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.
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.
Criminal violence remained at record levels while govt faced scrutiny for COVID-19 response. In Guanajuato state (centre), armed attack on drug rehabilitation centre 1 July killed 27 in Irapuato town; attack reportedly part of territorial battle between Jalisco Cartel New Generation and Santa Rosa de Lima Cartel over drug routes and retail markets. In Tamaulipas state (south), army 3 July killed twelve people, allegedly members of Cartel of the Northeast, in Nuevo Laredo city, while criminal group Zetas Vieja Escuela 6-9 July reportedly carried out several attacks on food company delivery vehicles in state capital Ciudad Victoria. Criticism of President López Obrador’s austerity program and lack of economic response to COVID-19 persisted amid concerns that rising poverty levels could boost recruitment by armed groups; meanwhile govt continued its partial economic reopening amid steadily rising number of virus infections and deaths. Federal State Attorney’s Office 7 July announced it had identified remains of one of 43 Ayotzinapa teaching college students who disappeared in 2014, accused former President Peña Nieto’s administration of covering up state involvement; Federal Search Commission 13 July said at least 79,602 persons have disappeared since 2006. In first trip abroad as president, López Obrador 8 July visited U.S. President Trump, praising Washington’s respect of “Mexico’s sovereignty”; observers criticised comments, pointing to Trump’s use of anti-Mexican sentiment for electoral gain and forcing of Mexico into hardline anti-migration position. U.S. authorities same day detained former Chihuahua state (north) governor César Duarte for alleged links to organised crime and began extradition process. Former head of state-owned oil company PEMEX Emilio Lozoya arrived in Mexico 17 July to face corruption charges following extradition from Spain; amid reports Lozoya’s testimony may implicate Peña Nieto, López Obrador same day reiterated refusal to pursue legal cases against former presidents.
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 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 [...].
It’s business as usual [for drug cartels in Mexico] with a risk of further escalation, especially if at some point the armed forces are called away for pandemic control.
[In Mexico,] under active conflict & criminal control, basic state functions like gathering crime statistics, let alone searching for disappeared, are impossible.
As the coronavirus spreads, and the U.S. presidential election looms, the Trump administration and Mexican government continue to deport migrants from El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras. Some deportees are carrying the virus. Central American states should press their northern neighbours for more stringent health measures.
Originally published in Business Insider
It may seem that Mexico’s crime war, which has left over 100,000 dead in its wake, could not get any worse. But interviews with gunmen in deadly Tierra Caliente show that it can, as criminal organisations break into smaller and smaller parts, driving up the death toll.
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.
Watch List Updates complement International Crisis Group’s annual Watch List, most recently published in January 2019. These early-warning publications identify major conflict situations in which prompt action, driven or supported by the European Union and its member states, would generate stronger prospects for peace. The Watch List Updates include situations identified in the annual Watch List and/or a new focus of concern.