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.
More and more women are joining the criminal outfits battling for turf in Mexico, heightening the dangers these groups pose. To arrest this trend, and to help offenders leave these groups, authorities should cooperate with civil society to provide alternative pathways to earning a living.
Criminal violence remained rampant, govt and security forces faced more backlash for high number of disappearances, and Hurricane Otis wrought destruction in Acapulco city.
Criminal violence, some of it politically motivated, remained high. Bodies of two pollsters from ruling MORENA party were found dead in Tabasco state 1 Oct, alongside message from Jalisco Cartel accusing MORENA and army of protecting rival Sinaloa Cartel in Chiapas. Guerrero state (south west) witnessed several high-profile attacks. Notably, unidentified gunmen 17 Oct killed prominent self-defence group leader Bruno Plácido and his driver in state capital Chilpancingo; and armed men 18 Oct attacked priest and victims’ rights activist Filiberto Velázquez in Tixtla town. Attacks came after 1,500 members of 66 communities from San Miguel Totolapan and Heliodoro Castillo municipalities 3 Oct announced creation of armed self-defence group amid state inertia. Three separate attacks in Coyuca de Benitez municipality (Guerrero), Tacámbaro town (Michoacán state) and San Miguel Cano (Puebla state) 23 Oct left at least 24 dead, including 13 police officers.
State faced more criticism for high number of disappearances. UN Committee on Enforced Disappearances 3 Oct lamented “alarming” number of disappearances in Mexico and “almost absolute impunity”. Group of experts investigating 2014 disappearance of students from Ayotzinapa teacher’s college 17 Oct released documents allegedly showing military had knowledge of crime as it unfolded; govt continued to deny military’s involvement or collusion. Meanwhile, search collective 2 Oct said clandestine burial site found in Tacámbaro likely contains more than the 51 bodies already found, largest identified in state in recent years; another collective 15 Oct reported discovery of clandestine human incineration site containing human remains in Tlaquepaque city, Jalisco state (centre).
In other important developments. Govt and U.S. officials 5 Oct held high-level security talks in Mexico City about fentanyl trafficking, migration and arms trafficking, and agreed to collaborate closely. Acapulco city (along Pacific Coast) was among areas worst hit by Hurricane Otis late Oct, raising fears that organised crime could capitalise on destruction and insufficient govt response to strengthen foothold in area.
Organised crime in Mexico has gone local, as cartels break up into sub-groups battling over smaller patches of turf. At the same time, the federal government has wrested policing away from town halls. A reset is needed to re-empower municipal officials to protect the public.
As crime rises in Mexico, women are in particular danger – of “disappearance”, kidnapping, sexual assault and murder. The state has taken some steps to address this crisis, but it can do much more.
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.
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.
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