Mexico’s judicial institutions are no match for widespread corruption and powerful transnational cartels that dominate parts of the country. Years of an over-militarised “war on drugs” and proliferating criminal rackets have destabilised the country and its neighbours, forcing thousands of refugees and migrants to risk their lives fleeing through Mexico from “Northern Triangle” neighbours like Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala. Crisis Group focuses on addressing transnational crime, high-level corruption, trafficking and migration, with a special emphasis on the effect these have on children, women and other vulnerable groups. Our aim is to provide a more comprehensive and sub-regional understanding of the challenges to security posed by globalised criminal networks, local gangs and an elusive rule of law.
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.
Amid record levels of violence, public security secretary Alfonso Durazo 1 Feb presented National Public Security Strategy, which many fear will cement use of armed forces in public security, although it also contains commitment to maintain and strengthen municipal police forces. Senate 21 Feb approved bill limiting deployment of armed forces to five years and establishing National Guard – controversial main instrument of AMLO’s National Peace and Security Plan to fight crime and violence – as civilian-police institution under aegis of Public Security Secretary. Govt 1 Feb announced deployment of 1,800 army and federal police officers under banner of National Guard to violent neighbourhoods in city of Tijuana, Baja California state (north), which saw 2,518 homicides in 2018, 41% increase from 2017; 6 Feb announced deployment of 600 officers each to seventeen regions affected by rising homicide rates. Amid continued opposition to National Guard from civil society and experts, AMLO 18 Feb formalised end of all state financing for civil society bodies. Govt continued operations to curb oil siphoning, with over 2,400 troops now deployed to Guanajuato state (centre), area of competition over oil siphoning between criminal groups including Jalisco Cartel New Generation (CJNG) and Lima Cartel. Criminal group-related violence remained high, including attack by armed commando on bar in Cancún killing five, amid growing violent competition for extortion and drugs retail markets in this and other tourist hotspots in Quintana Roo (south east), where 2018 total homicides number (774) more than double that of 2017. Targeted killings of activists and journalists continued including journalist Jesús Eugenio Ramos, murdered in Emiliano Zapata, Tabasco (south) 9 Feb, and murder of indigenous environmental activist Samir Flores, in Amilcingo, Morelos (centre) 20 Feb. Interior ministry 4 Feb presented Plan for Attending to Victims of Disappearances, reporting total of 45,000 disappeared people and pledging $21mn for search and identification, and establishment of National Forensic Institute by July.
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] 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.
México tendrá que encontrar una forma de relacionarse con el futuro gobierno de Trump, algo complicado y difícil para una economía que no ha logrado despegar realmente, ni cubrir todas las necesidades de su población
Mexico is not doing “nothing” to curb northward migration, as U.S. President Donald Trump claims. In this Q&A, Crisis Group's Latin America & Caribbean Program Director Ivan Briscoe says Washington should help Mexico meet the challenge of migrant and refugee flows from Central America, which are now concentrated in its troubled southern states.
Originally published in The New York Times
The “war on drugs” has morphed into a new rash of killings in Mexico. The deadly violence of increasingly well-organised, business-minded criminal groups risks being aggravated by government inaction, corruption and bombastic U.S. rhetoric – exactly what caused the problem in the first place.
Originally published in Miami Herald