Mexico’s state institutions have been bedevilled for decades by widespread corruption and powerful transnational criminal organisations. Crime and the “war on drugs” have destabilised the country and fuelled violence; 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. Our aim is to help solve challenges to security posed by global criminal networks, local armed groups and the elusiveness of state rule.
Mexico's crime wars are hottest in the hinterland. In this photo essay, part of a larger project on deadly violence in Latin America, Crisis Group expert Falko Ernst explains that the fronts are ever-shifting and the distinctions among combatants wafer-thin.
Authorities stepped up military control over policing amid persistently high levels of criminal violence.
Authorities took steps to deepen militarisation of public security. Govt proposal to formally integrate National Guard into defence ministry 9 Sept came into effect. Civil society groups same day condemned decision, with NGO Amnesty International saying increased military involvement in public security would “lead to more human rights violations and perpetuate impunity”. Responding to accusations he broke campaign promise to demilitarise public security, President López Obrador 6 Sept claimed he had changed his mind after realising gravity of security situation. In response to López Obrador’s move, protests 6, 15, 17 Sept took place in Mexico City. Meanwhile, lower house 14 Sept passed constitutional amendment, proposed by opposition Institutional Revolutionary Party, allowing armed forces to carry out public security tasks until 2028 instead of 2024. Senate 20 Sept approved amendment with 18 votes in favour.
Criminal violence remained high. Unidentified gunmen 22 Sept opened fire in bar in Tarimoro town, Guanajuato state (centre), killing ten. Unknown assailants 25 Sept ambushed police officers in Cañitas de Felipe Pescador municipality, Zacatecas state (centre north), injuring five. Meanwhile, advocacy group Global Witness 29 Sept released report on threats to environmental activists, showing that Mexico recorded highest number of killings of any country in 2021, totalling 54.
Efforts to address impunity for past disappearances continued to face challenges. General Prosecutor’s Office 25 Sept cancelled 21 of 83 arrest warrants it requested last Aug against former officials allegedly involved in 2014 disappearance of 43 students from Ayotzinapa Rural Teachers’ College, Guerrero state; judge 14 Sept acquitted José Luis Abarca, former mayor of Iguala, of having ordered students’ kidnapping. Authorities 15 Sept arrested General José Rodríguez Pérez, then commander of local infantry battalion, for allegedly ordering killing and disappearance of six of the students; Rodríguez Pérez is first high-ranking military officer arrested in case.
Every group [in Mexico] I've ever talked to claims that they don't extort, kidnap or kill innocent people... These claims are, from my experience, never free of contradic...
There is no category in international law for the violence and conflict that’s plaguing Mexico, and especially Michoacán.
There is always an element of negotiation when you use [violence] against the state.
What makes such a wave of journalist killings [in Mexico] possible is that criminal interests … are almost never properly investigated or punished.
The problem in Mexico is still being reduced by most as a turf war between cartels, while it is more of an internal violent conflict.
Cartels’ brand names fade away eventually. [But] all of those [other] networks stay in place.
One of Mexican organised crime’s most lucrative businesses involves stealing petrol and selling it on the black market. Violence is rising along with profits. The government has curbed this trade but still needs to address the official collusion and socio-economic grievances that keep it going.
Campaign season in Mexico has seen a rash of murders, as organised crime seeks to cement its influence no matter which parties win. The government needs to keep trying to break bonds between criminals and authorities, beginning with efforts tailored to the country’s hardest-hit areas.
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.
COVID-19’s economic devastation will likely make Mexico and the Northern Triangle an even more fertile ground for drug cartels and gangs. In this excerpt from our Watch List 2021 for European policymakers, Crisis Group urges the EU and its member states to discourage iron fist policies and instead help design local security strategies.
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.
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.