Vernuccio’s View: Dangers from the Failed State of Mexico

The massacre of nine U.S. citizens, including three women and six children, makes it increasingly difficult to ignore a disturbing fact: Mexico is a failed state, in which the government has essentially surrendered authority to the drug cartels.
Mexico’s President Andrés Manuel López Obrador. (Credit:

The policies of President Andrés Manuel López Obrador, elected in 2018, accentuate the surrender of that nation’s government.  His concept of abrazos, no balazos, which translates into “hugs, not bullets,” indicates the inability of the government to assert its authority over the drug lords.  Since Obrador’s election, the cartels have become more brazen. The Wall Street Journal believes Mexico is becoming “Cartelized.”

Criticism of Obrador’s surrender has grown. The Washington Post  reports that Retired Mexican general Carlos Gaytán “has openly criticized the government of President Andrés Manuel López Obrador after the botched attempt to arrest the son of El Chapo…Gen. Carlos Gaytán blasted the president just days after cartel gunmen swarmed the city of Culiacan to block the arrest of the son of imprisoned former Sinaloa cartel leader Joaquín ‘El Chapo’ Guzmán. Military forces had detained 28-year-old Ovidio Guzmán López but then released him on orders from political leaders who feared a massacre. “

While the crisis has worsened under Obrador, it began long before he took office.

In 2016, a Congressional Research Service study  on U.S.-Mexican security cooperated noted that  “Violence perpetrated by a range of criminal groups continues to threaten citizen security and governance in some parts of Mexico… Recent cases—particularly the disappearance of 43 students in Guerrero, Mexico in September 2014—have drawn attention to the problems of corruption and impunity for human rights abuses in Mexico….”

An analysis by Stratfor emphasizes: “There comes a moment when the imbalance in resources reverses the relationship between government and cartels. Government officials, seeing the futility of resistance, effectively become tools of the cartels. … That is the prescription for what is called a “failed state” — a state that no longer can function as a state…It is important to point out that we are not speaking here of corruption, which exists in all governments everywhere. Instead, we are talking about a systematic breakdown of the state, in which government is not simply influenced by criminals, but becomes an instrument of criminals.”

Vice President Mike Pence delivers remark at a U.S., Mexico, and Canada Agreement in Pleasant Prairie, Wisconsin (10/23/2019). (Official White House Photo by Myles Cullen)

 There is no question that the failed state presents significant danger.  The cartels flood the U.S. with illegal drugs which ruin lives, overwhelm law enforcement, and generate massive costs on the federal, state and local levels.  The cartels facilitate entry into the U.S. of terrorists.

 In 2011, the House of Representatives Subcommittee on Counterterrorism and Intelligence reviewed disturbing information: “Hezbollah operatives have provided weapons and explosives training to drug-trafficking organizations that operate across the U.S. border with Mexico…It is clear that this is a potential threat that has captured the attention of authorities on both sides of the border… in Mexico, just south of the U.S. border, you have instances not only of the country serving as a fund-raising hub and a financial conduit to Hezbollah, but also as a base for infiltration into the United States. As this committee itself noted 5 years ago, Hezbollah agents and Hezbollah operatives have used the porous border between the United States and Mexico in the past to infiltrate…Mexico’s shared border with the United States makes it an attractive operating base for Hezbollah activities aimed at penetrating the U.S. homeland.“[m]embers of Hezbollah, the Lebanon-based terrorist organization, have already [illegally] entered to the United States across our Southwest border.’ Indeed, in 2006 the FBI broke up a Mexican smuggling ring organized by Hezbollah to transport operatives across the U.S.-Mexican border.”

The problems of crime  and terrorism make the Mexican government’s failure to exercise authority over its territory a significant problem for the United States.

Frank Vernuccio serves as editor-in-chief of the New York Analysis of Policy and Government.

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