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.
Combatting organised crime has been the centrepiece of President López Obrador’s governing platform, but murder rates in 2019 are set to reach an all-time high. In this excerpt from the first update of our Watch List 2019 for European policymakers, Crisis Group urges the EU to support the Mexican government’s turn toward comprehensive security reforms and peacebuilding policies.
Amid widespread concerns over govt’s militarisation of public security and record levels of violence, President Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO) 11 April presented “retiring” army general Luís Rodríguez Bucio as head of new National Guard (NG), controversial main instrument of security plan, and announced NG’s core personnel will come from active army and navy groups. Controversial move drew widespread criticism and appeared to undermine Feb deal between govt and opposition defining NG as having “civilian character”. UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet 5-9 April visited Mexico, signed memorandum with govt establishing unspecified role of UN in human rights training for NG and promised UN would monitor NG’s human rights standards. AMLO 5 April reiterated govt’s priority would be tackling root causes of violence through economic and educational policies rather than fighting crime or drug trafficking groups. Over 11,000 murders officially recorded since AMLO took office in Dec 2018, higher rate than three preceding govts. Gang-related insecurity continued with criminal groups clashing with one another over control of territories. In Veracruz state (Gulf coast) – where fighting between at least six groups over control of extortion and kidnapping markets, trafficking routes and oil-siphoning has led to over 600 homicides since Dec – lawyer and activist Abiram Hernández was assassinated in Xalapa 30 March, while armed commando attack on party in Minatitlán killed thirteen people 19 April. Alliance of criminal groups led by Jalisco Cartel New Generation (CJNG) clashed with another alliance in Parácuaro, Michoacán (centre) first week of April, displacing some 100 people, while violence continued in Guanajuato state (centre), area of competition over oil siphoning between criminal groups including CJNG and Lima Cartel. Police 22 April detained some 400 migrants from Central America near Pijijiapan town, Chiapas (south), in operation targeting migrant caravans attempting to reach U.S. border.
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
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.
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