By THÉRÈSE MARGOLIS
While oil production, industrial output, remittances, tourism and agricultural activities may have slowed to a near standstill in Mexico in the last couple months as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, there is one national industry that is still going strong: the murder industry.
And, indeed, murder in Mexico is industrialized, rolled out and refined to a macabre art, in figures seldom matched in other countries.
According to the government’s own Public Security and Protection Secretariat (SSPC), March 2020 was the country’s bloodiest month since record-keeping began in 1997, with 2,585 murders — the equivalent of 83 per day — breaking the previous record of June 2019, when there were 2,543 murders.
(Oh, and March’s 2,585 figure is expected to climb between 20 and 25 percent, just as the official count has every month during the administration of President Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO), once the Executive Secretariat of the National Public Security System (SESNSP) adds in its numbers.)
Mexican crime experts are now predicting an unprecedented final score of somewhere between 3,075 and 3,100 murders for March when the SESNSP numbers are figured in.
But even without the SESNSP tally, March has certainly shown that safe distancing practices have not cramped Mexico’s status as one of the bloodiest nations on Earth.
March 28 saw the highest number of murders in a day, with a whopping 102 slayings, mostly in the State of Mexico (Edoméx), just outside Mexico City.
True, there was a slight decline in homicides in Mexico between January 2020 and February 2020, with 2,819 and 2,766, respectively, but if you factor in the fact that January had two more days than February, the drop in the number of murders is essentially nullified.
Meanwhile, with the nation’s police and military working diligently to try to curb the spread of covid-19 (and they indeed do deserve recognition and admiration for the job they are doing so far), Mexico’s drug cartels are having a heyday balancing their kill books and courting new territory with gift boxes of food and other essentials to lower-income families in their domain.
And while AMLO may be downplaying the dangers of the virus and busy boosting his own elevated pipe dreams of success in the face of pending economic collapse, Mexican Public Health Undersecretary Hugo López-Gatell and his team of medical and scientific specialists are working laudably round-the-clock to try to reduce the gruesome path of death that the virus is leaving in its wake.
But with nobody keeping an eye on the country’s already-impunity-coated drug cartels and other organized crime groups, Mexican criminals are getting creative in finding ways to cut financial losses resulting from border lockdowns and reduced demand for their wares and services.
As Paul J. Angelo pointed out in this week’s edition of Foreign Affairs Today: “U.S. President Donald Trump’s decision to close the U.S.-Mexican border to all nonessential travel is liable to curb drug traffickers’ access to the world’s principal market for illegal narcotics, the United States.”
Angelo went on to say that if Mexico and other Latin American countries “neglect the risks posed by organized crime during their lockdowns, they may find themselves on the other side of this pandemic with a reduced capacity to deter and constrain the region’s criminals.”
However, he wrote, “proactive measures, such as increasing scrutiny at border crossings and improving surveillance in ungoverned spaces” could help to deal a “lasting blow to criminal organizations precisely when these groups are most exposed.”
As Angelo noted, Mexican criminals are highly dependent on black market organizations for their supply chain of goods (both chemical drugs, such as fentanyl and methamphetamines, and counterfeit designer products), especially from China, for their main source of revenues.
In the last couple months, these supply chains have dried up to a large extent.
Rather than accept a cutback in income from lost sales, Mexican cartels and other criminals groups are branching into alternatives activities such as human trafficking, cybercrime and extortion to make up for lost incomes, which translates into more crime and more bloodshed.
And there is an even more pressing concern:
Like AMLO, Brazil’s president, Jair Bolsonaro, has adopted a laissez-faire attitude regarding the severity of the coronavirus pandemic.
In a vacuum of serious public health policies, Brazilian criminal groups have assumed the role of public health monitors, providing people with hand sanitizers and imposing (and enforcing) strict curfews in order to curb the disease’s spread.
As a result, the criminal groups are being perceived by many Brazilians as the “real authority” in the country.
If AMLO continues with his pie-in-the-sky illusions (despite the best efforts by López-Gatell and his team to disuade him) that Mexico will somehow be exempt from the massive coronavirus death counts seen in other countries and will magically overcome the looming economic crisis, there is a very real possibility that he and his government will lose further ground to the cartels, as Bolsonaro has done in Brazil.
Just as a point of reference, in June of last year, AMLO’s own government produced a color-coded map showing that 80 percent of the country’s 266 districts recently targeted for enforcement by the Mexican National Guard in counter-cartel operations were either controlled (57.5 percent) or disputed (23.3 percent) by the cartels.
López Obrador likes to turn his daily press conferences into a bully pulpit to preach his gospel about cartel mothers telling their criminal sons to “behave themselves” and persuading youths drawn into gangs to break free with the seductive lure of a government stipend of 3,800 pesos a month.
But the fact of the matter is that maternal reprimands and token allowances that don’t even come close to the money being offered by deep-pocketed organized crime groups are not going to dissuade hardened criminals — and if there is any doubt that Mexico’s crime groups are hardened, take a look at some of the ways they showcase their murders (but that’s fodder for another column).
Even AMLO admits that crime in Mexico is fueled by the country’s gaping unemployment and underemployment.
The looming recession (or, worse yet, depression) that the covid-19 pandemic and AMLO’s steadfast insistance on driving Mexico’s economy off a cliff with his go-nowhere pet projects will only exacerbate the problem and drive more frustrated young Mexicans straight into the arms of criminal organizations.
And just in case there are not enough of them to fill the ranks of Mexico’s warring cartels, on Monday, April 20, the Mexican Senate signed a bill to provide amnesty (a real-life “Get Out of Jail Free” card) to more than half the nation’s incarcerated criminals (something AMLO has been itching for since before he took office).
Yes, the Mexican economy is tanking, the country’s largely undeclared death rate from covid-19 is surging and AMLO is carrying on with a “business-as-usual” policy, but one thing is certain in Mexico: There is no stopping the country’s abominable murder industry.
…April 22, 2020