Last Friday, four American citizens were taken at gunpoint after crossing into Matamoros, one of Mexico’s most unsafe cities,
When news of the kidnapping broke last Friday, it caused a stir in the United States. Major networks gave prominence to the story as images of the terrifying event emerged. The FBI was swift to respond, offering a $50,000 reward for any information that could lead to the return of the four American citizens. In addition, the White House conveyed its commitment to hold those responsible accountable.
Under mounting U.S. pressure, Mexico reacted swiftly and effectively to solve the crime.
It took Mexican authorities a day to locate the kidnapped Americans in a safe house in Matamoros. Tragically, two of the individuals were killed. Outrage from the United States had remarkable outcomes; an apology from one of its major cartels -the Gulf Cartel, also known as CDG- emerged. The cartel even left five of their people bound up and holding a note asking for pardon related to this regrettable event. The note expressed commitment to abstaining from such mistakes caused by a lack of discipline and asked society to remain calm.
The Matamoros incident has, once again, highlighted the powerlessness experienced by many in Mexico.
Recent kidnappings in Tamaulipas are not an anomaly; violence is pervasive in many areas of Mexico. Unsurprisingly, the State Department has labelled only 2 of the 32 states as safe to visit. Criminals act with relative impunity, leaving 94% of all crimes unresolved. In Matamoros, where more than 100,000 disappearances are recorded and remain unsolved, “absolute impunity” has been noted by the United Nations Committee on Enforced Disappearances. Effective intervention from the government seems elusive for Mexican families who have lost a loved one.
On the other hand, some U.S. leaders have suggested extreme measures such as officially recognising cartels as terrorist groups – an action that would trigger armed interventions inside Mexico’s borders.
Designating cartels as terrorist organisations would not provide any new powers to the government, according to White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre. This action could prove detrimental by damaging the trust between Mexico and the U.S. Therefore, entertaining this notion would be ill-advised.
More moderate opinions argue that the Biden administration should use this opportunity to support the strengthening of Mexican institutions. Taking a more proactive stance on Mexico’s democracy and the rule of law will be beneficial – it could even help reduce the influence of organised crime. That influence has been continually increasing, resulting in a lack of basic safety for many Mexicans, which was made starkly evident by the violence displayed during Matamoros’ attack.
But nevertheless, this crisis also serves as a reminder of the real source of strength for the cartels: the insatiable demand for drugs in the U.S. and its continual provision of military-grade armaments to Mexican criminal gangs.