Mexican Information Operations: Restoring National Dignity

by Antonios J. Bokas

Abstract: Information operations have played an important role in the nation since insurgent efforts in the early 1990s. Mexico began a stark decline after the start of the drug-war in 2006, in which the government violently countered criminal cartels with military force. Since then, Mexico has executed information operations of varying complexity. To examine current Mexican information operations, a historical account of such operations was created and compared with present time activity via an in-depth study using structured analytic techniques.


For more than a decade, Mexico has been in tumult because of criminal cartels that have corrupted Mexican society, its institutions, and its repute across the world. Corruption in parts of Mexico is so deep that rival police agencies who “turned on each other” have had shoot-outs, and authorities have disbanded entire police forces due to cartel infiltration (Cooper, 2018, p. 267). Certain cartels have prioritized the recruitment of “elite” ex-special forces soldiers from Mexico and Guatemala that enable said cartels to conduct military-style operations (Ernst, 2018, para. 10). Cartels present themselves to these types of patriotic recruits as “the only force able to provide stability” in neglected parts of Mexico (para. 40). The amount of depraved violence—which includes kidnappings and mass executions of civilians—is so great that some experts “consider Mexico a failed state” (Cooper, 2018, p. 265). To undermine cartel influence and restore national dignity, President López Obrador is leading an information operation that targets the populace, via internet and grassroots efforts, with messages of cultural revival, governmental transparency, and economic potential while simultaneously ending the harmful drug-war narrative.

Statement of Problem

The greatest barrier to evaluating current Mexican information operations is that they are a relatively new activity of the government, which means current information operations can be compared to only a few historical Mexican precedents. Unlike the United States (US), which founded the Federal Bureau of Investigation in 1908 and has 17 intelligence agencies, Mexico has a small intelligence apparatus. It adopted its current constitution in 1917 after Venustiano Carranza, a governor at the time, occupied Mexico City and defeated the revolutionaries Fransico Villa and Emilio Zapata with US support (Camp & Riley, 1991). Mexico’s history after 1917 renders a comparison of its information operations with those of other nations undesirable because historical Mexican information operations targeted Mexicans, not other nation-states.

The brief history of Mexican information operations also reveals that current information operations probably (a) are in their infancy, (b) are leader-driven, rather than institution-driven, and, (c) lack the governmental resources necessary for decentralized management and execution—much like early Soviet active measures pioneered by Feliks Dzerzhinsky (see Rid, 2020, pp. 18-20). Given this inference and the history of López Obrador, it is very likely that he personally directs current information operations. In summation, despite a dearth of precedents, a collection of relevant, historical information operations was compared with current ones to elucidate the activities and objectives of the Mexican government in the information domain.

Literature Review

The two most prominent information operations in Mexican history, as described by Bandala-Garza and Schulz (2007) and Monroy-Hernández and Palacios (2014), were conducted by Rafael Sebastián Guillén Vicente and the anonymous news website Blog del Narco. Guillén Vicente, a charismatic intellectual from Tamaulipas (see Figure 1), pseudonymously led the Zapatista National Liberation Army (Zapatistas) from 1994 to 1996 (Britannica, 2020a). International researchers and journalists have extensively written about and reported on Guillén Vicente, since the 1990s, and Blog del Narco, since its inception in 2010. Literature reveals that the Zapatistas fought to liberate peasants from the consequences of “globalization” efforts, e.g., the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), whereas Blog del Narco exposed much more sinister developments in Mexico, namely, narco-crimes and cartel activity (Bandala-Garza & Schulz, 2007, p. 86; Monroy-Hernández & Palacios, 2014). It is against this backdrop that additional news reports, social media posts, journal articles, and photographs were analyzed. This historical approach reduced the effect of information gaps and language barriers on research.

Figure 1. Map of Mexican States

Note. Mexico City (Mexico D. F.) is in south-central Mexico, Tamaulipas is located along the Gulf of Mexico, and Tabasco and Chiapas are located along the border with Guatemala. From States of Mexico Map, by World Atlas, 2021 (https://www.worldatlas.com/upload/33/d4/c0/states-of-mexico-map.png). Copyright 2021 worldatlas.com.

Method

Structured analytic techniques were used to evaluate information. The following techniques were specifically employed to analyze four relevant information operations and related events: Chronologies and Timelines, Venn Analysis, and Structured Analogies (see Structured Analytic Techniques for Intelligence Analysis, by R. J. Heuer, Jr. & R. H. Pherson). These techniques further mitigated the negative effects of missing information and biases on analysis, revealed useful insights during comparisons, and aided the design of useful figures that properly illustrate developments in Mexican history.

Findings

Rafael Sebastián Guillén Vicente

Modern information operations in Mexico began on January 1, 1994 when the persona Subcomandante Marcos led a coordinated insurgent and information operation by the Zapatistas against the Mexican government (Britannica, 2020a; Bandala-Garza & Schulz, 2007). The identity of Marcos is almost certainly Rafael Sebastian Guillén Vicente, a well-educated intellectual from Tamaulipas (Fineman, 1995). With approximately 1,300 fighters, his primary goal was to capture villages in Chiapas and fight for the rights of indigenous people in the region who were losing their jobs and land to globalization efforts, such as the North American Free Trade Agreement—which coincidentally went into effect on the same day as the start of the insurgency (Bandala-Garza & Schulz, 2007).

According to an almost-praiseworthy 1995 article about Guillén Vicente in the Los Angeles Times, the Zapatistas fought with “wooden rifles” in a “12-day shooting war,” but were eventually overcome by the Mexican army, loosing 145 fighters in the process (Fineman, 1995, p. A6). Despite this tactical loss, Guillén Vicente engaged an “international audience,” using his newfound persona, to keep retaliation by the Mexican government “in-check” (Bandala-Garza & Schulz, 2007, p. 85). After a cease-fire, the “mercurial, committed, always comic, [and] clearly cosmopolitan” insurgent leader retreated to the jungle and spent the next year using computers, videos, satellite phones, and faxes—all powered by generators—to send “communiqués” to supporters who followed the conflict from afar (Fineman, 1995, p. A6). Wearing a ski masking and smoking a pipe (see Figure 2), and in fluent English, Guillén Vicente single-handedly inspired support for his insurgency from across Mexico with statements like, “If the army comes here, it will take a thousand soldiers to get to San Miguel [a Zapatista blockade] …. Even then, they’ll just control the road. We’ll control the jungle” and, “There is no civilian population …. Everyone here is a Zapatista, including the dogs” (p. A7). His voice even “made him a sudden heartthrob for many Mexican women” (p. A1).

Figure 2. Guillén Vicente in Character as Subcomandante Marcos

Note. From “El subcomandante Marcos, el ‘Sex symbol de la selva’ deja de ‘existir’” [Deputy commander Marcos, the ‘Sex symbol of the jungle’ ceases to ‘exist’], May 26, 2014, Quién (https://www.quien.com/politica/2014/05/26/el-subcomandante-marco-del-ezln-anuncia-que-deja-de-existir). Copyright 2021 Derechos Reservados Expansión, S.A. de C.V.

The Mexican army and the Zapatistas resumed fighting in 1995, but President Ernesto Zedillo had become exasperated by his mercurial foe, ordered the military to capture Guillén Vicente, and unmasked (i.e., identified) him in the process (Britannica, 2020a). He never captured Guillén Vicente. Meanwhile, despite learning that Subcomandante Marcos was not a war-ravaged, sexy guerilla fighter, but a middle-class scholar with a scraggly beard and two degrees from the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM), over 100,000 demonstrators rallied in Mexico City, chanting “Marcos, our friend! We will always be with you!” (Fineman, 1995, p. A7; Britannica, 2020a). Ultimately, President Ernesto Zedillo, concerned with Mexico’s perception abroad now that it was a member of NAFTA, opted for a containment strategy against the Zapatistas, who were skilled political negotiators, instead of brutal retaliation (Bandala-Garza & Schulz, 2007). The government and the Zapatistas signed the San Andrés Accords in 1996, “which outlined a program of land reform, indigenous autonomy, and cultural rights” (Britannica, 2020a). However, Zedillo reneged on the agreement later that year. After the two-year insurgency and information operation, Guillén Vicente became politically inactive until 2001 and forevermore abstained from violent campaigns. While the San Andrés Accords proved fruitless, Guillén Vicente had yet made inroads into the minds of Mexicans and still wielded immense power over them, which he would exploit in the years to come.

Blog del Narco

More than a decade after the appearance of Subcomandante Marcos, another anonymous entity emerged on the internet to document and counter injustices in a decaying Mexico. Blog del Narco, launched in 2010, was well-known “for publishing articles about arrests, violent clashes, and executions involving members of rival drug cartels, the military, and law enforcement officers” (Monroy-Hernández & Palacios, 2014, p. 81). It was especially known for posting grotesque videos of murders committed by cartel members. In 2006, under President Felipe Calderón, the Mexican government started attacking the criminal cartels “head on,” but such efforts were of little avail because most institutions, “particularly federal, state and municipal police authorities,” were corrupt and acted “in concert with one or more of the drug cartels” (Cooper, 2018, p. 267). President Calderón’s violent campaign, “combined with the silencing of journalists, and increased Internet penetration in Mexico,” enabled sites like Blog del Narco to grow and fostered an era of citizen-journalism in the country (Monroy-Hernández & Palacios, 2014, p. 84).

However, Blog del Narco was more than simply a news reporter. In a “chat window that was present wherever a user navigated on the site,” visitors had candid discussions to cope with the violence in Mexico in a way not possible in person (Monroy-Hernández & Palacios, 2014, p. 88). Even cartel members seemingly participated in commentary, which was “notoriously abrasive and often crass” (p. 88). Though its operation was not as sophisticated as that of Guillén Vicente, Blog del Narco was an important part of an “ecosystem of websites” that had similar, journalistic aims to expose the lurid state of crime in Mexico. It published 8,102 articles through March 2013, when it stopped posting because cartels had allegedly unmasked its administrator.

Andrés Manuel López Obrador

Andrés Manuel López Obrador of Mexico has been an activist since the 1970s (see Figure 3 for a full timeline of his activism) (Britannica, 2020b). His persistent efforts to protect indigenous populations, expose public corruption, and revive Mexican culture culminated in a presidential victory in 2018. He ran for president, and lost, twice before and accused his opponents of illegal activity in each election. As if cued by the conclusion of Blog de Narco, López Obrador founded a new political party in 2016 called the National Regeneration Movement. The new party marked a significant change to Mexican politics from the previous two decades—a change toward restoring the national identity, rather than battling the cause of its destruction.

Figure 3. Timeline of Significant Events for López Obrador and Guillén Vicente

  • 1976 López Obrador graduates from the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM) in political science and public administration (Britannica, 2020b).

  • 1977 López Obrador leads indigenous advocacy efforts in Tabasco state (AMLO, n.d.). Guillén Vicente begins studying at UNAM (Fineman, 1995).

  • 1983 Guillén Vicente earns two degrees from UNAM and begins teaching at an activism center in Xochimiclo, near Mexico City (Britannica, 2020a; Fineman, 1995).

  • 1984 López Obrador manages social promotion at the National Consumer Institute (Britannica, 2020b). Guillén Vicente quits teaching and moves to Chiapas state (Britannica, 2020a).

  • Circa 1985 Guillén Vicente goes to Nicaragua to teach about revolution, meets local geurillas, and spends the next decade forming the insurgent Zapatista army (Fineman, 1995).

  • Circa 1990 López Obrador begins a grassroots movement in Tabasco against the Petróleos Mexicanos oil company for environmental injustices (Britannica, 2020b).

  • New Year’s Day, 1994 The Zapatistas seize towns in Chiapas, such as Las Margaritas, where López Obrador poses for a photograph with Guillén Vicente (Morales, 2019). “The issue was to achieve peace.”

  • 1994 Guillén Vicente, who opposes NAFTA, generates international sympathy for the Zaptistas via internet and mass-media communiqués (Fineman, 1995; Bandala-Garza & Schulz, 2007).

  • Late 1994 After losing the Tabasco gubernatorial race, López Obrador organizes protests against his opponent for illegal election campaign spending (Britannica, 2020b).

  • 1995 President Zedillo unmasks Guillén Vicente and defeats the Zapatistas. Over 100,000 people protest, chanting, “Marcos, our friend!” (Britannica, 2020a; Fineman, 1995).

  • 1996 Zedillo and the Zapatistas sign the San Andrés Accords for reforms and indigenous autonomy, but Zedillo reneges on the agreement in December (Britannica, 2020a).

  • 2000 López Obrador is elected as mayor of the Federal District, i.e., Mexico City (AMLO, n.d.). He serves for six years.

  • 2001 Guillén Vicente leads a march from Chiapas to Mexico City to promote the Accords. Hundreds of thousands of people, celebrities, and politicians attend his event (Britannica, 2020a).

  • 2004 The attorney general impeaches López Obrador, but charges are dropped after a 1 million-man protest (Britannica, 2020b).  Poll: “Second best mayor in the world” (AMLO, n.d.).

  • 2006 During a 6-month tour, Guillén Vicente rebukes presidential candidates (Britannica, 2020a). Tens of thousands protest after  López Obrador loses presidential bid (Britannica, 2020b).

  • 2012 López Obrador loses the  presidential election to Peña Nieto and then accuses the opposition party of overspending and vote-buying (Britannica, 2020b).

  • 2014 López Obrador founds a new populist political party called the National Regeneration Movement and openly opposes NAFTA (Britannica, 2020b).

  • 2018 López Obrador wins the presidential election in a landslide; a new political party is victorious for the first time in 90 years (Britannica, 2020b).

After his “landslide” victory in 2018, President López Obrador “declared an end to the drug war and the kingpin strategy” that Calderón had initiated and, instead, called on the nation to create a new moral constitution to help reverse Mexican decline (Jones & Sullivan, 2019; AMLO, 2018). During his presentation of the new committee that would manage a public dialogue about the forthcoming document, he stated that the Mexican people possess a great wealth of values and that Mexico’s cultures are what have always saved it from natural disasters, tribulations, and corruption (AMLO, 2018). Veronica Velasco Aranda, one member of the committee, explained that the moral constitution would not be a legal or authoritative document, but a guide based on the combined values of the people.

In a press conference one month later, López Obrador told reporters he would send the document “to the elderly people so they can help us, by … talking to their grandchildren about the importance of upholding principles, ideals and values” and that he has “spoken about asking mothers to help us with their sons …. Mothers love their children a lot, and a mother is never going to accept that their child has committed a crime” (AP, 2018, para. 10, 12). The Mexican government released the new moral constitution, titled Cartilla Moral, in 2019 in attractive booklet and digital formats (see Figure 4) and distributed it to eight million Mexicans by September 2019 (Redacción FM, 2019). It is based on the writings of renowned Mexican poet, scholar, and educator Alfonso Reyes, who is “virtually unchallenged” as the “master of Mexican letters” (Britannica, 2020c, para. 2). The 30-page document emphasizes the importance of gender and hierarchical roles in families and dissuades the reader from committing crimes, with one passage explaining that it is better business to be good than bad, and that one must not back down from doing good—even if it means making a sacrifice (Reyes, 2018). The document almost certainly aims to influence prospective cartel recruits, and it is only one facet of López Obrador’s information operation. The next facet focuses on undermining the cartels themselves.

Figure 4. The Cartilla Moral Booklet

Note. From “Cartilla Moral” [Moral Primer], by AMLO, January 14, 2019, (https://lopezobrador.org.mx/wp-content/uploads/2019/01/13-01-2019-FOTO-10-PRESENTACIO%CC%81N-DE-LA-PENSIO%CC%81N-PARA-EL-BIENESTAR-DE-LAS-PERSONAS-ADULTAS-MAYORES-770×1198.jpg). Copyright 2019 Sitio Oficial de Andrés Manuel López Obrador.

López Obrador has shifted his efforts to protecting Mexico’s natural resources, such as fuel, which cartels siphon for profit. In 2018, he told reporters that Mexico loses upwards of $3.5 billion annually due to fuel theft (Redacción FM, 2019). Mexico’s state-controlled oil company is called Petróleos Mexicanos (PEMEX), and it accounts for “15 percent of the state’s export earnings” (Jones & Sullivan, 2019, p. 3). Cartels are known to “bribe and co-opt PEMEX workers for access,” and one Mexican journalist states that “80 percent of oil theft in Mexico originates internally within PEMEX” (p. 6, 15). In response, the López Obrador administration froze bank accounts of fuel traffickers and arrested three PEMEX executives, “who oversaw pipelines,” for fuel theft (p. 14-15). There is a roughly even chance that these types of actions, although not directly information-related, usurp the cartels’ ability to fund part of their operations, which has an effect in the cognitive domain. Furthermore, by demonstrating the resolve to protect Mexico’s economic infrastructure, López Obrador is signaling to the international community that Mexico is open for business.

Vasile (2019), a Mexican diplomat in Ecuador, explains that one of Mexico’s challenges to attracting investors is “public perception of the country’s domestic situation” (p. 70). She believes public diplomacy has a role “in changing a country’s image not only from the outside-in, but from the inside-out” (p. 70). For example, if Mexico theoretically eliminates cartels that traffic drugs like heroin, it will not then profit from a legal heroin market controlled by the free market—the heroin market is inherently parasitic; but if Mexico eliminates fuel theft, it will physically protect an essential market and attract outside investors. By switching his focus from the drug-war to fuel protection and taking action to reduce corruption at PEMEX, López Obrador is handing his diplomats the informational leverage they need to attract new business to Mexico.

The final aspect of López Obrador’s information operation, and perhaps the most important, is his frequent use of direct-messaging to control the news narrative. Considering Blog del Narco’s fate and the practice of fearful “self-censorship” in the Mexican press, Mexican news outlets probably do not accurately document cartel activity and, though unlikely, may even diminish just actions by the administration (Monroy-Hernández & Palacios, 2014, p. 82). To counter this, López Obrador holds lengthy press conferences every weekday morning, typically for 90 minutes, in which journalists ply him with questions and he delivers unscripted answers (Luhnow & Montes, 2019). One of his detractors explains that the daily press conferences are “less an exercise in transparency and accountability than in political communication” and that López Obrador uses the news conferences “to remove media in their role as intermediaries and take his message directly to the people” (para. 10-11). In their somewhat-neutral Wall Street Journal article, Luhnow and Montes do not mention the recent, patent violence against journalists in Mexico, which is vital information for their readers to know. Nonetheless, their critique of López Obrador’s “pulpit in front of the press” at which he receives “softballs” only serves to illustrate the skeptical attitude towards Mexican government officials and illustrates the precise reason he delivers such orations (para. 2, 6). López Obrador has taken his efforts for transparency, and possibly political retribution, to a new level by calling for a referendum “on whether five former presidents should be investigated and possibly prosecuted for corruption” (Montes, 2020, para. 1). Although some analysts think the referendum is a “political distraction,” it more closely aligns with López Obrador’s historical opinions (para. 12). As seen in Figure 3, he has accused politicians of corruption for decades.

López Obrador also controls the news narrative to project an amicable attitude towards the US and, specifically, President Trump. Payan et al. (2020) assert that, during his term, Trump utilized America’s “asymmetry” with Mexico to influence negotiations between the two countries (p. xxii). López Obrador notably avoided conflict with Trump. Even at the height of bilateral anxiety, when “migrant caravans” were heading to the US through Mexico, López Obrador held a “unity” rally “to defend the dignity of Mexico, and in favor of friendship with the people of the United States” (Stevenson, 2019, para. 1, 4). At the rally, he further cemented his conciliatory attitude towards Trump when he said “U.S. authorities have behaved very well, because they have not cut off the dialogue” (para. 5). López Obrador appears to be keenly aware of the power a US president has over Mexico and has chosen the path of least resistance to restoring Mexico’s standing in the world (see Figure 5 for comparisons between López Obrador and Trump, Blog del Narco, and Guillén Vicente).

Discussion

An understanding of the information operations in Figure 5, and described in detail in the Findings above, enables a wholistic comprehension of the current Mexican information operation led by López Obrador. Researching an ongoing information operation from an external viewpoint using a different language was a challenging task, and these deficiencies may contribute to unknown, but probably insignificant, errors in the Findings. However, structured analytic techniques helped verify information and alter initial assumptions, one of which was that the López Obrador and Donald Trump information operations were very similar. While López Obrador and Trump both utilize mass-media and the internet to influence the narrative about US-Mexico relations, their cultural and political goals and messages are much different, albeit somewhat complimentary to each other. If López Obrador continues his efforts to investigate former Mexican officials for corruption, and if more similarities between his and Trump’s operation appear, their similarity could be reevaluated and the rating updated.

Figure 5. Structured Analogies to López Obrador’s Information Operation

López Obrador’s Information Operation (2018 – 2021)
López Obrador harnessed his historical popularity, nationalist appeal, and grassroots experience to win the presidency in 2018. He holds daily, hours-long press conferences with reporters to discuss progress and achievements, influence the mass-media narrative, and evoke governmental transparency (Luhnow & Montes, 2019). He sent a Moral Primer (a booklet based on the literature of renowned Mexican writer Alfonso Reyes) to eight million Mexicans in order to target elders and mothers and strengthen the familial bulwark against cartel recruitment (Redacción FM, 2019; AP, 2018). López Obrador ended the dreaded war on drugs and instead focuses on cartel fuel theft (see Jones & Sullivan, 2019), likely to secure national resources, reduce the terrifying effects of cartel publicity, and target cartels with more effective, alternative measures.
Trump’s Information Operation (2015 – 2020)
Trump’s major objectives with Mexico were to stop illegal immigration and replace NAFTA. Likely due to the economic importance of international perception to Mexico, as explained by Vasile (2019), Trump frequently highlighted that drugs and criminals entered the US from Mexico (Payan et al., 2020). His brash statements, combined with the recent decline in Mexico, galvanized Mexicans to elect the nationalist (and anti-NAFTA) president, López Obrador, in 2018 (Sumano & Kilroy, 2020; Britannica, 2020b). In 2019, Mexico began holding US asylum-seekers with pending cases in Mexico, a victory for Trump (Payan et al., 2020). After he signed the US-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA) into law in 2020, Trump began expressing positivity about Mexico, focusing on unity, relationships, cultural rapport (White House, 2020).

Similarity to López Obrador’s Information Operation (0 – 10): Somewhat similar (6/10)

Key similarities: Use of the internet, social media, and public messaging to control a narrative and influence populations and opponents.
Blog del Narco’s Information Operation (2010 – 2013)
Blog del Narco was an anonymous weblog that documented Mexican narco-crime in vivid detail (Monroy-Hernandez & Palacios, 2014). It documented shootouts, violence, executions, arrests, and drug busts and even posted gruesome videos of executions, which often outraged visitors, but also spurred candid discussions via the blog’s omnipresent chat window. Hernandez & Palacios contend that Blog de Narco helped form an online community for Mexicans affected by crime and was most popular among socially and economically disadvantaged people.

Similarity to López Obrador’s Information Operation (0 – 10): Somewhat dissimilar (3/10)

Key differences: Focus on violence instead of revival; dispersed online messaging instead of multi-domain direct-messaging; and anonymity instead of publicity.
Guillén Vicente’s Information Operation (1994 – 2006)
Guillén Vicente is famous for pseudonymously leading the Zapatista insurgency in 1994. Under the bizarre persona Subcomandante Marcos, he captured Mexican and, eventually, international interest with his deep voice and intellectual appeal via frequent messaging to media, on the internet, and in magazines (Fineman, 1995). Using his own multimedia equipment powered by generators, he held nightlong interviews, news conferences, and even dance fiestas to commemorate the Zapatista uprising. Grounded in legitimate concerns, Guillén Vicente attempted to secure an agreement with the Mexican government to create reforms and allow indigenous autonomy, but ultimately failed (Britannica, 2020a). He continually engaged in social activitism between 1996 and 2006, garnering hundreds of thousands of supports in the process.

Similarity to López Obrador’s Information Operation (0 – 10): Similar (8/10)

Key similarities: Identical national, ethical, and cultural concerns; extensive grassroots outreach; temporal and locational parallels; socialist and anti-NAFTA sentiment; and skillful use of media.

However, as described in Figure 5, Guillén Vicente’s information operation has more parallels with López Obrador’s efforts than the others do by a small margin. Guillén Vicente almost certainly used his Marcos persona as simply a way to his objective of legal reforms. Long after the Zapatista insurgency ended, Guillén Vicente said, loosely translated, that whoever understood the reason for creating Marcos knows that he no longer matters and has never mattered (Quién, 2014). He also curiously remarked that Marcos was “un holograma [a hologram]” and said, “Así que hemos decidido que Marcos deje de existir hoy [we have decided that Marcos will cease to exist today],” without explaining who we is (para. 8, 13). He calls Marcos a distractor. In essence, Guillén Vicente is saying that the sexy, savage Marcos persona allowed him to garner attention by cutting through typical media indifference to reach the public. In fact, there is an unlikely chance that Guillén Vicente and López Obrador collaborated as opposite ends of one activist spectrum (based on analytic judgements, not direct evidence).

Guillén Vicente and López Obrador even met in 1994 after the Zapatista insurgency started (see Figure 6). According to López Obrador, who lived in the region at the time and conducted grassroots initiatives there, the goal of their encounter was to achieve peace (Morales, 2019). However, their joint timeline in Figure 3 shows that they have many similar beliefs and were in similar locations at important points during their activist careers.

Figure 6. Photograph of López Obrador with Guillén Vicente

Note. Guillén Vicente (third from the left) with López Obrador (fourth from the left) in Las Margaritas, Chiapas during the 1994 Zapatista insurgency. Notice the stark differences in appearance between Guillén Vicente and López Obrador: the former harnesses a rifle, wears a ski mask and military garb, and seemingly smiles beneath his face-covering; the latter is unarmed, wears common clothes, and exhibits a neutral gaze. They both come from similar social, economic, and educational backgrounds and have similar political objectives. From “AMLO comparte foto de 1994” [AMLO shares 1994 photo], by A. Morales, July 7, 2019, El Universal (https://www.eluniversal.com.mx/nacion/amlo-comparte-foto-de-1994-donde-aparece-con-el-subcomandante-marcos). In the public domain.

There is no direct proof that Guillén Vicente and López Obrador were clandestine cooperatives, but there is a strong inference to that effect, which means it should not be completely ruled out. At a minimum, López Obrador was very likely sympathetic to Guillén Vicente’s objectives (since López Obrador had nearly identical ones), and he was almost certainly aware of Guillén Vicente’s operations and, therefore, learned from Guillén Vicente’s mistakes (see Figure 7 for a compare-and-contrast of Guillén Vicente and López Obrador).

Figure 7. Venn Analysis of López Obrador’s and Guillén Vicente’s Information Operations

The importance of this connection should not be understated. If any of these analytic judgements are correct, López Obrador is almost certainly conducting an information operation based on the same principles of Guillén Vicente, but simply through peaceful means (which Guillén Vicente eventually adopted anyway). Their patriotic ideals, favor of grassroots movements, and ability to use technology to message the masses are strangely similar. Therefore, López Obrador may also have punitive intentions for his adversaries (which he believes are Mexico’s adversaries), such as prosecuting and eliminating past corrupt politicians, but he intends to implement those intentions by state-sponsored, rather than insurgent, effects.

Conclusion

Mexico is a young nation with a smaller and less-capable intelligence apparatus than the US. Past information operations conducted by Guillén Vicente and Blog del Narco were empowered by strong and creative leadership. Therefore, it is very likely that López Obrador, another strong and charismatic leader (with an extensive history of political and social activism), is behind the current Mexican information operation. His goal is to weaken cartel influence and restore national dignity by targeting the Mexican people with messages of cultural revival, transparency, and economic hope, through internet and grassroots efforts, while simultaneously shifting the international narrative about Mexico away from drugs. Guillén Vicente’s information operation, an early precursor to the current governmental information operation, was integrated with a violent insurgency with the goal of liberating the poor from perceived harm by globalization efforts. Although his operation ultimately failed legally, it sustained the revolutionary spirit of Mexico for nearly eight years. Blog del Narco, the next major information operation in Mexico, was yet another civilian attempt to counter the decline of Mexico, this time at the hands of drug cartels. It served to connect Mexicans during a period of cultural paralysis—institutions, police, and journalists could not be trusted to expose the unsavory and violent truth about cartel crime. The website also eventually ceased its efforts, but left an indelible mark on citizen-journalism. The current trajectory of Mexico appears to be headed in a positive direction and, regardless of the outcome, information operations are an important part of the strategy to regenerate the nation.

Featured photo by Lutollese (modified) CC BY 2.0

References

AMLO. (n.d.). Lic. Andrés Manuel López Obrador [Mr. Andrés Manuel López Obrador]. Retrieved April 30, 2021, from https://lopezobrador.org.mx/semblanza/

AMLO. (2018, November 26). López Obrador convoca a los mexicanos a participar en la elaboración de la constitución moral para una nueva república [López Obrador calls on Mexicans to participate in the development of the moral constitution for a new republic]. https://lopezobrador.org.mx/2018/11/26/lopez-obrador-convoca-a-los-mexicanos-a-participar-en-la-elaboracion-de-la-constitucion-moral-para-una-nueva-republica/

AMLO. (2019, January 14). Cartilla Moral [Moral Primer] [Photograph]. https://lopezobrador.org.mx/wp-content/uploads/2019/01/13-01-2019-FOTO-10-PRESENTACIO%CC%81N-DE-LA-PENSIO%CC%81N-PARA-EL-BIENESTAR-DE-LAS-PERSONAS-ADULTAS-MAYORES-770×1198.jpg

AP. (2018, December 7). President says fuel theft costs Mexico up to $3.5B yearly. AP News. https://apnews.com/article/764a7f6b7b4741798c1ea4126ca5f432

Bandala-Garza, S. H., & Schulz, D. V. (2007). Information operations, an evolutionary step for the Mexican armed forces. Naval Postgraduate School. https://calhoun.nps.edu/bitstream/handle/10945/3075/07Dec_Bandala_Garza.pdf?sequence=1&isAllowed=y

Britannica, The Editors of Encyclopaedia (2020a, June 15). Subcomandante Marcos. Encyclopedia Britannica. https://www.britannica.com/biography/Subcomandante-Marcos

Britannica, The Editors of Encyclopaedia. (2020b, November 9). Andrés Manuel López Obrador. Encyclopedia Britannica. https://www.britannica.com/biography/Andres-Manuel-Lopez-Obrador

Britannica, The Editors of Encyclopaedia. (2020c, December 23). Alfonso Reyes. Encyclopedia Britannica. https://www.britannica.com/biography/Alfonso-Reyes

Camp, R. A., & Riley, J. D. (1991). Mexico. In R. O. Zeleny (Ed.), The World Book Encyclopedia (Vol. 13). World Book, Inc.

Cooper, J. (2018). The United States, Mexico, and the war on drugs in the Trump administration. Willamette Journal of International Law and Dispute Resolution, 25(2), 234-301.

Ernst, F. (2018, February 10). ‘The training stays with you’: The elite Mexican soldiers recruited by cartels. The Guardian. https://www.theguardian.com/world/2018/feb/10/mexico-drug-cartels-soldiers-military

Fineman, M. (1995, Feb 11). Middle-class roots tarnish leader’s image. Los Angeles Times.

Heuer, R. J., Jr., & Pherson, R. H. (2015). Structured analytic techniques for intelligence analysis (2nd ed.). SAGE Publications; CQ Press.

Jones, N. P., & Sullivan, J. P. (2019). Huachicoleros: Criminal cartels, fuel theft, and violence in Mexico. Journal of Strategic Security, 12(4), 1-24.

Lutollese [@lutollese]. (2014). Farewell to you Marcos! Your work shall not be forgotten! Welcome subcomandante Galeano, may you follow the footsteps of the great Marcos! [Photograph]. Flickr. https://www.flickr.com/photos/fanega/14294355306

Luhnow, D., & Montes, J. (2019, August 12). Think U.S. politics is exhausting? Mexico’s president has a news conference every morning. The Wall Street Journal. https://www.wsj.com/articles/think-u-s-politics-is-exhausting-mexicos-president-has-a-news-conference-every-morning-11565626849

Monroy-Hernández, A., & Palacios, L. (2014). Blog del Narco and the future of citizen journalism. Georgetown Journal of International Affairs, 15(2), 81-92.

Montes, J. (2020, October 1). In win for Mexican leader, top court approves referendum on former presidents. The Wall Street Journal. https://www.wsj.com/articles/in-win-for-mexican-leader-top-court-approves-referendum-on-former-presidents-11601605594

Morales, A. (2019, July 7). AMLO comparte foto de 1994 [AMLO shares 1994 photo].El Universal. https://www.eluniversal.com.mx/nacion/amlo-comparte-foto-de-1994-donde-aparece-con-el-subcomandante-marcos

Payan, T., López de la Osa Escribano, A., & Velasco, J. (2020). The future of US-Mexico relations. Arte Público Press.

Quién. (2014, May 26). El subcomandante Marcos, el ‘sex symbol de la selva’ deja de ‘existir’ [Deputy commander Marcos, the ‘sex symbol of the jungle’ ceases to ‘exist’]. https://www.quien.com/politica/2014/05/26/el-subcomandante-marco-del-ezln-anuncia-que-deja-de-existir

Redacción FM. (2019, September 27). AMLO: Se han distribuido 8 millones de ejemplares de la Cartilla Moral [AMLO: 8 million copies of the Moral Primer have been distributed]. Almomento.mx. https://almomento.mx/amlo-se-han-distribuido-8-millones-de-ejemplares-de-la-cartilla-moral/

Reyes, A. (2018). Cartilla Moral [Moral primer]. Secretaría de Educación Pública. (Original work published 1992)

Rid, T. (2020). Active measures: The secret history of disinformation and political warfare. Farrar, Straus and Giroux.

Stevenson, M. (2019, June 6). Mexico plans border ‘unity’ rally, nabs 2 migrant activists. AP News. https://apnews.com/article/10288646e578469fae3dfb411cc61c1b

Sumano, A. R. & Kilroy, R. J., Jr. (2020). US and Mexico future security and defense scenarios: From convergence to divergence? In T. Payan, A. López de la Osa Escribano, & J. Velasco (Eds.), The future of US-Mexico relations (pp. 227-258). Arte Público Press.

Vasile, I. B. (2019). Challenges of contemporary diplomacy for Mexico. The Fletcher Forum of World Affairs, 43(1), 63-81.

White House, The. (2020, July 8). Remarks by President Trump and President López Obrador of the United Mexican States in joint press statement. https://trumpwhitehouse.archives.gov/briefings-statements/remarks-president-trump-president-lopez-obrador-united-mexican-states-joint-press-statement/

World Atlas. (2021). States of Mexico map. https://www.worldatlas.com/upload/33/d4/c0/states-of-mexico-map.png

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s