Mexico’s military is expanding its role

Mexico’s military is expanding its role

Plus: A Colombian mayor signs a bilateral agreement with a fake country, Donald Trump announces he’ll be running for reelection in 2024, and Iranian drones are full of Western components

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Today’s briefing is a ~5.3 min read:

  • 🎖️Mexico’s military is expanding into civil society.
  • ➕ Plus: A Colombian mayor signs an agreement with a fake country, Donald Trump is running for reelection in 2024, and Iranian drones are full of Western components.

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The blurred lines between Mexico’s military and civilian leadership

In brief:

  • Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador won power in 2018 by campaigning to loosen the Mexican military’s grip on civil society.
  • Four years later, the president is handing over responsibility for infrastructure projects to the Mexican armed forces, but the military’s expanded role comes with some risks.

The Mexican military is stepping up its role in civil society.

Switching to military time

In 2014, Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador (aka AMLO) campaigned for the presidency on a “hugs, not bullets” platform, promising to scale back the use of military personnel to confront Mexico’s domestic problems.

These days, AMLO has very much reconsidered his position: “I changed my mind once I saw the [security] problem they had left me with”.

Now it’s bullets, not hugs

One look at Netflix’s homepage might hint at Mexico’s persistently high rates of gang violence.

  • A truly staggering 360,000 people have died since the government declared war on organised crime in 2006.

But the government’s efforts to control organised crime have failed. Mexico’s homicide rate has increased sharply, and the public has lost faith in the institutions tasked with keeping them safe.

As a result, recent administrations have come to rely on the military to deal with domestic law enforcement. But AMLO has gone even further than his predecessors:

  1. He’s handed over control of the ​​15,000-member National Guard to the military.
  2. He’s put the army in charge of building an airport, an oil refinery, and a major tourist train line that will be owned and operated by the military.
  3. And he’s considering creating a military-operated commercial airline to increase connectivity in the country (45 city pairs within Mexico lost their direct flights between 2019 and 2022).

Three big risks

Critics worry about the Mexican armed forces’ expansion into civil society:

🗳️ Risk 1: Military x politics

Militaries and civilian governments often don’t mix well. For example, a major hack last month unveiled documents suggesting that the military had launched investigations into current and former government officials.

“[There is a] significant risk that the military will assume an unofficial and informal tutelary role that might constrain elected officials from carrying out popular mandates.

Cecilia Farfan-Mendez, Kathleen Bruhn, Tesalia Rizzo, Americas Quarterly

💰 Risk 2: Military x the economy 

Once the military becomes involved in the broader economy, policymakers struggle to claw back power or properly supervise its operations. Journalist Kelly Arthur Garrett explains:

“The Mexican tourist industry is a cash cow. The military can get in on the action, investing only public funds for a lucrative source of income far into the future. One more step toward autonomy.”

➡️ Risk 3: Military x human rights 

The Mexican military has long evaded civilian oversight and accountability, which has created ripe conditions for committing human rights abuses with impunity.

The bottom line: Despite these apparent risks, according to a comprehensive poll conducted last year, many Mexicans still have a favourable opinion of the armed forces. That will be welcome news for AMLO, given his reliance on the military to tackle Mexico’s crime problem.


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The Americas

 🇨🇦 Canada

On Monday, Canadian police charged a public utility company employee with spying on behalf of China.

  • The man was accused of using his position at Hydro-Quebec to publish research and submit patents in association with a Chinese university.

 🇨🇴 Colombia

The mayor of Manizales, a city in Colombia’s mountainous coffee-growing region, was ridiculed after signing a cooperation agreement with Liberland, an unrecognised and uninhabited micro-nation on the Croatia-Serbia border.

  • The agreement offered Manizales residents 5,000 spots to enrol in online English courses.

 🇸🇻 El Salvador

China offered to buy El Salvador’s $21B in foreign debt as part of a new free trade agreement between the two countries.

  • El Salvador has found itself in an awkward financial situation ever since the price of Bitcoin, now legal tender in the country, fell by more than half.

🌎 Regional

A group of former Latin American heads of state is calling for the revival of the Union of South American Nations (Unasur), an organisation that aimed to promote regional integration.

  • The group argues that responding to fragmentations in international politics requires greater coordination between Latin American leaders.

🇺🇸 The US

As anticipated, former US President Donald Trump announced Tuesday that he will run for president in 2024.

  • Hooo boy, here we go again.

Iranian drones, proudly 3/4 made in the USA (and EU)

A Ukrainian soldier inspects the remnants of a Shahed-136 in Kharkiv. Source: Reuters/Vyacheslav Madiyevskyy.

The news: A Wall Street Journal exclusive published yesterday revealed that Iran is supplying Russia with drones made primarily from US and European parts.

  • Ukrainian officials linked three-quarters of Iranian-assembled drone components to US companies and additional parts to firms in Japan, Germany, China, and Israel.

Russia has Iranian drones? US intelligence officials believe Russia acquired 1,000 Iranian drones at the end of August, despite Iranian claims that they only “provided Russia a small number of drones months before the Ukraine war.”

  • Russia has used the Mohajer-6, which can carry up to four precision-guided missiles, and waves of the “kamikaze” Shahed-136 to overwhelm Ukrainian air defences.

The revelations demonstrate Iran’s ability to evade Western sanctions, many of which were designed to degrade the Islamic Republic’s military capability.

  • Experts believe intermediary companies outside Iran purchase and transfer the component parts to Iran.
  • The US Treasury sanctioned several suspected firms on Tuesday, but these transfers are difficult to stop.

Iran’s highly-advanced drone program has become a central pillar of its military strategy.

These attacks give Iran credibility among other “rogue regimes and sanctioned states”, according to the Carnegie Endowment’s Steven Feldstein:

“Iran’s armaments have accrued valuable attention and potential future clients […] Its linkage to the Russian campaign provides an important legitimizing effect and may help move Tehran’s weapons industry toward a more prominent role as a major arms exporter.” 


The simplification of football (soccer?)

@culturaltutor via Twitter

Football clubs and their club logos move with the times. Some fans dismiss these changes as corporatisation that takes away from the spirit of the club, but is that really the case?

  • Arsenal and Tottenham Hotspur’s current streamlined crests are reminiscent of the early days of the clubs, putting the cannon and the cockerel front and center.
  • Bayern Munich has never shied away from a redesign, with nearly 20 redesigns since the year 1900 spanning from Art Nouveau to Art Deco to what some might consider corporate.

To check out some of the trends and histories of other clubs around the world, head to this comprehensive tweet thread from one of our favourite accounts, @culturaltutor.

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