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.
Violence continued across country, particularly in Guanajuato and other central states, while tensions with U.S. from Nov eased somewhat. Head of Public Security Secretariat of Cuernavaca in Morelos state (centre), Juan David Juárez López, shot dead 6 Dec in apparent targeted assassination. Also in centre, armed commando 11 Dec attacked municipal police building in Villagrán, Guanajuato state, killing three police and kidnapping four others who were later found dismembered in plastic bags 13 Dec; Jalisco Cartel New Generation claimed responsibility for attack; Villagrán lies in highly contested area due to pipeline running through it, from which criminal groups siphon gasoline. Guanajuato (centre) recorded as deadliest state in country for police, with 78 killed in 2019, out of 442 nationwide. Fighting between members of Los Zetas and the Gulf Cartel in a Zacatecas state prison 31 Dec left 16 dead in Cieneguillas town (centre). Genaro García Luna arrested in Dallas, Texas 9 Dec on charges of accepting millions in bribes from Sinaloa Cartel as public security secretary and chief drug-war architect under president Felipe Calderón (2006-2012), and as head of Federal Investigation Agency under previous president Vicente Fox. Calderón reacted with “surprise”. U.S. President Trump 6 Dec announced he was “delaying” designation of Mexican criminal groups as Foreign Terrorist Organisations, which he announced following early Nov killing of Mormon family with U.S. nationality in northern Mexico; Mexican govt had lobbied intensely against designation, which it argued would compromise its sovereignty. Following more than two years of negotiations after Trump re-opened Mexico-U.S.-Canada free trade agreement, the three govts 11 Dec signed USMCA to replace NAFTA. Already ratified by Mexico, the U.S. and Canada are expected to do so early in the year.
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,] 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.
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.
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.