Mexico First?

Last week Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO) accused Richard Glenn, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State in the Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs, of not respecting Mexico’s sovereignty after the American deputy questioned the current security strategy for quelling drug violence followed by the incumbent Mexican administration. Glenn´s comments come a week after the army was defeated by the Sinaloa Cartel in Culiacán and seemed to have touched a sore spot.

AMLO’s complaint seems laughable when the disastrous attempt to capture Ovidio Guzmán, son of “El Chapo”, was kicked off by an arrest warrant issued by a Washington DC Federal judge who, in 2018, indicted Ovidio and his brothers on charges of cocaine, methamphetamine, and marijuana  trafficking.

AMLO’s criticism of Richard Glenn’s comments shows a clear misunderstanding of the concept of sovereignty. Sovereignty is defined as the authority of a given state to govern itself. The state is therefore the only and supreme authority within its territory. The core idea of sovereignty can be summarised in two words: Who rules? Sovereignty becomes elusive when criminal organisations challenge it in multiple ways thorough the co-option of state institutions and its officials; the erosion of state solvency through widespread corruption; direct assault on state functions through infiltration and usurpation of state roles; and, in the worst case as it happened in Culiacán, the captivity of the state under the threat of criminal organisations.

Criminal organisations are able to  restructure the state through the proliferation of significant pockets of ungovernability around the country and the emergence of a parallel political, economic and judiciary system that may threaten the very existence of institutions and the functions of the state through the exercise of a dual sovereignty in lawless areas.

Drug trafficking organisations are also no longer confined to the boundaries of a single country. Their effects spill over neighbouring nations. Sovereignty in contemporary politics should not be understood as isolationism and turning away from cooperation with other countries. The current Mexican president raising concerns over Richard Glenn’s comments also reflect the lack of understanding of the serious threat that criminal organisations pose for the an effective rule of law and governance.

Criminal organisations are transnational, and as such any attempts to curve down its negative effects should be achieved through the adoption of bilateral or multilateral mechanisms. The United States also bears responsibility for the bloodshed in Mexico. Based on the data from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF), between 2007 and 2018, more than 100,000 firearms that were seized in Mexico were traced back to American factories and arm shops. Any attempt to reform American Gun Laws should not turn a blind eye to the shootings and killings happening south their border with their guns.

The impact of transnational criminal organisations on the capacity of the state to control its territory is critical for any of the countries affected by drug trafficking. It is essential to recognise that drug organisations are waging a war not only against each other but also with the state to gain control. In doing so they blur the lines between the political and criminal spheres. Cartels have morphed and perfected themselves so quickly that the pockets of insecurity and lawlessness that for more than a decade have afflicted Mexico could resemble the Colombia of the 1990’s.

Modernisation and proliferation of criminal organisations throughout the Mexican territory have resulted in new configurations of power and new forms of sovereignty in towns and cities where the supreme authority is no longer the state but a parallel criminal or insurgent organisation. This is the direct consequence of the erosion of the country’s authority, capacity and legitimacy. Culiacán was a clear example of this. Challenging the state’s authority, and the inability of the government to respond effectively to such threats could lead to the implosion of the state.

Sovereignty also becomes especially elusive when violence spirals out of control, it remains unchecked and unpunished and crosses borders and county lines. If the current Mexican president is indeed concerned about the many lives that could have been lost should he had continued with his botched raid in Culiacán last October 27th, then he should be even more concerned about the exponential growth of the number of deaths during his first 10 months of his presidency:2019 will be Mexico’s most violent year in recent Mexican contemporary history unless current violence rates decrease significantly.

Lisdey Espinoza Pedraza
Lisdey Espinoza Pedraza
Lisdey Espinoza Pedraza is a politics and international relations tutor at the University of Aberdeen, Scotland. She gained her Bachelor's in International Relations at the Universidad Iberoamericana, Mexico City and her MA in International Relations and World Order at the University of Leicester, England. She holds a PhD in Politics and International Relations from the University of Aberdeen, Scotland. She has spoken at numerous international conferences and has written on topics such as democracy, migration, European politics, Contemporary Mexican Politics and the Middle East. Her research interests include: Democratisation processes, governance and theories of the state, contemporary Mexican politics, Latin American politics, political parties, international relations theories, contemporary USA-Latin America foreign policy.