AMLO Announces the Militarization of Ports and Customs to Stop Smuggling and Drug Trafficking

Latin America World

Yaqui for Borderland Beat from: El Pais / aoa
             [embedded content]
             Mexican President Lopez Obrador’s Friday July 17, 2020 Press Conference in Colima

AMLO has added this Friday a new task to the Armed Forces. The President of Mexico has announced that the Army and Navy will assume control and surveillance of ports and maritime and land customs to combat corruption, smuggling and drug trafficking. “We are going to clean the ports and customs in the country,” said the president. 
The measure has been announced in Colima, one of the most violent states in Mexico, and after several months in which the Government has detected an increase in the traffic from Asia of elements for the manufacture of fentanyl. This synthetic opiate is then shipped to the United States, a country that has suffered from a severe epidemic related to this drug.

The announcement was made at a press conference in Manzanillo, the main commercial port of the Mexican Pacific , as part of the tour he has made this week in the most insecure regions of the country.
The president’s message is also given a few hours after the arrival of Emilio Lozoya , extradited from Spain for crimes committed during his tenure at Petróleos Mexicanos, who has raised high expectations for a collaboration agreement that he has agreed with the Mexican Prosecutor’s Office and which promises reveal various acts of corruption during the government of Enrique Peña Nieto (2012-2018).

The presence of the Navy and the Army extends to customs and ports, in the absence of an official notification, where the commercial and security component are combined.
“This explains why the attacks, the murders, the violence in Colima,” stressed López Obrador.
Intensifying the military combat of maritime smuggling and drug trafficking is an issue that has been forged for months on the government’s agenda. 
“The route of entry for the fentanyl going to the US is basically Lázaro Cárdenas [Michoacán] and in Manzanillo,” said Santiago Nieto, head of the Financial Intelligence Unit of the Ministry of Finance, in an interview with this newspaper in May. “We have to see that fentanyl imports reach pharmaceutical companies because they are going through customs and then they send them to the cartels,” added Nieto, about the increase in the legal and illegal use of fentanyl in that country, used by doctors. to anesthetize patients and more and more users as a hard drug.
Horacio Duarte, customs officer and one of the men close to the president, said that his office will maintain fiscal tasks at sea and land crossings, which represented revenues to the country of more than $30,000 million dollars in 2018. 
López Obrador has said that several directors from the country’s 49 customs offices and facilities have been removed from their posts and have detailed that six are under investigation. It remains to be seen whether the strategy of militarizing the commercial sentry boxes will pay off, a plan that so far has not slowed the wave of violence in Mexico, after registering almost 35,000 murders last year., the highest number since registrations began in 1997. 
“From the Secretariat of the Navy of Mexico we endorse our commitment to guarantee the safety, protection of the seas and control of Mexican ports,” said the Secretary of the Navy, Rafael Ojeda.
The inclusion of the military in customs control is not new in Mexico, where it has been common for seafarers to fall into administrative positions. In 2009, for example, then-President Felipe Calderón purged more than 1,400 customs agents accused of corruption and the military dedicated themselves to supervising the transition and surveillance, while the replacements arrived. 
The crusade against corruption, however, is a new wink that deepens the country’s militarization, a process that has advanced during the López Obrador government. After canceling the new Texcoco air terminal, one of Peña Nieto’s star projects at the beginning of his Administration, the President entrusted the construction of the Santa Lucía airport, a former military base, to the Army.

In addition, the Executive ordered last year the creation of the National Guard, a new military corporation, which has assumed the bulk of public security tasks in the face of the crisis of violence that has been going through the country for more than a decade. National Guard assignments range from safeguarding hospitals during the coronavirus pandemic to containing irregular immigration from Central America.

After the suspicion of corruption in the works of the Texcoco airport, the Army has had a greater presence in public life and has advanced as an economic agent in charge of the construction of the works and flagship programs of this Government, such as Saint Lucia and the Sembrando Vida reforestation program.

Most shipments of the synthetic opioid fentanyl, and precursor chemicals used to make it, are believed to come from Asia through Pacific coast ports like Manzanillo or Lazaro Cardenas, to the south. Cartels use the same route to import chemicals used to make methamphetamines, often on an industrial scale.

In 2010, the Tax Administration Service, which was previously in charge of customs, seized a then-record 200 metric tons of meth precursors at the Manzanillo port.

It would not be the first time the Mexican government has turned to the armed forces to try to solve the thorny problem of corruption and cartel domination at seaports.

In 2013, the government put the Navy in charge of the Lazaro Cardenas seaport of the neighboring state of Michoacan after the Knights Templar drug cartel reached such astonishing levels of control that it was found to be operating bulk freight yards and participating in the iron ore trade at the port.

Mexico has also had a decades-long history of struggling with corrupt customs inspectors. In 1991, Mexico fired nearly all 3,000 of its customs inspectors without warning, replacing them with younger, better-educated personnel in an effort to combat corruption and improve efficiency.

It was unclear whether the tax administration service would remain in charge of customs services at airports. But in any case, many of the inspections at airports and land border crossings — where most illicit weapons are smuggled — are already carried out by the military.

According to official data, the Navy and the Army have the approval of eight out of ten Mexicans, and the creation of the National Guard has been well received by the state governments, which are often outnumbered in the fight against organized crime. But academics and civil organizations criticize the opacity of the Armed Forces in public tenders and warn of human rights violations and due process when the military take to the streets to deal with security tasks.

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