The failures of the Kingpin Strategy in Mexico (May 5, 2022)
The International Crisis Group (ICG) recently published a report addressing the failures of the “kingpin strategy” in the effort to combat Mexico’s illegal drug trade. The strategy, intended to remove those at the helm of cartels, has instead resulted in an increase in the number of armed groups, as lower-level leaders and other organizations seek to fill the power vacuum left by the capture of the drug lord(s).
Since 2008, Mexico and the US have cooperated on security issues aimed at tackling transnational organized crime (TOC) and drug trafficking through the Mérida Initiative. Begun under Mexico’s Calderón administration, the initiative largely failed to prevent drug-related violence, improve citizen security, and disrupt transnational criminal organizations. The election of Joe Biden prompted a new “Bicentennial Framework” between Mexico and the US which, in the words of Mexican Foreign Minister Marcelo Ebrard, signified that the two countries were “leaving the Mérida Initiative behind.” Though meant to be a new framework for security cooperation, the US’ announcement that it was targeting four of El Chapo’s son’s, known as “Los Chapitos,” for holding leadership positions within the Sinaloa Cartel, signaled a continuation of the ineffective “kingpin strategy.” The fragmentation of crime syndicates caused by the absence of drug lords has contributed to the increase in violence both within and among these organizations, shows the 2021 Justice in Mexico report published by the University of San Diego.
Leaders both in Mexico and the US have struggled to come up with alternative strategies for combating TOC. The ICG recommends increasing state and federal support for local intermediaries whose work focuses on establishing dialogue between non-state actors and criminal groups. They also suggest severing ties between state officials and criminal groups, an ever-present corruption that has increased the difficulties of holding these organizations accountable under the law. Finally, the ICG mentions the level of international cooperation needed to stave off violence; with many criminal groups receiving arms and ammunition from abroad - principally from the US and Europe - a coordinated effort to cut off these supplies could have an important impact on the ability of these organizations to carry out their activities.
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Jordi Amaral is a freelance researcher and writer currently working as a Research Analyst at Hxagon and as an independent consultant with the Latin America and the Caribbean Initiative at the Migration Policy Institute.
Arianna Kohan is a Research Analyst at Hxagon and a current M.A. student in International Relations at the Universidad Torcuato di Tella in Buenos Aires, Argentina. She previously worked as a Program Coordinator with the Americas Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS).