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.
High-profile violent incidents continued, intensifying public debate and pressure on President López Obrador’s govt domestically and from U.S.. Nine members of Mormon family including six children, most with double Mexican-U.S. nationality, killed in attack 5 Nov on border between Sonora and Chihuahua states (north); govt said attack was mistake by armed group, but family said they had been targeted previously. U.S. President Trump offered cooperation to wage “war” on cartels, with other U.S. Republican politicians calling for U.S. intervention or special forces operations on Mexican soil; López Obrador rejected proposal, stating his non-violent approach to insecurity is working. Trump 26 Nov said U.S. would designate cartels as foreign terrorist organisations, prompting Mexican govt to warn against violations of national sovereignty. Opinion polls showed significant drop in López Obrador’s popularity. Violence continued in other regions. In Ciudad Juárez on U.S. border, 26 people were killed, 35 vehicles burnt, and four bomb threats received 5-8 Nov, allegedly by “Mexicles” organised crime group in response to state operation against it in local prison. Security forces killed seven suspected cartel members in Coahuila near U.S. border 30 Nov after group launched attack on Villa Union city hall. In San Vicente Coatlán, Oaxaca (south), five state police were killed in ambush by armed group 8 Nov, bringing the total number of police killed in 2019 to 333. Armed group 8 Nov set ablaze vehicles to block coastal highway of Guerrero state (south), close to community of Petatlán, which various non-state armed groups are competing over. Plastic bags allegedly containing remains of four young men were left on road outside Celaya, Guanajuato (centre) 9 Nov, with messages reportedly signed by Jalisco Cartel New Generation and threatening enemy group “El Cartel de Lima”; competition between groups has made Guanajuato one of Mexico’s most violent states. Mexico offered asylum to Bolivian President Morales following his resignation (see Bolivia), leading to accusations govt was intervening in Bolivian affairs.
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.
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.
Supporting the Truth Commission of Veracruz would be a good way to foster civil society initiatives in order to prevent violence and help to build democratic institutions in Mexico.
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.