has increased. What is happening? Is it the absence of the state?

in: What’s happening in Mexico? It is a natural consequence of geopolitics. A coastline extending thousands of kilometers over two oceans and having a border with the United States, a major consumer of drugs, a supplier of weapons, a magnet for migrations from all over the planet… Mexico is therefore a place of transit and gradually some of the most powerful criminal organizations in history have consolidated here.

This is the result and the covenant of impunity between politicians and rulers with criminals because from the beginning, and for more than 100 years, politicians who protected criminals enjoyed impunity, and impunity is still the norm.

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Thus he kills, steals and blackmails himself knowing that his chances of being convicted are slim. This is the golden rule: the charter of impunity, the geopolitics, the voracious market, and the largest economy on the planet that is consuming drugs at an alarming rate.

Q: During López Obrador’s six-year term, more than 30,000 people died annually. How can you live with these levels of daily violence?

in: In everyday life you have to normalize violence, and you can’t live any other way. You have to get used to it, and adjust your schedule; It’s very imperceptible, but one has to set the schedule: when are you going out?, who are you going out with? Plan everything, constantly.

Those of us who also investigate these cases must be careful what we say, how we say it, who we meet, and whom we talk to, and constantly scan cell phones to prevent interception by criminals or the government because you never know who will defend you anyway. …

But there is also extraordinary resistance from citizens. The mothers of the missing – 116,000 accumulated since 1965 – set an example of the willingness to take risks in order to recover the remains of those who disappeared, perhaps, 40 years ago.

SH: Because violence doesn’t always come from the drug trade, right?

in: We just investigated the murders of 32 candidates for popularly elected office in 2021. We’re doing the study and now we’re finding that some of them had ties to organized crime. Not everything, because not all murders are the responsibility of organized crime.

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Of the 32 candidates we studied — sending people into the field to interview family members and review court records when possible — only 11 could be traced entirely back to organized crime. 11 political enemies killed in the manner of a hitman: public executions, shootings, executions in the streets, because part of the violence is intended to intimidate or send a message.

And then, there is an important consequence: they kill local leaders. Not just candidates. Environmentalists, human rights defenders, journalists, pastors, lawyers… What we investigate in school are patterns. Why do they kill local leaders? Because they want to eliminate citizens’ resistance; Because there is resistance.

SH: The López Obrador government has done nothing to reduce violence other than its “hug, no bullets” policy?

in: Unfortunately, nothing has been done during this government. They have a rosy, optimistic story, that offering scholarships and pensions will reduce crime. And yes, if it is necessary to go to the grounds, I am convinced, but not randomly, but concentratedly as it happened in different states of the country. The truth is that federal failures contradict state successes.

Yes, you can control organized crime, but you need comprehensive strategies that the federal government did not have. There has also been insufficient protection for social leaders, as they offer an alternative narrative to the regime’s narrative: a constant condemnation of how organized crime takes over a number of public spaces for financial gain.

It is the country where criminal groups have gained more power in human history. The formula had already been tested in Chicago against Al Capone, and in Sicily against Cosa Nostra at the end of the twentieth century and the beginning of the twenty-first century. Yucatán, Coahuila, Mexico City… List some items:

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1. Community engagement: Media, employers, churches, victims, activists and academics are the six groups that should be involved.

2. A very good police force, well paid, and has an excellent intelligence system.

3. Coordination between the police and the Public Prosecution, which is conducting the investigation. If you investigate and then don’t put them in jail, they will be released.

With these three components, you can reduce violence. You will never be able to eliminate organized crime because it is part of society, but you will reduce the violence and aggression it commits.

I don’t want to offer simplistic solutions, but if something must be done, it is to confront the more violent police, using intelligence and to fight the politicians who protect them. Whatever they are.

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