The Lawless Roads was the dyspeptic travelogue that English author Graham Greene wrote in the 1930s of his journey to Mexico – a “cursed nation full of hate and death.” At that time, the violence was launched by a rabidly socialist, anti-Catholic government, that pursued violent purges against the clergy and the faithful.
Today’s roads are lawless thanks to narcotraffickers who wield power across large swathes of the country. They share their power with a terminally inept populist government wielding a flawed public security policy that consists of inviting murderous criminals to abandon their weapons, “or we will denounce you with your mothers.”
The latest horrifying violence occurred at the beginning of the week when a caravan of three vehicles was attacked while traversing the lawless roads in the Sierra Madre, not far from Arizona. Nine women and children from a nearby Mormon community were shot to death, their vehicles doused with gasoline and burnt to eliminate all evidence. Authorities didn’t arrive at the scene until 12 hours after the horror unfolded.
This despicable crime is a game-changer. Large communities of Mormons who live in that part of Mexico have dual US-Mexican citizenship and the incident ignited a strong reaction in the US. President Donald Trump said that if the Mexican authorities couldn’t deal with the criminal organizations, US armed forces would. Trump added that he was just waiting for a call for help.
Hapless Mexican president Lopez Obrador declined the invitation with the excuse of preserving “national sovereignty,” a ridiculous claim coming from someone who has bent over backward to fulfill every whim of President Trump. One such incident was when Trump threatened to impose export tariffs on Mexico if it didn’t curb the flow of immigrants into the US. President Lopez immediately reversed his open arms policy towards non-Mexican immigrants and ordered a full third of Mexico’s National Guard to keep them away instead of defending its citizens, including the Mormons in the northwest.
The Republican senator of Nebraska, Ben Sasse – echoing an Asia Times article titled How Mexico became a failed state – declared that Mexico was becoming a failed state in which the US would have to intervene to preserve the life and property of its citizens. A Wall Street Journal editorial (paywall) said Lopez Obrador “called the war on drugs a failure and vowed to ‘begin a peace process with organized crime organizations and adopt models of transitional justice that guarantee the rights of victims,’ leftist mumbo-jumbo for surrender, and the cartels have taken the message and gone on the offensive.” Sadly, all true.
It’s critical to remember that throughout his 30-year career as a social activist – when he systematically broke the law – Lopez Obrador always lambasted the armed forces as “repressors” of the people. Since he took power, he realized he had no choice but to rely on the military to deal with the explosive security situation. The big question was how would they do their job? It turned out that they were instructed to neutralize conflicts and mayhem unarmed. It was an absurd situation that led to well-documented instances of military personnel being humiliated, insulted or maimed without the ability to defend themselves. Unsuprisingly, the situation led to an unusual level of unrest in the armed forces.
Two high-ranking generals expressed misgivings about Lopez Obrador’s leadership, which led him to denounce conspiracies against him by “neoliberal conservatives,” his label for what he calls “his adversaries,” or everyone who believes in market-based solutions and not centralized planning.
It is worth remembering that Mexico, unlike its more volatile neighbors to the south, has not had a single attempted coup since the revolution of 1910-21. Talk of coup fantasies follows the behavior of recent left-leaning autocrats in Latin America – from Hugo Chavez in Venezuela to Evo Morales in Bolivia – in order to strengthen their base and build alternative armed support besides the army.
The fact is that the growing nation-wide violence and a government that has no idea how to solve the problem, means Mexicans are increasingly willing to test any alternatives to the current situation – be it from abroad or from their highly respected and popular armed forces.
The lawless roads of Mexico must be banished for good!
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Manuel Suárez-Mier is an economist and former central bank official, economic diplomat, professor at Georgetown and American universities. Consultant residing in Washington DC. firstname.lastname@example.org