Thursday, May 5, 2022

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. 

News Briefs


  • Though killings of human rights defenders in Colombia declined in 2021 compared to the previous year, threats, disappearances, and sexual violence have increased, reports Reuters.

  • CNN reports the extradition of Colombian drug lord Dario Usuga “Otoniel” to the US. He is believed to be the boss of the “Clan del Golfo” cartel.

  • Following reports of a gang threat of killing Gustavo Petro, Colombia’s government has decided to provide the left-wing presidential candidate with additional security. (WHBL)

Central America

  • Hurricane Mitch, the 1998 natural disaster that decimated cities and killed thousands, hit Central America at a time of economic growth and regional cooperation efforts. The Hurricane dealt a severe blow to the region’s increasingly democratic tendencies, a blow from which countries are still recovering from, reports Americas Quarterly.


  • Dominican diplomat Carlos Guillén has returned “safe and sound” following his abduction by Haitian gang 400 Mawozo, reports BBC


  • Social inclusion—most notably in the form of investments in education, gender diversity, and digital connectivity—should be key priorities for the upcoming Summit of the Americas, writes Susan Segal at Americas Quarterly.

  • New polls show a tightening presidential race in Colombia, persistent support for AMLO despite disapproval of key issues, and sinking public opinion of Boric in Chile (Latin America Risk Report).


  • A spike in gang-related crime and murders in three western provinces in Ecuador prompted the government to declare a two month state of emergency. Following the declaration, crime hotspots were raided by soldiers and police officers. (OCCRP)

Costa Rica

  • Rodrigo Chaves is set to be sworn in as president on May 8, but is unlikely to have much of a honeymoon period. Despite Chaves’s populist campaign rhetoric, strong institutions are likely to preserve Costa Rica’s quality of democracy, while the incoming president’s agenda is unlikely to be fully implemented, writes Oliver Steunkel at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace


  • The New York Times explores criminal groups in the state of Michoacán, focusing on their exploitation of the avocado industry and the CJNG and Viagras cartels.

Regional Relations

  • “The United States is woefully underprepared” for the Summit of the Americas this June, writes Christopher Sabatini at Foreign Policy. He argues that a lack of ambassadors in the region and strategy to counter key issues highlight a waning US influence in Latin America. 


  • US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken hopes to secure a regional agreement on migration at the Summit of the Americas in June, reports Infobae.


  • Last year, CIA Director William Burns “told senior Brazilian officials that President Jair Bolsonaro should stop casting doubt on his country's voting system ahead of the October election,” says Reuters.

  • Human rights organization Conectas published a new report this week on public financing for “therapy communities,” which are centers for treating drug addictions. They found a lack of oversight and transparency for this industry.

  • Vanessa Barbara investigated far-right Telegram groups in Brazil for the New York Times, finding that “unregulated, extreme and unhinged, these groups serve to slander the president’s enemies and conduct a shadow propaganda operation.” 

  • Bloomberg reports that Brazilian inflation was over 12% a year in early April. The situation is so bad that workers in the country’s central bank have staged a walkout to demand higher wages. 


  • The shirt worn by Diego Maradona at the 1986 World Cup vs. England - the shirt in which he scored the “Hand of God” and the “Goal of the Century” - was auctioned off for $9.3 million, reports Bloomberg. It broke Babe Ruth’s existing record for the highest-ever price paid for a sports memorabilia item.

  • The Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC) has announced that Argentina will host the XV Regional Conference on Women in LAC, in coordination with UN Women. 

  • Danish manufacturer Vestas has announced it will supply turbines to onshore wind farms in Brazil and Argentina as both countries seek to grow their sources of renewable energy. (Wind Power Monthly)


  • The Maduro regime has implemented a 3% tax on purchases made with US dollars in an effort to revitalize the Bolivar, reports Bloomberg.

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). 

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