Aug 16, 2022 - World

Mexico's deadly weekend raises fears of narcoterrorism

A man kneels next to a small memorial for murder victims in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico
A man in Ciudad Juárez , Mexico, prays in front of a building cartels set on fire. Photo: Hérika Martínez/AFP via Getty Images.

Cartel attacks on unarmed civilians in Mexico last week have raised fears of growing narcoterrorism, or the targeting of public places to instill fear and show control.

What happened: At least 10 people, including a 12-year-old caught in the crossfire, were killed during gun battles in Ciudad Juárez on Thursday, according to authorities. The majority were bystanders.

  • Cartel members in Jalisco, Guanajuato and Baja California set cars and shops ablaze.
  • The violence in Juárez started after a prison riot between rival cartel members. The others were attributed to the cartel Jalisco Nueva Generación as tries to put on shows of strength.

Why it matters: Although parts of Mexico have contended with cartel-driven violence for over a decade stemming from rivalries and confrontations with authorities, direct attacks on innocent civilians have been rare.

President Andrés Manuel López Obrador said yesterday his political “adversaries” are “exaggerating,” but over the weekend his government sent even more military to the states where the attacks took place and announced over 100 arrests nationwide.

  • López Obrador claims his security policy is “hugs, not bullets,” but he has maintained his predecessors' strategy, mobilizing more security forces and giving more powers to the National Guard.
  • Secretary of Defense Luis Cresencio Sandoval said during a different news conference yesterday that overall public safety policies are yielding results even if “the weakening of these groups has been little by little.”

Up to 95% of crimes go unpunished in Mexico, according to government data.

  • “Beyond the police response or any fast arrests, the more pointed response should be in exemplary judicial prosecutions,” World Justice Project public safety analyst Lilian Chapa Koloffon tells Axios Latino.
  • “Otherwise this just ends up in news of detentions that go nowhere, instead of in systematic accountability where criminal investigations can help dismantle these networks,” Chapa Koloffon said.
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