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.
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.
Criminal violence remained high while political tensions emerged over 2021 budget. Armed group-related violence continued, particularly in Baja California state (north) and central states of Colima, Michoacán, Guanajuato and Morelos. Notably, gunmen 1 Sept killed eight people attending funeral in Cuernavaca city (Morelos); 17 Sept attacked another wake in Celaya city (Guanajuato), killing five; and 22 Sept attacked taco stand in Irapuato city (Guanajuato), killing five. President López Obrador 1 Sept said “atrocities” – defined as acts of violence that include mutilation and torture – no longer occur in Mexico, but NGO Causa en Común 8 Sept reported 1,850 such attacks between Jan and Aug. Decapitated body of crime reporter Julio Valdivia, who recently covered clashes between local gang and police forces, was found 9 Sept outside Córdoba city, Veracruz state (Gulf Coast in east), bringing number of journalists killed under current administration to 17. Dozens of prominent journalists and intellectuals 17 Sept called on López Obrador to protect journalists and stop his attacks on “freedom of expression”. Govt 9 Sept presented 2021 budget including no significant stimulus investment despite expected economic fallout of COVID-19 pandemic, but major increases for armed forces. UN Human Rights Chief Michelle Bachelet 14 Sept and prominent civil society organisation Semáforo Delictivo 21 Sept expressed concern over increasing militarisation of public security, with freedom of information request 6 Sept showing 31% more soldiers deployed across country than at any point under two preceding administrations; budget also included cuts in funding to federated states and municipalities, prompting ten governors 7 Sept to accuse federal govt of granting some states preferential treatment. Women’s rights groups early Sept occupied National Human Rights Commission’s offices in several locations, including in Mexico City 9 Sept, to decry govt’s lack of response to femicides.
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.
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 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 [...].
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.
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.
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
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.
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.