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Homepage > Publication Type > Media Releases > Criminal Cartels and Rule of Law in Mexico

Criminal Cartels and Rule of Law in Mexico

Mexico City/Bogotá/Brussels  |   19 Mar 2013

Mexico must build an effective police and justice system, as well as implement comprehensive social programs, if it is to escape the extraordinary violence triggered by the country’s destructive cartels in extortion, kidnapping and control of transnational crime.

Peña Nieto’s Challenge: Criminal Cartels and Rule of Law in Mexico, is the International Crisis Group's first report on the country with the world’s fourteenth largest economy but also one of its worst cases of deadly criminal violence. It analyses the Herculean challenge Mexico faces: from the north, pressure to stop the flow of narcotics to U.S. users; domestically, to reduce the killings, kidnappings and extortion by criminal organisations financed largely by the illegal drugs trade. Without institutional reform, efforts to combat the violence may be ineffective; with such reform, supported by programs to rescue the poor, there is hope for a sustainable end to this devastating problem.

“Cartels challenge the fundamental nature of the state, not by threatening to capture it, but by damaging and weakening it”, says Mark Schneider, Crisis Group’s Special Adviser on Latin America. “Washington needs to better control trafficking in guns, especially assault rifles, from U.S. suppliers that give the cartels as much firepower as the security forces they face”.

After years of cartel-related bloodshed that has claimed tens of thousands of lives and shaken Mexico, its new president, Enrique Peña Nieto, is promising to reduce the murder rate. The security plan he introduced offers a window of opportunity to build institutions that can both achieve this target and cut impunity rates. The cartels have thousands of gunmen and have morphed into diversified crime groups. Not only do they traffic drugs, but they also conduct mass kidnappings, oversee extortion rackets and steal from the state oil industry. Estimates of the total that have died in connection with the fighting over the last six years range from 47,000 to more than 70,000, in addition to thousands of disappearances.

Where the military deployment has inflicted serious human rights abuses, it has further eroded trust in government. For the necessary reforms to succeed, the government must train an expanded police force to respect human rights and to build strong cases that stand up under the new trial system.  The vetting of police needs to be expanded and procedures established to gradually remove those who fail. Effective police and courts are crucial to reducing impunity in the long term. Support for victims of the violence needs to be guaranteed, as a new law promises, especially in finding their family members who have disappeared.

The Peña Nieto administration should also follow through on its announced national crime prevention plan. The cartels have been able to recruit tens of thousands of killers in part because poor neighbourhoods have been systematically abandoned over decades, and their youth lack job opportunities.

International leaders need to re-evaluate policies that have failed both to prevent illicit drugs from maintaining dangerous levels of addiction and to reduce the corruption and violence associated with drug production and trafficking. After suffering so much from the violence, Mexico is a natural leader for this debate.

“The Mexican case is pertinent for countries across the world facing similar challenges”, says Javier Ciurlizza, Crisis Group’s Latin America and Caribbean Program Director. “The international community has much to learn from the efforts of the Mexican society and government to overcome these challenges. If they succeed in reducing violence, theirs can become a model to follow instead of one to fear”.

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