A new president seeks to revitalise Mexico’s state institutions, for decades bedevilled by widespread corruption and powerful transnational criminal organisations. Crime and the twelve-year “war on drugs” have destabilised the country; meanwhile, thousands of refugees and migrants flee through Mexico from similar volatility in Central America. Crisis Group focuses on addressing criminal violence, institutional corruption, trafficking and migration, emphasising the effect these problems have on children, women and other vulnerable groups. Our aim is to help solve challenges to security posed by globalised criminal networks, local armed groups and the elusiveness of state rule.
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.
Civil society staged large protests over femicides while criminal violence continued unabated. At least 100,000 people marched in capital Mexico City 8 March to demand end to violence against women; next day, women across country went on strike in observance of “day without women”, with some commercial establishments including banks shutting. Criminal violence continued in Guanajuato state (centre): cartel Santa Rosa de Lima 10 March clashed with state forces and blocked roads reportedly after authorities attempted to detain group’s leader José Antonio Yépez alias “El Marro”; President López Obrador next day denied effort to capture Yépez and said violence was triggered by early March arrests of group members; competition between Santa Rosa de Lima and Jalisco Cartel New Generation (CJNG) over fuel siphoning and other illegal revenue streams continued. López Obrador met mother of former Sinaloa Cartel lead Joaquín Guzmán alias “El Chapo” in Badiraguato city, Sinaloa state 29 March, sparking outcry, with critics noting that president has not met with victims of drug cartels. U.S. authorities 11 March reported arrest of over 500 suspected CJNG operatives in U.S., lauding operation as success against cartel; however, observers noted previous mass detentions failed to curb flow of drugs into U.S. or violence in Mexico. Amid COVID-19 pandemic, govt 28 March called on citizens to stay at home, but govt’s reliance on voluntary measures apart from banning of gatherings of more than 50 people, and López Obrador’s continued travelling sparked controversy. Concerns increased over economic impact of coronavirus amid fall in global oil prices, with peso 9-13 March falling 8.3% to historical low against dollar and analysts voicing fears that state-owned oil company PEMEX may face economic blow.
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.
It’s business as usual [for drug cartels in Mexico] with a risk of further escalation, especially if at some point the armed forces are called away for pandemic control.
[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.
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.