Donald Trump’s national security adviser H.R. McMaster has claimed there are early signs of Russian interference in Mexico’s upcoming presidential election, the Hill reports.
During his keynote address for the Jamestown Foundation, McMaster painted Mexico as yet another victim of Russia’s alleged practice of hacking of election systems.
“You’ve seen actually initial signs of it in the Mexican presidential campaign already,” McMaster said in previously unreported remarks made during the Dec. 15 address. The comments, which came in response to questions about Mexico’s growing relationship with Russia and China, were first highlighted last weekend by Mexico’s Reforma newspaper.
At the end of last year, the Military Times predicted that the internal turmoil in Mexico would be one of the top ten conflicts to watch in 2018. Last year, the International Institute for Strategic Studies’ (IISS) annual Armed Conflict Survey declared that Mexico was home to one of the deadliest conflicts on the planet, second only to Syria. The Denver Post, among others, completely refuted the damning conclusion based on the fact that significant parts of the country saw little violence and enjoyed abundant tourism. However, whether or not the study’s declaration is true, it arrived at its finding based on the fact that Felipe Calderon’s declaration of war on organized crime approximately a decade ago has led to the deaths of an estimated 200,000 people and left more than 30,000 missing. A 2016 survey found armed violence in Mexico had killed around 34,000 people, far more than were killed in Afghanistan and other hot spots throughout the Middle East over the same period.
Unsurprisingly, the U.S. government has a small train-and-equip program with Mexican security forces to help combat transnational crime, according to the Military Times. There are currently at least 61 troops in Mexico, and the U.S. government has provided major military equipment to the Mexican military.
“Our personnel who provide training do not have advisory authority and do not conduct operations within Mexico,” said Army Lt. Col. Jamie Alan Davis, a Pentagon spokesman, according to the Military Times. “The size and composition of U.S. training teams in Mexico vary historically. The average size for a training team is between five and eight personnel per event.”
The Obama administration was knowingly arming Mexican drug cartels between 2009 and 2011 in what was known as Operation Fast and Furious. The strategy led to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) losing control of well over 2,000 weapons, which eventually led to the death of a U.S. Border Patrol Agent, Brian Terry, near the Mexican border. Forbes seemed to suggest the tactic was employed so that certain gangs could “thin out” the ranks of rival gangs – in other words, the U.S. was directly contributing to the violence plaguing Mexico.
According to Foreign Policy, there may be other reasons why we should have been paying attention to this conflict over the past year. Foreign Policy wrote:
“A high level of tension between the United States and Mexico might seem inevitable after Trump’s campaign pledges to build a border wall, deport millions of undocumented immigrants, and terminate the North American Free Trade Agreement. He also famously characterized Mexican immigrants as drug dealers, criminals, and rapists and drew on support from white nationalist groups. In an early effort to avoid future confrontation, Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto invited candidate Trump to visit the country in September — a move that initially backfired with a Mexican public already angry about high crime, corruption, and a weak economy.”
The timing of McMaster’s claim about Russian-Mexican election interference is suspicious to say the least. After non-stop claims that Russia had hacked the French elections in 2017, the head of the French government’s cybersecurity agency said they found no trace of a notorious Russian hacking group behind the attack. Apparently, the campaign hack targeting the successful candidate, Emmanuel Macron, was “so generic and simple that it could have been practically anyone.”
Though there is some evidence to suggest Russia engages in hacking, it still is not too much of a stretch to assume that by raising alarm about Russian interference at such an early stage — and that if and when a candidate takes office in Mexico that is not suitable to U.S. foreign policy interests — the seeds of doubt and discredit have already been cast far and wide, successfully eroding the legitimacy of Mexico’s future leadership.
What is really at issue, however, is the fact that much like the rest of the world, in the age of Donald Trump, Mexico is forming partnerships with rising powers Russia and China to the detriment of Washington. Last year, Alexander Denisov, the head of the marketing department of Russia’s arms exporter Rosoboronexport, reportedly told Russia’s state-owned Sputnik that Mexico plans to buy a new batch of Russia’s MI-17 military transport helicopters in the near future.
Russia’s growing footprint in Latin America is already of deep concern to American officials, and Russia is intensifying its economic ties with Mexico, which is far much closer to home than South America beneath it. In September of last year, Russia and Mexico agreed in a meeting in China to boost economic ties, which they believe are yet to reach their true potential. According to Russian President Vladimir Putin, trade between the two nations had increased by 38 percent in the first half of 2017 alone. The presidents of the two nations met at the BRICS summit, where Mexico was a guest country. This in itself is bad news for the United States, which cannot afford to see the rising coalition of the BRICS nations being bolstered by a defiant state directly on its border.
In 2009, 11,603 Russians visited Mexico. By 2012, this number had increased to 77,034.
Mexico and China have also vowed to strengthen military cooperation and elevate mutual ties.
In other words, the U.S. might end up getting a taste of its own medicine when Russian and Chinese military hardware and personnel end up on America’s border. Though this idea is rarely acknowledged, in the eyes of the elite, a “prosperous Mexico is critical U.S. foreign policy,” as Salon aptly described the conundrum.
Without getting too ahead of ourselves, it seems safe to predict that at some point in the very near future, we might begin hearing calls for the U.S. to “intervene” in Mexico (even more so than they already have for decades) and/or calls for sanctions if a candidate the U.S. doesn’t approve of takes office, which will most likely only further push the Mesoamerican country into the open arms of China and Russia instead.