Why kidnapped Americans in Mexico turned political theater

When the truck with North Carolina plates crossed the border from Brownsville, Texas, to Matamoros, Mexico, on Friday, the so-called falcons in command of monitoring the border space notified their bosses of the presence of 4 Americans.

The gunmen, who haven’t been recognized or linked to any of the cartels working within the space, opened fireplace on the automotive. In the fusillade, a 33-year-old Mexican girl who was greater than a block away was killed by a stray bullet. Immediately afterward the occupants of the automobile had been kidnapped.

One model of the tragedy disseminated by the Mexican authorities is that the gunmen belonged to one of many seven cartels which are combating over the Mexican border metropolis and mistook the 4 Americans — who had been crossing the border for a medical process — with smugglers of Haitian origin and determined to confront them to demarcate their territory. In Matamoros, a metropolis of simply over 500,000, there’s a struggle to the demise among the many cartels: the Zetas, Jalisco New Generation, El Golfo, La Familia Michoacana, Sinaloa, Juárez and the Northeast.

A video that has been extensively circulated on social media exhibits a number of closely armed topics who, in broad daylight and in entrance of dozens of motorists, put the victims behind a pickup truck. The pictures present semi-paralyzed drivers conscious {that a} bloodbath could possibly be triggered at any second, an end result to which Mexicans have been uncovered for the reason that state determined to begin a conflict in opposition to drug trafficking in the course of the administration of President Felipe Calderón, who ruled from 2006 to 2012.

A member of Mexico’s safety forces stands close to the white minivan with North Carolina license plates and several other bullet holes, on the scene the place gunmen kidnapped 4 U.S. residents who crossed into Mexico from Texas on March 3, 2023.

(Associated Press)

“From that city [Matamoros] come the drugs that are distributed in the central and eastern United States,” mentioned Jesús Lemus Barajas, a specialist in drug trafficking points in Mexico and an occasional contributor to The Times and Los Angeles Times in Spanish. “It was not for nothing that the U.S. State Department had issued a ‘Level 4: Do Not Travel’ advisory for U.S. citizens due to crime and kidnapping.”

In the rescue operation carried out by the Mexican authorities, Latavia “Tay” McGee, a mom of six, and Eric James Williams, with a gunshot wound to the left leg, had been discovered alive. Two different victims, who’ve been recognized as Shaeed Woodard and Zindell Brown, had been discovered lifeless in a home on the outskirts of Matamoros after being taken from the white Chrysler Pacifica minivan and held for 3 days, Tamaulipas Gov. Américo Villarreal mentioned. Mexican authorities detained a suspect, recognized as 24-year-old José Guadalupe N., who they mentioned was watching the home.

Two ambulances parked near a building

Ambulances carrying two Americans who survived an assault in Matamoros, Mexico, arrive on March 7, 2023 at Valley Regional Medical Center in Brownsville, Texas.

(Miguel Roberts / Brownsville Herald )

The kidnappings and deaths of U.S. residents have roiled the very best political circles of the 2 international locations. White House spokeswoman Karine Jean Pierre instantly expressed outrage in declaring that “these types of attacks are unacceptable,” however softened it by saying that “the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of State are coordinating with the Mexican authorities to bring those responsible to justice.”

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“President Biden’s position is increasingly difficult,” mentioned Armando Guzmán, Washington correspondent for quite a few Mexican publications. “The electoral process is just around the corner and the pressure from the most conservative sectors of the Republican Party is growing, accusing [the Biden administration] of not doing enough to contain the wave of deaths from fentanyl and other opioids,” which claimed almost 109,000 lives between February 2021 and February 2022, he mentioned.

The assertion by the U.S. ambassador to Mexico, Ken Salazar, was average, however left open the necessity for a bilateral method to combating the cartels, one thing that has been hampered by President Andrés Manuel López Obrador’s insurance policies limiting the presence and features of U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration brokers in Mexico.

A man in a suit and sunglasses stands next to a man in dark uniform

President Biden and a Customs and Border Protection agent stroll via a port of entry in El Paso in January 2023.

(Andrew Harnik / Associated Press)

On the Mexican facet, issues are not any higher. In a rustic the place 93 out of 100 homicides go unpunished, the velocity with which the our bodies had been situated and one alleged kidnapper was arrested generated all types of feedback on social and information media. Ciro Gómez Leyva mentioned on his widespread nationwide radio program that, “If the Mexican authorities put the effort they did to find the four Americans in Matamoros in all cases, how many fewer dead and missing would we have in the country?”

With an growing want to supply leads to his struggle in opposition to insecurity, and lots of questioning the effectiveness of his “Hugs, not Bullets” coverage, López Obrador rejected the concept what occurred in Matamoros is one more instance of drug-related violence that has claimed the lives of 137,603 folks as of December 2022.

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In his every day morning information convention, the president criticized what he termed the “exaggerated” media protection of the Matamoros case.

“All the media in the United States handle information in a sensationalist way; not so when Mexicans are murdered in the United States, they are silent like mummies,” López Obrador mentioned. “Of course we regret what is happening in our country and this event in particular, and we offer our sincere condolences.”

And he recalled the case of two Oaxacan day laborers who had been amongst seven migrant farmworkers shot to demise, allegedly by a colleague, in January at a mushroom farm in Half Moon Bay, about 30 miles south of San Francisco, “but nothing came out” within the U.S. press, López Obrador mentioned — though the truth is the case dominated U.S. headlines for days.

A man with gray hair, in a dark suit, looks out from a lectern

Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador’s “Hugs, not Bullets” coverage has come underneath criticism after the lethal kidnapping of 4 U.S. residents in Matamoros.

(Moises Castillo / Associated Press)

The Mexican president implied that U.S. authorities ought to focus extra on Americans’ demand for medication than on the Mexican cartel suppliers. “Are there no networks [in the U.S.]? Aren’t there cartels? Who sells the drug? That is a matter for the U.S authorities to resolve.”

He mentioned that President Biden has reiterated that there shall be respect for Mexico’s sovereignty. “That is something that is appreciated, but we are not going to allow interventionism,” he mentioned in a transparent message to Republican officers demanding that the Mexican cartels be categorized as terrorist organizations, which may permit for intervention by U.S. armed forces.

Adán Augusto López Hernández, Mexico’s inside secretary, mentioned that the assault on the Americans in Matamoros is regrettable, “but it does not have to fracture friendly, commercial, economic relations with the United States.”

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The official, thought-about one in all López Obrador’s most loyal allies, pushed again in opposition to the president’s critics.

“Territories that were previously in the hands of organized crime are being recovered,” López Hernández mentioned. “There is a reduction in crime rates, kidnapping has a reduction of more or less 68%.”

Such assurances haven’t quelled U.S. criticism. Speaking to Fox News’ Jesse Watters on Monday, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) urged the United States to “get tough” on Mexico after the kidnapping, and endorsed former Atty. Gen. William Barr’s current suggestion to designate drug cartels as terrorist organizations.

“I would take Bill Barr’s advice and get tough on Mexico,” Graham mentioned. “It’s not just about the hostages…. I would do everything possible to get them back. I would do what Trump did. I would give Mexico a warning.”

“If you continue to give safe haven to fentanyl drug traffickers, then you are an enemy of the United States,” Graham mentioned. “I am going to introduce legislation to make certain Mexican drug cartels foreign terrorist organizations under U.S. law and set the stage for using military force if necessary to protect the United States from being poisoned by things coming out of Mexico.”

For his half, Barr this week described López Obrador as “the chief facilitator of the cartels” in an opinion column within the Wall Street Journal.

“These narco-terrorist groups are more like ISIS than like the American mafia,” Barr wrote, referring to the militant group Islamic State. “Case-by-case prosecution of individuals can be a part of an overall effort, but the only way to defeat them is to use every tool at our disposal inside Mexico. Merely designating the cartels as terrorist groups will do nothing by itself. The real question is whether we are willing to go after them as we would a terrorist group.”

Rep. Dan Crenshaw, a Texas Republican who launched an initiative in January that might permit the U.S. army to take motion in opposition to Mexican legal organizations, tweeted, “It is time to authorize military force against them,” and referred to as on López Obrador to help the initiative to categorise the cartels as terrorist organizations.

“Are you listening, López Obrador? We would love for you to be a partner. Help us help you,” Crenshaw mentioned.

This is just not the primary time that the problem of classifying drug cartels as terrorist teams has come up. It surfaced in June 2008, when a cell of the Zetas cartel detonated a automotive bomb in Nuevo Laredo, throughout the border from Laredo, Texas. In January, after a gaggle of inmates escaped from the jail in Ciudad Juarez, Chihuahua, throughout from El Paso, some U.S. legislators referred to as for labeling drug traffickers as terrorists.

“With electoral times already upon us in the United States, it is very likely that the Mexico issue will return again and again to the headlines of the media, after politicians in the United States use it as a recurring theme to win votes” mentioned Guzmán, the journalist. “Former President Trump showed that the issue is very profitable politically.”