The image bears a striking resemblance to a scene from Denis Villeneuve’s thriller Sicario. Two vans with tinted-glass windows cruise through the busy streets of a Mexican city, followed closely by a federal police pickup. Two armed officers in full combat gear stand in the cargo area, watching over the convoy.
The passengers inside the vans, however, are not undercover CIA operatives, but a group of Canadian students from the University of Toronto (UofT), on their way to a meeting at the Federal Police’ Tactical Operations Center in Iztapalapa, Mexico City’s most populous borough.
Last month, UofT sent ten criminology students to Mexico City to learn about the intricacies of Mexico’s organized crime conflict. Over ten days, the Canadian students met with Mexican academics, human rights activist, former directors of national intelligence, law enforcement agents, Canadian diplomats involved in bilateral security cooperation and other experts on Mexico’s organized crime challenges. Throughout the meetings, participants often brought up a straightforward question: Why should Canada care about the Mexican cartels?
The election of Donald Trump has produced an unexpected transformation in the structure of Canada’s relationship with Mexico. For the first time in 23 years, authorities in Ottawa and Mexico City cannot rely on the leadership of the U.S. to act as a bridge between the two countries and set the path for future cooperation.
Ever since the U.S. presidential election, Canadian authorities have worked to reassure stakeholders that Canada will not neglect its relationship with Mexico.However, if the current U.S. administration turns its back on its southern neighbour, Canada may be compelled to rethink its relationship with Mexico, including in the sphere of cooperation on security-related issues.
Canada has a vested interest in the political and economic stability of Mexico. According to the Canadian government international’s gateway, “Canada and Mexico are each other’s third largest trading partner, with two-way merchandise trade reaching over $37.8 billion in 2015. Canadian direct investment in Mexico reached over $14.8 billion in 2015, while Mexican direct investment in Canada totaled $1.4 billion.”
Several well-known Canadian firms such as Scotiabank, Bombardier and Blackberry have significant investments in Mexico. However, the stakes of these companies in Mexico pale in comparison to those of Canadian mining firms. According to Deloitte“of the total foreign mining businesses in Mexico, 73 per cent are Canadian, representing 44 per cent of Canada’s total investment in the country.”
These companies are particularly vulnerable to Mexican cartels which have metamorphosed from drug trafficking organizations into sophisticated protection rackets. Canadian firms’ extraction and transportation of minerals in Mexico often take place deep within rural cartel strongholds where crime syndicates tax businesses for the right to operate, often in complicity with local authorities.
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