The incoming administration of President-Elect Biden will provide a window of opportunity for enhancing U.S.-Mexico security cooperation. In particular, it opens the door for discussing firearms trafficking. Mexico has a key ally within the transition team: former U.S. ambassador to Mexico Roberta Jacobson whose deep understanding of the issues and appreciation for our country cannot be overstated.
It is no secret that under the López Obrador administration stopping illicit firearms flows from the U.S. to Mexico has been a priority pursued by Mexico’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs (SRE per its Spanish acronym). In May, Foreign Minister Ebrard sent a diplomatic note to the U.S. embassy requesting information on the controversial gun-running operation “Fast and Furious” that allowed firearms trafficking from the U.S. to Mexico as a ploy to lead them to the arrest of top members of criminal groups. Foreign Minister Ebrard also published a video that not only made the action public but explained the rationale behind the request.
In 2020, the Revista Mexicana de Política Exterior, edited by SRE, published a special issue entitled “Illicit Arms Trafficking in Mexico” aimed at “provid[ing] a diagnosis and recommendations on how to stop 70% of north south traffic in firearms between Mexico and the United States”. Fabian Medina, chief of staff for Foreign Minister Ebrard, has regularly published op-eds in the Mexican newspaper Milenio detailing their work on stopping weapons trafficking and unlike previous administrations, SRE has developed closer relationships with European partners and in July of this year signed an agreement with Europol for intelligence sharing aimed at stopping illegal flows of weapons and ammunitions.
At this point, the commitment shown by Mexico’s Foreign Ministry in stopping firearms trafficking is clear. Mexico’s credibility not so much. Let me explain. After last year’s attack on Mexico City’s Chief of Police (which he miraculously survived), I suggested Mexico could strengthen its arguments vis-à-vis the U.S. to seriously consider stopping arms trafficking by underscoring public officials were getting killed. If the 2018 election is any indicator, we can (unfortunately) also expect high levels of violence against candidates running for office in the upcoming 2021 midterm elections. Illicit firearms trafficking, therefore, not only impacts citizens by posing direct risks to their lives but is detrimental to Mexican democracy by killing citizens who are public servants and those electing to run for office.
The problem, however, is that the actions by the Mexican government against its own citizens do not support this claim. This week, once again, excessive force was used against demonstrators who were protesting against perceived government inaction on femicides. The municipal police force of Cancun seriously injured demonstrators and journalists by carelessly firing shots into the air in an attempt to disperse protestors. Human Rights organizations were rightfully outraged pointing out how women demonstrating for their lives must also fear the state when demanding justice.
Adding insult to injury this week, the mayor of Salamanca in the state of Guanajuato blamed journalist Israel Vázquez for his own death claiming that his tragic fate had been his fault for going in the early hours of the morning to a place everyone knows is dangerous. Vázquez, was killed while documenting the discovery of human remains which he was also guarding while waiting for authorities to arrive at the scene. The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights pushed back on the victim blaming stance of Salmanca’s mayor and underscored that his murder while doing his job only highlights the vulnerability journalists face in Mexico.
So how does Mexico look on the international stage demanding to stop the illicit flows of arms when the actions against its own citizens show little respect for their lives?
* Cecilia Farfán Méndez is head of Security Research Programs at the Center for U.S.-Mexican Studies at the University of California San Diego (UCSD). Twitter: @farfan_cc