Since President Joe Biden took office, he has prioritized strengthening relations with Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador. Biden has called the Mexican leader a “friend and partner,” proclaimed his “great respect” for him and often touted their “strong and productive relationship.”
AMLO, as the Mexican president is commonly called, successfully campaigned on promises to pacify the country, end the drug war and offer amnesty for the swaths of the population in the illegal drug business. He encapsulated it all in the pithy slogan “abrazos no balazos”—”hugs not bullets.” A recent hack of the Mexican military, however, suggests the president’s partisans and others in the political class have shown more hugs for drug cartels.
The hack of sensitive Defense Secretariat data by self-described “hacktivist” group Guacamaya has put the Mexican government on the defensive, revealing emails, photos, videos, and military intelligence assessments raising alarm over alleged cooperation between prominent politicians and criminal groups. It also exposed the secrets of an opaque and hermetic institution, which has long resisted civilian oversight and has been accumulating power throughout AMLO’s administration.
The hackers exposed communications dating from 2016 to 2022, taking six terabytes of information from the Mexican Ministry of National Defense’s servers—data, documents, intelligence reports, photos, videos, texts, conversations, and more extremely sensitive information.
Most of the information, which started to be leaked September 29, was classified as confidential, and included knowledge about criminal figures, transcripts of communications and reports on soldiers and military operations. The leaks revealed possible ties of Mexican officials and candidates from AMLO’s Morena party with organized crime and drug trafficking organizations and produced charged accusations towards AMLO and his administration. The president held a press conference where he treated the leak as no big deal. He confirmed the authenticity of the leaked information, but insisted it revealed nothing important.
“There’s nothing that isn’t known or should not be known,” AMLO said, though his government marked the information classified for national security reasons.
For much of the past decade, AMLO was a fierce opponent of military involvement in Mexico’s “war on drugs,” but soon after taking office he quickly expanded the military’s role in the economy and policing.
In December 2018, the president created a national guard to take over public security in Mexico—then handed control of it to the army, despite promises it would remain under civilian control. He is now pushing to secure the militarization of public security in Mexico by extending the military’s law enforcement role to 2028.
Many have objected to the army’s function in civilian policing because of its long history of massacres and human rights abuses. A government truth commission in August officially concluded the military was involved in the mysterious disappearance of 43 students from a teachers’ college in Ayotzinapa, and used its power and connections to cover it up. An outside group of experts sponsored by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights said in September the military refused access to its archives, despite orders from AMLO to do so.
Nevertheless, AMLO put the military in charge of seaports, building and managing airports, infrastructure projects, COVID-19 logistics, customs inspections, and more. Critics believe this militarization has contributed to increased violence and a consistently high death toll, instead of a decline in violence. In the past 15 years, the number of soldiers on the streets has more than doubled. In the same time frame, homicides increased by 240 percent, according to Mexican news outlet Animal Político. Mexico’s armed forces are among the country’s least transparent institutions, but AMLO continues to insist his National Guard is “incorruptible,” one of his favorite words to use to defend the military’s growing influence.
The historic hack revealed the military’s own suspicions that current and former government officials, including state governors and the current interior minister, are linked to organized crime and Mexico’s powerful drug cartels.
Mexican drug trafficking organizations are the greatest criminal threat to the United States right now. But President Biden is completely oblivious to the dangers Americans face and is failing to do his job when it comes to securing the border and protecting the people he’s supposed to be defending.
We want the federal government to step up and protect Americans, and we want our neighbors, Mexico, to join our fight against organized crime. Until that happens, we must protect ourselves. As we argue in “Abrazos No Balazos? The Mexican State-Cartel Nexus,” Texas Public Policy Foundation’s recently published research paper, Texas must continue to lead the way, end the crisis at the border, and restore order and sovereignty.