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Former Mexican policeman: 'You can’t give a drug trafficker a hug and not expect to receive a bullet in return'

It seems so obvious but apparently not to Mexico’s President Obrador whose soft-on-crime approach (literally “hugs not guns”) was thrown into stark relief again yesterday when Cartel del Noreste rolled into a small town in Mexico and started shooting up city hall. The state governor sent police in to respond to the attack and more than a dozen members of the cartel were killed in a shootout that lasted more than an hour. But locals worry that the message of appeasement coming from the federal government means the cartel is probably going to return.

Residents of the small town of Villa Union said Tuesday that they fear a return to the days of 2010-2013, when the old Zetas cartel killed, burned and abducted Coahuila citizens. This past weekend, the Cartel del Noreste — an offshoot of the Zetas — invaded Villa Union to try to reassert a claim to the turf…

“You can’t give a drug trafficker a hug and not expect to receive a bullet in return,” said a former policeman in Allende who would not give his name for fear of reprisals. “That is the only way to fight them off, to prevent them from returning to our towns and ruling them, is with bullets.”

The ex-policeman and his family had to flee Allende for a while in 2011 in the face of Zeta threats. He doesn’t want to have to flee again…

Sandra Zedillo, a municipal employee in Villa Union, said “it doesn’t look good. We are afraid they will return.” The atmosphere of dread was underscored by the funeral procession held Tuesday for a local firefighter who was abducted and killed by the gang.

“This hurts,” a rancher said. “The firefighter paid for something that he didn’t have any part in.”

Why would you stay and fight and risk facing a violent death at the hands of cartel members if you know the president won’t support your efforts? It’s fine for President Obrador to say hugs are the long term solution but the firefighters and bystanders who died last weekend in Villa Union aren’t going to get to see that long term play out. And there could be a lot more like them unless it becomes clear authorities are willing to fight back.

Meanwhile, President Trump has suggested (in an interview with Bill O’Reilly) that he might be open to labeling the cartels terrorists. The NY Times published an opinion piece today suggesting that move could have both upsides and downsides for Trump’s border policy:

Designating a cartel as a terrorist organization could be used to beef up legal cases against them, as it was used against cocaine-trafficking guerrillas and paramilitaries in Colombia. But it could also be used to justify a military strike in foreign territory, as it has in places like Sudan and Pakistan…

Refugees who flee Mexican cartel violence would also have their cases bolstered in American courts. It is difficult for Mexicans to win asylum, because they are not fleeing a military dictatorship or official war zone, and usually don’t come from a persecuted religious group. But a judge could look more favorably on cases of those who were running from designated terrorists.

Though it’s not mentioned in this piece, I wonder what impact this might have on the president’s “remain in Mexico” policy. Could migrants from other countries claim it is unsafe for them to be returned to a place that is rife with terrorist gangs?

We may have come closer than we think to being drawn into the bloodshed in Mexico. The Daily Mail reported that two of the trucks used in that attack on Villa Union were carjacked from Americans who were on a hunting trip:

Donald Chapman and Colby Williams were on a hunting trip near Villa Unión when they were carjacked by suspected members of the ‘Inferno Troop’ an armed wing of the Northeast Cartel, newspaper Zocalo reported…

Their 2019 Ford F-250 and a 2018 GMC Sierra were part of the fleet of vehicles that were then used in an attack on the Villa Unión city hall building.

Fortunately, they survived and have returned to America. Had they been murdered last weekend we might be having a different conversation about cartel violence this week.