President Donald Trump has repeatedly promised to renegotiate NAFTA – a trade agreement between Canada, Mexico, and the United States that he blames for inflating the trade deficit.
Ahead of negotiations, which are expected to begin in August, we wanted to bring attention to the worrisome connection between Mexican leaders and drug cartels – a connection that may taint the upcoming negotiations.
Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto was elected in 2012. His Institutional Revolutionary Party is well known for its connections to drug cartels, and some voters believed Nieto would be able to strike deals with the cartels and reduce violence.
It was later discovered that members of the Juarez Cartel supported Nieto’s presidential bid by rewarding voters with cash cards. The scandal became known as “Monexgate.”
After winning the election, Nieto vowed that he would not associate or make deals with the cartels during his time in office. “Let me be clear, with organized crime there will be no pacts or truce,” he said in 2012.
Fast-forward to today: the Mexican government recently boasted that 107 of 122 known “capos” (criminal bosses) have been either arrested or killed since Nieto took office.
Systematically eliminating big bosses is a continuation of former Mexican President Felipe Calderón’s “kingpin strategy.” The numbers are impressive, but the arrests have done little to stymie the raging cartel violence taking place throughout Mexico.
“The ability to track down criminals does nothing to address corruption nor the absence of economic opportunities in marginalized communities, to say nothing of the drug prohibition that has kept prices high and therefore created stratospheric profit margins,” writes Insight Crime’s Patrick Corcoran.
Worse still, evidence suggests that removing a gang’s leader leads to more crime as lieutenants fight for leadership and weakened gangs become the targets of stronger gangs.
Best case, removing a capo leads to a short spike in murders; worst case, it leads to civil war between gangs.
Such violence has claimed over 70,000 lives since 2006, including at least 80 journalists.
There were less than 11,000 murders in Mexico in 2007, but for the last five years that number has stayed well above 15,000. “This increase has been fueled in large measure by a newly-destabilized organized crime landscape,” writes Corcoran.
Nieto isn’t the only Mexican leader with links to the cartels.
Tomas Yarrington and Eugenio Hernandez – both former governors of Tamaulipas – are wanted by the US Department of Justice for money laundering charges. They are both accused of allowing cartels to operate in exchange for bribes.
Javier Duarte, former governor of Veracruz, has been charged with embezzlement and criminal activity.
Cesar Duarte Jaquez, former governor of Chihuahua, is wanted for embezzlement. He is currently a fugitive in his own country.
The list goes on.
The United States has spent billions helping Mexico fight these gangs, and it is worrying to think that Mexican presidents and governors have been allowing them to operate in exchange for money and power.
More recently, some have claimed that Nieto’s connection to the cartels is why he is against Trump’s border plan.