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.
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.
Amid ongoing uncertainty over incoming govt’s policies for improving public security in line with campaign pledges, President-elect López Obrador (AMLO) 24 Oct outlined much-anticipated security plan, includes hiring of 50,000 new recruits for armed forces and Federal Police, and division of country into 265 regions, in each of which army, navy and police would work under sole command structure – apparently undermining campaign promise to demilitarise public security provision– but under stricter human rights supervision. Specifics of police reform not announced. AMLO also said govt would create truth commission to investigate 2014 disappearance of Ayotzinapa teaching college students. AMLO’s pick for public security secretary Alfonso Durazo 17 Oct said tasks of joint army-police forces would be 70% crime prevention and 30% “coercion”. Govt 8 Oct cancelled another five National Pacification and Reconciliation Forums due to security concerns. Army’s commander-in-chief 8 Oct stated he considered possible legalisation of poppy cultivation and processing for domestic pharmaceutical industry, as suggested by AMLO’s transition team, as potential way to reduce violence. Violence continued across country including clashes between criminal groups involved in drug trade and oil siphoning, targeted killings and femicides; 2018 on track to surpass 2017 as deadliest year for country, with 18,835 homicides registered Jan-Aug, representing 14.9% increase on same period 2017. Journalist Sergio Martínez killed 4 Oct in Tapachula, Chiapas state (south), eleventh journalist killed in 2018. At Guatemalan border in Chiapas, police in riot gear 19 Oct clashed with group of some 5,000 mainly Honduran migrants attempting to reach U.S. (see Honduras). U.S. 29 Oct announced deployment of some 5,000 troops to U.S.-Mexico border to prevent migrants’ entry. Govt 17 Oct said it would deport members of group entering illegally but AMLO same day said he would protect Central American trans-migrants (travelling through Mexico to U.S.) and provide Central American migrants with work visas. In 19 Oct meeting, U.S. Sec State Mike Pompeo and incoming FM Marcelo Ebrard pledged cooperation, including on economic development in Central America to address root causes for migration.
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
Originally published in Miami Herald
Originally published in Open Society Foundation