Shocking pictures from Culiacán show a criminal organisation forcing the Mexican state into submission. In this Q&A, Crisis Group Senior Analyst Falko Ernst explains why the mayhem should compel the government to revisit its security paradigm.
Criminal violence remained high, particularly in central states, while security forces clashed with migrants attempting to enter country through southern border. In centre, Guanajuato state recorded 395 murders 1-27 Jan amid competition between Jalisco Cartel New Generation (CJNG) and alliance of local armed groups for control of oil siphoning, drug routes and drug retail markets; in Michoacán state, suspected members of unidentified crime group 20 Jan killed two soldiers and wounded ten police in ambush outside avocado industry hub Uruapan. Clashes between CJNG and rival group Los Viagras over north-bound trafficking corridors from Guerrero state (south) through Michoacán 11 Jan killed two alleged armed group members and police officer; clashes between same groups in Zirándaro, Guerrero starting 14 Jan killed at least ten and forced 800 civilians to flee. Suspected members of armed group Los Ardillos 18 Jan ambushed and killed ten members of indigenous community in Guerrero. Army 16 Jan killed eleven members of illegal armed group, reportedly after being ambushed in Miguel Alemán, Tamaulipas state (south). In what observers lauded as effort to recognise scale of disappearances, govt 6 Jan reported 61,637 people currently classified as disappeared; previous govt maintained total was 40,000. Targeted killings of journalists and activists continued, with radio host Fidel Ávila, missing since Nov 2019, found shot dead 7 Jan in Michoacán state, women’s rights activist Isabel Cabanillas found shot dead 19 Jan in Ciudad Juárez, Chihuahua state (north) and environmental activist Homero Gómez, missing since 13 Jan, found dead 29 Jan in Michoacán state. Amid regional focus on migration, caravan of Central American migrants, having departed from Honduras 15 Jan, reached Guatemala-Mexico border 19 Jan; after govt closed border 18 Jan under pressure from U.S., National Guard 19-21 Jan used tear gas and threw stones to prevent migrants entering country, leaving several wounded.
With hopes for change sky-high, Mexico’s president-elect confronts endemic violent crime and state corruption. To make good on his campaign promises, his team should pursue justice in killings by state personnel, reform the civilian police and give robust mandates to truth commissions with victim participation.
Mexico stops hundreds of thousands of Central Americans fleeing northward to the U.S. Many are deported, and many more are stuck in the country’s south, vulnerable to crime and rising xenophobia. With U.S. and European help, Mexico should work harder to protect migrants and foster economic development.
Mexico’s third-most populous state has suffered an unprecedented wave of violence. Veracruz’s new governor must stand by pledges to end state-criminal collusion and impunity. Strong international support will be needed to help find the bodies of the disappeared and transform the state police and legislature.
Violence is up but impunity remains the norm in Guerrero, where the lines between organised crime and legitimate authority are often blurred. President Peña Nieto’s government must turn a new leaf and embrace new investigative bodies and international expertise capable of regaining the trust that Guerrero’s corrupted institutions have lost.
For lessons on crime prevention, Mexico can look to the example of Ciudad Juárez, the world’s “murder capital” in 2008-2010. Government and citizens worked together to bring violence down by strengthening local law enforcement and addressing socio-economic inequalities. These initiatives should be monitored, refined and expanded if Mexico is to overcome its country-wide crisis of confidence at all levels.
The rise of civilian militias to combat lawlessness will make it harder than ever to defeat the cartels unless the government regulates the vigilantes.
[In Mexico,] under active conflict & criminal control, basic state functions like gathering crime statistics, let alone searching for disappeared, are impossible.
Any blow to the Mexican economy will pour oil into the fire of conflict, accentuating reasons for people to flee, and undermining the deterrence effect of President Trump's anti-migratory policy.
[In Mexico] you have civilians affected by extortion and murder, ... you have criminal groups fighting one another, for drug trafficking routes, extortion rackets, theft of oil. You have state security forces fighting criminal groups, which will often lead to shootouts involved in the security operations as well. And you have extrajudicial killings by state forces involved in the fight against organised crime.
The repression of riots and the looting of stores [in Mexico] caused at least six deaths and thousands of arrests.
The new [Mexican] criminal justice system seeks to reduce impunity and violations of the rights of the accused. [If the president were to abandon them, he would] repeat the mistakes of his predecessor.
The United States should recognise that its own economic and security interests would be well served by cooperation, not confrontation, with Mexico to tackle organised crime and corruption.
Originally published in Business Insider
Bucking the U.S. and several large and influential Latin American states, Mexico has not recognised Juan Guaidó’s claim on Venezuela’s presidency, and has instead argued for negotiations to end the country’s crisis. As Crisis Group’s Senior Mexico Analyst Falko Ernst explains, this position is rooted in a new Mexican foreign policy doctrine.
On 1 December, Andrés Manuel López Obrador will assume Mexico’s presidency. He won pledging to end a drug war that has killed tens of thousands. But, as Crisis Group’s Mexico Senior Analyst Falko Ernst argues, he faces formidable challenges that will make it hard for him to uphold his promises.
Researching how Mexico can uproot the scourge of organised crime, our Senior Analyst Falko Ernst befriends a doomed hitman on the run from his past. Talking to the sicario in the Michoacán underworld, he learns much about the deadly challenges the new government faces.