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.
As the coronavirus rages in Mexico and the northerly Central American countries, criminal outfits have adapted, often enlarging their turf. To fight organised crime more effectively, governments should combine policing with programs to aid the vulnerable and create attractive alternatives to illegal economic activity.
Political violence continued in run-up to 6 June legislative, regional and local elections, and women mobilised against gender-based violence. Unidentified assailants 17 March killed Pedro Gutiérrez, ruling MORENA party precandidate for municipal presidency of Chilón town, Chiapas state (south), alongside his 8-year-old son and another person; 20 March killed Ivonne Gallegos Carreño, opposition precandidate for mayor of Ocotlán de Morelos town, in Oaxaca state (south). Govt 4 March said at least 64 politicians, including 17 candidates running for office, had been killed between Sept 2020 and Feb 2021. On International Women’s Day, thousands of women 8 March gathered across country against gender-based violence, high rates of femicides and impunity enjoyed by perpetrators, as well as President López Obrador’s backing of Félix Salgado Macedonio, who stands accused of rape, as ruling MORENA party candidate for Guerrero state governorship. Women’s march in capital Mexico City turned violent: demonstrators threw firecrackers and Molotov cocktails against fence erected outside presidential palace and clashed with police, leaving at least 81 injured including 62 police. National Electoral Institute 26 March suspended Macedonio’s candidacy alongside 26 other candidates, citing failures to report campaign spending. Suspected members of La Familia Michoacana criminal group 18 March ambushed and killed 13 police officers or agents from state prosecutor’s office in Coatepec Harinas municipality, Mexico state (centre). Angry villagers 29 March detained 15 soldiers for hours in Motozintla municipality, Chiapas state (south) near border with Guatemala after soldier reportedly shot dead Guatemalan migrant. Prosecutors 28 March said they were investigating four municipal police officers following death of woman in police custody previous day in Tulum town, Quintana Roo state (south); Obrador next day said woman had been subjected to “brutal treatment and murdered”. In major policy shift, Chamber of Deputies 11 March approved law partly legalising marijuana; law still has to pass Senate. U.S. President Biden 22 March dispatched envoys to Mexico and Guatemala for talks on how to manage major increase in number of migrants heading for Mexican-U.S. border; Biden 24 March said he had tasked U.S. VP Kamala Harris with coordinating efforts to stem flow of migrants on border.
Crime rates are climbing across Mexico, as cartels splinter into smaller groups competing ferociously for turf. Just one state, Guerrero, contends with at least 40 such outfits. The government needs a tailored approach for each region, focused on protecting the public and reforming the police.
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.
Cartels’ brand names fade away eventually. [But] all of those [other] networks stay in place.
The impotence of Mexican government security forces has been made particularly evident in the events of the last few months.
[The arrest of José Antonio Yépez] is basically a short-lived P.R. victory, but it doesn’t provide a solution. The big worry is that there is no backing in terms of a more cohesive security strategy.
While much of the narrative around violence in Mexico focuses on drug trafficking and cartels, the "on-the-ground realities are far more complex.
But in Mexico, armed clashes between rival crime factions continued throughout March and early April, and 2,585 homicides were registered last month alone.
These [armed] groups [in Mexico] are trying to be seen as catering materially and providing a notion of security in places where they are also directly preying on the population [...].
This week on Hold Your Fire!, Naz Modirzadeh, Richard Atwood and Ivan Briscoe, Crisis Group’s Latin America Director, talk about COVID-19’s devastation, polarisation and populism in the region, as well as the Venezuela crisis and violence in Mexico.
The failure of the “war on drugs” – now a welter of spreading conflicts – is a U.S.-Mexican co-production. Washington should stop pushing Mexico City to throw ever more military force at organised crime. Instead, it should help its southern neighbour find solutions tailored to each locale.
The “war on drugs” has not smashed Mexican organised crime but broken it into smaller fragments that fight each other for turf. This has come at the cost of thousands of lives, with last year being the deadliest on record. The sheer difficulty of counting the criminal groups underscores the scale of the government’s challenge in protecting the public.
Panel en línea con la participación de los expertos de Crisis Group Falko Ernst y Jane Esberg, quienes presentan sus últimos informes sobre la violencia en México, comentarios a cargo del destacado investigador y columnista Sergio Aguayo y moderado por la subdirectora del Programa de América Latina y el Caribe, Renata Segura.
The “war on drugs” has not smashed Mexican organised crime but broken it into smaller fragments that fight each other for turf. The sheer difficulty of counting the criminal groups underscores the scale of the government’s challenge in protecting the public.