(National Sentinel) This content originally appeared in the 10 August Flashpoint Intelligence Review, which is available for free weekly to subscribers. Click here to subscribe and get access to the full report released earlier today.

U.S. airlines cut flights to Mexican resort areas due to rising cartel violence

U.S.-based airlines are beginning to cut services and flights to a growing number of Mexican destinations – mostly vacation destinations for Americans – because of rising cartel violence and rising fears among passengers. Some of Mexico’s most sought-after destinations including Cancun and Playa del Carmen are being caught up in cartel-related murders and violence, and it’s beginning to have a negative cumulative effect on airline ticket sales. As such, carriers are reducing flights to those locations. In May, 50 people were murdered in Cancun alone, marking around 200 deaths for the year. In April two cartel gunmen sped towards a beach area there and opened fire. At Playa del Carmen, a drug cartel claimed responsibility for an explosion aboard a passenger ferry that left 25 people injured including seven Americans. United, America, Spirit, and Delta have all reported reducing routes to Mexican pleasure destinations citing a drop-off in demand for seats. [source]

Analyst comment: One of Mexico’s principal sources of revenue is tourism, so obviously this will hurt GDP and the national economy. But it’s also another indicator of the monumental task facing President-elect Andrés Manuel López Obrador, better known as AMLO, in his pledge to curtail the power of the cartels. He has floated the idea of deescalating (that is, demilitarizing) the war on drugs as well as offering amnesty for drug cartel members, the latter of which has drawn some stiff condemnation. “Hugs, not gunfire,” was a campaign slogan of his. “You can’t fight fire with fire,” he said repeatedly during his campaign. Frankly, I don’t give AMLO’s policies much chance for success. The cartels don’t want amnesty or forgiveness, they want to make money and that primarily revolves around exporting drugs and human beings to the U.S. Warring with them has ramped up Mexico’s homicide rate and overall levels of violence, but coddling them isn’t likely to be successful, either. And as long as cartel violence is eating into Mexico’s tourism revenue, AMLO may have no choice but to follow in the footsteps of his predecessors and keep the heat on the cartels.

Mexico named ‘hot spot’ to watch in 2018

A new analysis of potential “hot spots” – conflict zones – to watch this year and into the near future includes Mexico. Along with the Philippines, Egypt, and Georgia (former Soviet republic), the analysis also ranks Mexico high because it is “home to one of the deadliest conflicts on the planet” – gang-related violence and narco-terrorism, putting it “just behind Syria” according to an assessment by the International Institute for Strategic Studies’ yearly Armed Conflict Survey. The U.S. government had previously established a small program to train and equip Mexican state security forces in their attempts to curb transnational crime. According to Army Lt. Col. Jamie Alan Davis, a spokesman for the Defense Department, American military personnel inside Mexico don’t have “advisory authority and do not conduct operations” within the country. The U.S. government also helps equip the Mexican military through the Foreign Military Sales process – equipment purchased with Mexican funds, not American subsidies. [source]

Analyst comment: Mexico was also highlighted in the 2017 Armed Conflict Survey, with 2,5000 conflict-related deaths behind Syria with 50,000. What is noteworthy and alarming about Mexico’s mention in the 2017 and 2018 surveys is that they come from a steadily rising death toll attributed mostly to increasing violence from the narcotics and human trafficking cartels. The ‘war’ Mexico has been waging against the narco-cartels has also contributed to the death toll and without any appreciable progress/results. AMLO has his hands full because it’s clear that the Mexican military, based on its decade-old war with the cartels, is not up to the task of eliminating them. Corruption likely has much to do with that, but also tactics and cartel members’ ability to fade into the population, striking at a time and place of their choosing. It’s typical insurgency warfare and that’s one of the hardest forms to combat.

**This content originally appeared in the 10 August Flashpoint Intelligence Review, which is available for free weekly to subscribers. Click here to subscribe and get access to the full report released earlier today.

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