- French Pres. Macron reportedly blocked the UK’s request for a three-month delay to Brexit, in hopes that a shorter, one-month deadline would push the House of Commons into backing PM Johnson’s plan without the excessive dilly-dallying that has characterized Brexit negotiations to date.
- Other EU leaders are said to be amenable to a three-month delay—but mostly because they don’t want to be seen to be interfering with UK politics. As a result of the debate, the EU might not approve any delay at all until the eleventh hour.
- Lebanon’s protests entered their 10th day, and seem to be getting worse, with demonstrators blocking roads and chanting for the resignation of the entire cabinet.
- Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah delivered a televised address yesterday, in which he warned protesters against pushing for the Lebanese government to resign, because (he thinks) its resignation would create a power vacuum that would lead to “chaos” and—“God forbid”—civil war.
- The WSJ printed a great piece on how Mexico’s persistent gang violence is making the U.S. doubt its ability to keep order, and straining the relationship. Article pasted below.
- USTR Lighthizer’s office said the U.S. and China are close to finalizing the first phase of a trade deal, so we should hear more soon.
- Protests in Baghdad got rowdy and violent again, after a three-week hiatus, and 23 protesters were killed yesterday.
- Kanye finally dropped his delayed new album, Jesus is King, after “fixing mixes” through the night on Thursday. Musical reviews aren’t exactly mixed—they’re overwhelmingly negative—but some critics are praising Kanye for things like “a Madonna-like capacity for reinvention” (Variety), even if they’re a little confused by the new album’s lyrics.
- UAW GM workers narrowly ratified an agreement that ended their strike, and workers are set to return to the plants next week. GM will even ask employees—starting with the most senior ones—to volunteer for weekend shifts producing profitable, in-demand GMC pick-up trucks to make up for lost time during the shutdown. The deal they agreed on entailed wage rises, an $11k bonus, and a faster way for temporary employees to get full-time jobs.
- A Russian military conscript with possible mental health problems turned his gun on fellow soldiers, killing two officers and six fellow soldiers at a base near the far-eastern city of Chita.
Mexico’s Failure to Stem Violence Strains Relationship With U.S. (WSJ)
Hundreds of cartel gunmen terrorized the city of Culiacán last week until authorities freed the son of drug lord ‘El Chapo’
Last week, hundreds of gunmen from the Sinaloa cartel overpowered military forces in fighting that killed at least a dozen people, blocked the airport and major roads, and terrorized the city of Culiacán for hours until the Mexican government capitulated and freed the son of legendary drug lord Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzmán.
The stunning display of violence shows that drug cartels here are as strong as ever nearly 15 years after the Mexican government set about to challenge them head on, often with U.S. assistance. The government has arrested or killed many cartel leaders, weakening many crime groups and fragmenting others.
But the cost has been high. Since 2006, more than 250,000 people have been killed, according to Mexican government figures, most in the bitter internecine war between cartels for control of drug routes and territory. At least 40,000 more have been disappeared, many buried in clandestine graves, some dissolved in acid. From 2007 to 2019 the homicide rate has roughly tripled to 29 per 100,000 people.
Worse, last week’s events could further embolden the gangs to respond to threats by security forces with widespread violence and terror, cow Mexico’s stunned security forces and strain vital intelligence cooperation with the U.S., according to analysts, former and current U.S. officials and former Mexican security officials.
“That’s an absolute destruction of the rule of law and it’s going to get worse,” said Derek Maltz, the former chief of special operations at the Drug Enforcement Administration. “We’ve given the cartels a blueprint on what they need to do to stay out of jail.”
Mexican and U.S. analysts as well as U.S. officials believe the events in Culiacán underscore Mexico’s broader failure to come up with a viable strategy to face the country’s powerful gangs.
Analysts say Mexico has never paid enough attention to what would be a long-term fix to its security problem: building professional police forces, especially at state and local levels. Instead, Mexico has relied on short-term solutions, leaning on the nation’s armed forces to provide security rather than creating dependable police able to investigate and arrest criminals, and a transparent and efficient judicial system able to convict them.
So far, President Andrés Manuel López Obrador has continued that tradition. He is disbanding the Federal Police, an attempt by the last two administrations to make a modern national police force. His main response to Mexico’s security problem has been the creation of a 60,000-strong National Guard, a militarized force commanded by a retired general that is largely made up of military and naval police, as well as some former federal police officials.
Complicating matters, Mr. López Obrador has made clear his government doesn’t plan to go after the cartels, focusing instead on attacking Mexico’s inequality and poverty, which he says feeds the violence. He called his new policy “abrazos, no balazos,” or hugs, not bullets.
In the storm of criticism following the violence in Culiacán, the nationalist leader has stood by the policy. “You can’t put out fire with fire,” he told a press conference.
One probable result of last week’s violence: The flow of intelligence information provided by the U.S. to their counterparts in Mexico’s intelligence and security services is likely to be curtailed, said Guillermo Valdes, a former director of Mexico’s intelligence service.
“The U.S. will feel there is no trustworthy or competent counterpart in Mexico that they can work with,” said Mr. Valdes. “Worse, they will feel ‘why should I provide any intel if you will make a mess of it when you act.”
A senior State Department official said the U.S. has been helping Mexico fight cartels in multiple areas: reforming the police, the justice sector, interdictions and disrupting money flows.
“We’ve been helping Mexico on all those fronts,” the official said.
Earlier this month, a high-ranking mission of U.S. officials from the State Department, the Pentagon and the Drug Enforcement Administration traveled to Mexico to urge the government to intensify joint efforts against drug smuggling and organized crime.
“I think what is of greatest importance at this moment is Mexico develop and share with us a comprehensive strategy to confront transnational organized crime,” said Richard Glenn, the deputy assistant secretary at the State Department’s counternarcotics and law enforcement bureau, in testimony to Congress on Wednesday. Without that, he warned, “we won’t see progress” on the fight against cartels.
Since 2007, the U.S. has provided nearly $2 billion to Mexico to help fight organized crime under the so-called Merida Initiative. The money has been spent on everything from military hardware to capacity building for Mexico’s legal system.
Rep. Albio Sires (D., N.J.), chairman of the Western Hemisphere Affairs subcommittee, chastised the State Department for failing to show results.
“It’s been 10 years that we’ve been giving money through this initiative and we still don’t have a plan…is that what you’re telling me?” Mr. Sires said.
Mr. Glenn, the State Department official, responded that Mexico lacks the political will to implement a successful anticrime strategy.
Asked about Mr. Glenn’s comments on Thursday, the Mexican president acknowledged there is a need for cooperation on security issues, but said it wasn’t the place of U.S. officials to criticize Mexican policy. “Officials from other countries should not opine about domestic affairs that only correspond to our government. It’s in poor taste.”
After the violence in Culiacán, President Trump talked by telephone with Mr. López Obrador and expressed his solidarity with Mexico. The U.S. ambassador met twice with Mexico’s foreign and security ministers. In a mildly worded statement, both countries said they would work to limit arms traffic to Mexico from the U.S., which analysts say feeds the violence.
But few security experts expect the meetings to produce much in the way of a solution, partly because the Trump administration is distracted by other issues, such as the Middle East conflict. High turnover in key U.S. federal agencies make it difficult to focus on Mexico’s security. Mr. Trump last month named Robert C. O’Brien as the fourth national security adviser in three years.
When it comes to Mexico, the administration has been mostly focused on stopping migrants to the U.S. from Mexico and Central America.
While Mr. Trump has railed against Mexico’s drug lords, it has mostly been in the context of building a wall to keep the “bad hombres” south of the border. He has shown less interest in helping to build up Mexico’s frail institutions to dampen violence and shore up governability, says Michael Shifter, president of the Inter-American Dialogue in Washington, a non-partisan think tank.
“Trump will try to conflate this with migration,” he said. “He will say: they are all criminals in Mexico, and that’s why we have to build a bigger wall.” The White House didn’t respond to requests for comment.
The senior State Department official said there was no connection between U.S. policies on migration and Mexican cartels.
“I don’t think there’s been any trade-off between that and migration; it’s different forces involved,” the official said.
Mr. Trump signed an executive order in 2017 that ordered U.S. federal agencies to prioritize fighting Mexican cartels and improve information sharing, but his administration has been slow to implement it. In an August memo to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Mr. Trump singled out Mexico as a country that “needed to do more” to stop the flow of drugs into the U.S. and said he would be closely evaluating its efforts over the coming year.
Reps. Chip Roy (R., Texas) and Mark Green (R., Tenn.) wrote in February to the State Department to ask for the top cartels in Mexico to be designated as foreign terrorist organizations. Mr. Pompeo responded that current legislation was viewed as sufficient, according to a copy of the letter reviewed by the Journal.